Teaching social justice, civil rights, and history is the best part of my job. I also love primary sources, thick high level texts, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE the sound of my own voice droning on and on about these topics. Surprise: my students DO NOT love it!
So I look for books that can keep me from boring people to death. Recently we were looking at issues of school segregation. For years I have had kids analyze the painting The Problem we all Live With as a jumping off point. There is great supporting material, but it tended to be me doing too much pontificating so I wanted to put the learning in the kids hands. I needed something super accessible and redaily availible to achiebe this goal.
Using picture or non-fiction story books to teach is as old as the genre itself. I have a math curriculum that invokes it to teach a number of math concepts. One of my favorites is A Remainder of One. Kids get a graphic representation of the concepts and even the steps involved in a relatively complex structure. But ,when dealing with hard historic, and social topics, it can be difficult to find texts that accomplish similar instructional goals.
Seperate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh may be one of my favorite all time civil rights picture books. Its a bit long for a read a loud, but I have seldom seen the issues of race, segregation, and the democratic process spelled out better for learners. It met all of my criteria for a useful teaching tool!
Good news: Finding good books on teaching civil rights is easier than ever and there are so many good places to find books on civil rights and social justice topics, but there are times the titles I buy, borrow or appropriate don’t have all the things I need. Recently, I came up with what I wanted students to be able to connect or identify with when using picture books. So I read the book and ask myself:
“Does this Book Contain?”
- Images of Oppression:
- Images of Difference
- Obvious Questions
- Denial of Legal Rights
- Acts of Resistance
- Hard Facts
- A Realistic Ending
If they do, then I know I have a pretty good teaching tool.
So here’s how I’d teach it
- I would draw on prior knowledge regarding the Civil Rights movement. Kids could do a turn and talk, then put what they know on post its. I would have them put them up where we could all see it.
- I’d ask how we could sort: people, places, events, actions, vocabulary, whatever…
- I’d commend them on their knowledge and tell them that they are going to help decide if the books we have in class will be effective to learn about this very big topic.
A vocabulary or content sort can be sorting words into groups, but you can also match definitions or concepts with words or phrases. I keep everything in ziplock baggies, pass them out to small groups, and give them five minutes for the matching.
Today I want you to look through the baggies and match words or phrases with definitions.
- When the groups are done I just call on kids and see if we have the ideas matched with the correct terms.
- In pairs, students will select books and use sticky notes to indicate where they find evidene from the vocab sort done earlier.
This takes a while. Kids have to read the books, look for evidence of the criteria and mark them with stickies. It can also be done with a worksheet, but I haven’t developed one for this activity yet.
- To wrap up, I do a simple share of what they found and I ask them why they think having these criteria help indicate if the story is worthwhile or not.
Today we looked at some pretty big ideas like Oprresion and images of difference. We found out that effective stories about strugglles for civil rights include realistic images, language and ideas. We will use these criteria in creating projects in coming days.
I’ll save the projects for an upcoming post. Meanwhile: