Tag Archives: social responsibility

Using Social Justice to Teach Reading/Writing in the ELA/SS Classroom #Engsschat 2/29 7 PM EST

This upcoming Monday 2/29/2016 7 PM EST I will be guest moderating #engsschat. The topic is one that I am passionate about and a theme that drives my teaching and curriculum. Our twitter conversation will address social justice as a catalyst to teach reading and writing in English and social studies classrooms. My objective is to engage in a dialogue with other educators about literacy and social responsibility.

Below are the questions for the chat

Here are a few excellent resources for teaching and learning more about social justice and social responsibility.

Facing History and Ourselves

On their website, Facing History states, “the lifeblood of democracy is the ability of every rising generation to be active, responsible decision-makers. And we believe that inspired teachers and innovative methods are the key.” Facing History words with educators around the world throughout to improve their effectiveness in the classroom, as well as their students’ academic performance, historical understanding, and civic learning. Facing History has a number of incredible curricula and resources for teachers and students to critically examine history and the moral choices we confront everyday.

Teaching Tolerance and the Southern Poverty Law Center

Teaching Tolerance offers a magazine, curriculum materials and lesson plans, webinars, and professional development on topics committed to diversity and inclusion of  all people.

Zinn Education Project

The Zinn Education Project promotes and supports the teaching of people’s history in middle and high school classrooms across the country based on the lens of history highlighted in Howard Zinn’s best-selling book A People’s History of the United States The website offers free, downloadable lessons and articles. The Zinn Education Project is coordinated by two non-profit organizations, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.

Two excellent resources about teaching social responsibility include:

caring-hearts-and-critical-minds                           9780325053592


Here is a middle school book list with titles that address social justice:


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What is truly genius? Overcoming Genius Hour Hurdles


For the past two and a half years genius hour has been 20% of class time each week. Every Friday is genius hour. Monday through Thursday I might be teaching and focusing on supporting my students as reader, writers, and critical thinkers; Friday is for students to pursue their own passions and interests. Genius hour allows for students to take ownership of the classroom and their own learning.

After the first year of introducing genius hour into my classroom and being inundated with baking and cooking projects, the following year I required students’ projects to be about something they cared about and at the same time take on some aspect of social responsibility. Students created blogs, researched, and initiated projects that addressed issues they cared about from health, environmental concerns, animal and human rights. All of the projects that my students created were inspiring and supported a culture of caring on a community level.

This year, I introduced genius hour with the same requirements and told my students their projects should fit under one of the following categories.

MasterPractice some skill. It takes 10,000 hours to get to mastery.

CreateUse your imagination to create something.

LearnGain knowledge about something that interests you or learn something new.

InnovateSolve a problem. Create a solution.

Produce – Make something.

Serve – Do any of the above for someone else.

But this year, these community-involved citizens have turned up short and my students ideas are so focused on the “positive benefit to the community” that they lack passion and genius. More than two dozen of my students have wanted to create a school wide drive for collecting pet supplies, used sports equipment, food, school supplies, blankets and coats. It is not clear to me whether these collections are driven by passion or are just to fulfill the requirements of another school project. In fact, when two students went to ask my school principal to hold a coat drive, her response was “Does a coat drive warrant true genius?” She later pulled me into her office for a conversation on whether I was spending too much time on genius hour and do I tell my students their “passion project” lacks “genius.” My response was, “No” and “No.”

I have been reflecting on these musings for two weeks now. After two students presented their semester genius hour reflection on how they collected clothes for the salvation army, I thought “Where had I gone wrong with genius hour this year?” My intentions was inquiry based learning that nurture students social awareness and social responsibility. The result was boxes of supplies to those in need. But it is clear to me that many of these projects showed their ability to help the community but did lack true genius.

I am in a state of reflection and revision. I am rethinking the requirements and going to have my students design a rubric in which to evaluate the genius process and product to help us engage in a critical conversation on passion and genius.





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