Tag Archives: Teaching Social Justice

Hyperdocs Spark Deep in Our Classrooms About Current Events Today

We must allow for space and time in our classrooms and around the dinner table for conversations about dismantling racism, hatred, anti-semitism, violence, and xenophobia.

Social justice and standing up for what is right is a year long theme throughout my 8th grade English Language Arts curriculum.  In my own classroom, crafting hyperdocs has allowed opportunities for deep conversations to address student questions about racism, anti semitism, xenophobia, and hatred. Throughout the school year my students read choice novels based on topics of social justice, dystopia, identity, WW2 and the Holocaust that coincide with our year long investigation what it means to stand up for what is right.  

Hyperdocs are digital documents—such as a Google Doc—where all components of a learning cycle have been pulled together into one central hub. Within the document, students are provided with hyperlinks to all aspects of the inquiry unit—videos, slideshows, images, and activities—for the student to complete and gain understanding. Students have multi-modal opportunities for learning;  there is less lecturing at the front of the class. 

Hyperdocs, which allow students to work at their own pace.  offer a road map for student learning. Depending on the Hyperdoc the teacher makes, differentiated activities and technology-rich assignments can help students learn and show their understanding as they complete engaging activities. Teachers might have students complete only a certain number of activities on the Hyperdoc or require students to complete them all. 

In New York State, the Holocaust and World War II are part of the eighth grade social studies curriculum. English and social studies lend themselves well for collaborating when addressing topics with enduring issues like human rights, injustice, and inequality. 

Essential Question: What lessons from Japanese Internment, the Holocaust, and WW2 can we learn in order to stop the hate and violence that is dominating our current cultural climate?

There are many wonderful historical novels, poetry, and nonfiction texts written about these issues that teachers might already be using in their curriculum. In social studies classes primary documents, photographs, films, and documentaries are used to teach history today. Students can read and explore diverse types of  texts for a deeper understanding of the history and impact of World War II and the Holocaust on the world. Book choices include titles include but are not limited to: Farewell to Manzanar, The Diary of Anne Frank, Refugee, The Boys Who Challenged Hitler, Irena’s Children, and Librarian of Auschwitz. Utilizing diverse texts in conjunction with hyperdocs promotes critical thinking, understanding, and empathy. If we want our students to become critical citizens who participate in civic and digital life in positive ways, learning must be driven by inquiry rather than rote memorization of facts. Allowing students to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate historical text  that are primary and secondary sources in multi-genres formats allows students to see the depth of history through personal accounts.

In order to build an accurate image in students minds Anne Frank and her family’s secret annex students took a virtual tour of the annex in Amsterdam and then shared their thoughts and reactions on a Flipgrid. Each week, the hyperdoc included at least one virtual trips to a Holocaust museum or memorial like Yad Vashem in Israel and the United States Holocaut Museum in Washington, DC.  With each digital field trip there are opportunities to reflect and draw connections. Students read letters from people sent away to Concentration Camps and listened to survivor’s stories. These virtual experiences built empathy and understanding that history is living and breathing. Throughout their exploration, reading, and reflection.  Students act as researchers and writers using higher order thinking and comprehension skills, while at the same time meeting 21st century skills as digital citizens and creators. Students utilize technology for research, reading, and writing to  present their understanding and learning  of WWII and the Holocaust. 

Due to the current violence against Asian and Island Pacific People with COVID, I am using Japanese Internment and the racial profiling during WWII as the starting point the unit. I want students to recognize racial profiling relies on harmful stereotypes that are rooted in racism and discrimination.

During World War II, Japanese Americans were profiled based on their ethnicity. The U.S. government suspected that they might be disloyal to America and working for the Japanese government, even though there was no real evidence of espionage or sabotage. As a result of these suspicions, Japanese Americans were rounded up and forced into incarceration camps for years.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice and The New York Times Learning Network have a collection of lessons and resources for educators to use with students. One key point with both these resources is that “informed and engaged citizens of a democratic society should know that a time of crisis requires solidarity, humanity, and hope, not hysteria or hatred.”

