Stepping Outside the Box

Although things with my classes have been very busy this week (again), I’m finding myself spending extra time at my field placement. I’m really enjoying my time with the first grade class I am in, and appreciate my cooperating teacher’s willingness to let me try out new things. She has been very supportive throughout my time in her class, and this week I was able to teach a lesson about discrimination.

As part of my Urban Teaching and Leadership program, we are required to take some steps towards teaching social justice. Since my field of study is literacy, I decided to use some children’s literature as a discussion starter. I read aloud The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss, which I think does a nice job of presenting discrimination in an age appropriate manner. Although the story itself is kind of silly with all the plays on language that Dr. Seuss is known for, I encouraged my students to listen to the story for the author’s message. This actually worked quite well with what the class had been working on. We have been practicing using pictures and background knowledge to improve comprehension, and my students were able to use these strategies to explore the meaning of the story. After the book was over, we had a discussion about discrimination. Students shared some examples of discrimination that they had experienced in their own lives, as well as examples from history. My lesson also included a simulation, and a discussion of what the students could do to take steps towards ending discrimination and making everyone feel valued.

I was so pleased with the outcome of the lesson. I didn’t expect first graders to be able to approach this subject with such maturity and such a sense of agency. They seemed excited that they were able to talk about something real to them. They showed compassion, empathy, and determination. While I know this isn’t a perfect or final attempt at integrating social justice teaching into my own practice, I feel motivated to continue to push towards including more aspects of social justice. Most importantly, the planning and implementation of this lesson has made me confident that I will be able to do so.

I appreciate the Warner School’s commitment to social justice and I am happy that I am at a school where I am encouraged to step outside of the box. Most literacy specialists and teachers are so focused on building reading strategies, assessing students or planning guided reading groups. But with the encouragement and support through the Warner School and the UTL program, I was able to use a book that explores issues of social justice and I situated it within comprehension strategy instruction. I like being part of a program that pushes me to improve my teaching; I definitely feel like I will continue to grow and try new things throughout my time here at the Warner School.

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