The hyperdoc I have created for this unit is still a work in progress but you can view the entire hyperdoc and digital notebook HERE

Writing and discussion help to deepen students’ understanding of what they read, see, and hear. There’s a synergy between two vital practices: writing about text helps students understand what they read as knowledge constructors and discussion helps them develop their ideas to be creative communicators. By middle and high school the conversations and group work should go beyond the “turn and talk” or “think pair share” to provide opportunities for students to present information in small groups and large audiences, in socratic seminars, and through student-led discussions. Screen-casts, podcasts, and video projects are all great venues that allow students to utilize speaking and listening skills. Students can utilize technology to podcast or video their presentations to practice speaking and build their communication skills. 

The learning experiences we provide should show students the world, not just tell them about it. Our curriculum needs interactive learning experiences with playlists and Hyperdocs that include reading, writing, reflections, role plays, simulations, debates, formal speeches, and demonstrations. Our job is to excite students about the world, to help them see the role that they can play in making society a better place, and to express their ideas powerfully. We must show our students that our content area is about real world problems, issues, and possible solutions.

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Addressing Anti-Semitism After the January 6th Attack on the Capital

Last week’s attack on the Capital is something that shook up the world and also brought attention to the vile, pervasive white supremacy in America today. Images of insurgents wearing “Camp Auschwitz” and “Six Million Wasn’t Enough” shirts to carrying confederate flags, to a noose hanging outside the Capital building affirms that anti-semitism and Neo-Nazis, hatred and racism, are not only something of America’s history and dark past. White supremacy is alive and well, and last week’s terror attack continues to affirm this.

Amy Spitalnick writes in a blog post for Integrity First for America, a nonprofit organization dedicated civil rights and equal justice, how “the capital attack followed the Charlottesville playbook in many ways: On both mainstream and fringe social media sites, these extremists planned violence in explicit detail. They then show sup with weapons in tactical gear, prepared for the violence they planned. Both are field by the idea of the “country being stolen from them.” And now, far right extremists are using the attack to recruit and organize online, with all indications pointing to the potential of more violence in the coming weeks.”

The Anti-Defamation League reports 2,107 hate crimes against Jewish people nationwide in 2019, according to the organization’s annual survey. That’s the highest the number since the ADL began tallying hate crimes in 1979. In 2020 the number of hate crimes around the world only increased. Hannahmichelledraws created and posted the image below on her Instagram account to highlight 9 antisemitic incidents in December 2020 alone.

We must allow for space and time in our classrooms and around the dinner table for conversations about dismantling racism, hatred, and anti-semitism.

Here are some resources to support these conversations:

21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge from America and Moore

Teaching Tolerance recommends the resources below to help teach about Jewish identities and antisemitism: 

When teaching social justice and WW2 with my middle school students we start with the Anti-Defamation League’s Pyramid of Hate. The Pyramid shows biased behaviors, growing in complexity from the bottom to the top. Although the behaviors at each level negatively impact individuals and groups, as one moves up the pyramid, the behaviors have more life-threatening consequences. Students read choice novels about WW2 and the Holocaust that coincides with studying about WW2 in social studies.

Classroom Resources for Teaching the Holocaust

Here is a curated list of 50 social justice books from the nonprofit Teaching for Change. Here is a second, broken down by grade level, by The National Network of State Teachers of the Year. On this blog I have shared out the playlists and projects that my students create that coincide with their reading and research about WW2 and social justice. You can check out more of these posts or grab a copy of the WW2 playlist HERE.

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“Mockingbird” Should Be Part of Larger Lesson

The following essay was written for School Library Journal. To read the post on the SLJ website, click here.

When PBS announced To Kill a Mockingbird was voted America’s “Best-Loved Novel” on The Great American Read, the selection was not met with universal celebration. Many believe Harper Lee’s classic novel to be problematic, if not outright racist. When teaching Mockingbird, we cannot and should not ignore those issues. Instead, we should use those elements as part of the lesson and build on it with connected historical sources and contemporary novels that explore the same themes from different perspectives.

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I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird in high school, and the more I read and reread it with my eighth grade students now, the closer I examine the story and craft that makes this book so memorable. In our current time, when race relations are so contentious, To Kill a Mockingbird brings to the forefront issues of race, gender, class, and speaking out when we see injustice. Throughout the novel, the perceptions of the young narrator Scout become keener as she examines these issues. Yet her observations also remain limited. She is a white, upper-middle class girl, and she can provide the audience with only that narrow insight into her small-town world.

In an article for the New York Times, author Roxane Gay recently wrote, “To Kill a Mockingbird is a book for which a great many people harbor reverence and nostalgia. I am not one of those people.…

“The black characters—Robinson and the family’s housekeeper, Calpurnia—are mostly there as figures onto which the white people around them can project various thoughts and feelings. They are narrative devices, not fully realized human beings,” she wrote.

This is true. Calpurnia and Tom are not developed characters, and we only see them from Scout’s perspective. Gay continued, “Perhaps I am ambivalent because I am black. I am not the target audience. I don’t need to read about a young white girl understanding the perniciousness of racism to actually understand the perniciousness of racism. I have ample firsthand experience.”

Gay’s essay is important. Teachers must offer multiple perspectives. Our reading and understanding of any text is shaped by our own knowledge and experiences. I teach in a school that is predominantly white and upper-middle class. Most of my students do not have experience with racism beyond what they read or see on film. Their lives are white-centric, and reading Mockingbird brings to the forefront a conversation about race, class, gender, and injustice.

Literature, as Grace Lin describes in her TED Talk Mirrors and Windows of Your Child’s Bookshelf (2016), “can show you the world and also show you a reflection of yourself.” We strive for our students to connect with books in a way they can see the potential and possibility for making the world a better place. Books not only are reflections of ourselves, as Lin points out, but they should also allow readers to see life from another perspective. Books should help readers build empathy and question injustice. They should create new opportunities that depict strength, adversity, and the responsibility to speak out against wrongdoing.

When reading Mockingbird, students can explore the issues with further reading, both historical and contemporary. From a historical point of view, supplemental readings about gender in the South during the 1930s can be paired with gender inequality today. Historians tell us that Lee based what happened to the novel’s Tom Robinson on The Scottsboro Trial and Emmett Till. To build background around Mockingbird, have students learn about Till as they study Reconstruction. The students can also read and discuss excerpts from Clarence Norris and Sybil D. Washington’s The Last of the Scottsboro Boys: An Autobiography. Susan Chenelle and Audrey Fisch’s Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird offers a collection of informational texts that support the novel, along with writing prompts and discussion questions.

In addition to primary documents and historical texts, there has been an explosion of contemporary young adult novels that address police brutality and the senseless shooting of young men and women of color, all of which parallel current news events and Mockingbird.

One of the first books I used as a parallel text was All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kieley. Since then, there has been an insurmountable collection of well-written texts with diverse voices. Books such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles, Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro, and The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater are excellent contemporary books that complement Lee’s masterpiece and immerse readers into issues of race, gender, and social justice. These books can be read aloud in class, used for independent reading during reading workshop, or used for comparative reading with selected passages.

Whether teaching literature or history, we cannot be limited by a single story. In her TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains that only showing one perspective impacts our understanding of others and ourselves. A single story is limiting and confining. Adichie states, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Regardless of your personal experience with To Kill a Mockingbird, consider the novel a catalyst for conversation about the elements of a great read—books that impact our lives, change our thinking, tug at our emotions, challenge our perceptions, and shape our history and identity. Lee’s Mockingbird shouldn’t be the one and only story that defines America, but it can play a key role as part of the larger narrative and spark much-needed discussion and exploration of issues, history, and complementary fiction.

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