Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why Aren’t We Doing Service-learning (or Doing it Enough) in Our Classrooms?

linservicelearning

Fall 2016 Bloomington Day Care

Service-learning as a teaching strategy is supported by research and theorists (e.g., Dewey, 1938; Jacoby, 2015). Service Learning is a pedagogy that combines classroom instruction, engaged student learning, meaningful service in the community, and personal reflection. Two terms associated with service-learning are reflection and reciprocity. As a pedagogy, service-learning is seen as a form of experiential education that relies heavily on reflection to ensure that learning occurs. This stance explains why service-learning is different from community service. Reciprocal component, on the other hand, is seen as co-learning because the students and the community learn from, and alongside, each other. This symbiotic relationship is a trademark of the service-learning experience which is specifically designed to yield both academic and civic outcomes.

Service-learning as an instructional strategy has been integrated in many teacher education programs across the country for nearly two decades now. Further, community-based service-learning is deemed to be useful in helping preservice teachers become aware of the social issues the community faces, needs of the community, their students’ educational needs, and eventually help them develop instructional activities relevant to their concerns. The early childhood preservice teachers who were enrolled in my TCH 111: Teaching a Diverse Student Population: 0-8 had engaged in various community-based service-learning projects as service-learning was embedded in the course since 2013 till December last year while TCH 111 was offered. Although not all preservice teachers understood the importance or appreciated the opportunity at the time, many indicated that it was beneficial for their professional growth. Based on these 200 preservice teachers’ experiences and reflections, I have learned that service-learning should focus on inclusive, critical, and social use; it is about building community and resolving issues associated with inequality. This realization is supported by seeing service-learning “as a philosophy of human growth and purpose, a social vision, an approach to community, and a way of knowing” (Kendall, 1990, p. 23). Certainly, my goal was to have my students, the future teachers, to do service-learning with their students and to be a part of their community in the future. Over the years, I had learned as much as my students had during those seven semesters in various aspects. To say the least, I learned to tailor instruction to better meet my students’ needs and their understanding of service-learning, and I also learned to communicate more effectively with agencies that had different expectations and diverse needs in our community.

Utilizing service-learning as a teaching strategy in P-12 classes has become popular in recent years across the country. In fact, through service-learning, children can actually actively collaborate to solve real world problems while fostering social skills and character development. As young children work together to address problems in the community, they can practice civic responsibility, respect, and caring for others. Service-learning can be embedded in early childhood best practices such as curriculum integration, cooperative learning, and hands-on experience easily. There are numerous examples of service-learning in P-12 education. For example, the kindergarteners in Hudson Public Schools, Massachusetts have being involved in several efforts: a handicapped awareness program that extends into a new initiative which raises funds for the March of Dimes; a recycling program tied to a environmental studies science unit; and a holiday toy drive linked to a social studies unit on community. What is amazing in this district is that not only kindergarteners are engaged in service-learning projects. Like their kindergarten, each grade also develop its own initiatives. For example, a group of their first graders have an ongoing relationship with senior citizens at our local Senior Center that helps teach students basic literacy skills. In addition, their fifth graders work with classrooms of multiple-handicapped children to develop an awareness of and respect for diversity and are reading buddies for some of their first grade classes. Many older children like middle and high school aged students are doing service-learning across the country as well.

To recognize our youth’s involvement in the community and help change history’s course, National Youth Leadership Council has been organizing the National Service Learning Conference since 1988 to recognize youth, teachers, policy makers, community based organization, and researchers at their annual conference. One of my previous students, Lori Pluchrat (a current Chicago Public Schools teacher), was selected to present her group’s service-learning project at YWCA and the impact on the families they served. A year later, I was at the same conference to present what I learned from Lori’s cohort as an instructor. I was impressed to see the number of youths and classroom teachers who were doing service-learning and the types of projects they were engaged in not only in our country but from abroad as well. Most importantly, they were all enthusiastically sharing their experiences and wanting to learn from one another. Who says one has to wait until he/she is an adult to change the world?

There are plentiful benefits of service-learning experiences in P-12 classes or teacher education programs. For future teachers, service-learning provides them with the opportunity to better understand the real-world experiences of individuals of all walks of life in their immediate communities, especially in the culturally diverse and low-income community. Take my students for example, service-learning had an impact on their dispositions toward teaching in diverse settings and made them become aware of the social issues. My fellow graduate school buddy, Susanne Adinolfi, who has been doing service-learning with her preschoolers in Florida for years, has shared with me what she observed over the years. First, service-learning provides a means by which her children are able to collaboratively engage in hands-on activities that directly addressed early learning standards and curricular goals. Furthermore, preschoolers appear to benefit most from direct service experiences and projects (I will explain the four types of service-learning later) that afford them the opportunity to frequently interact with more competent others. She believes her children offer more insightful observations and reflections when participating in these types of projects. What surprises me the most is that although preschool aged children are often characterized as egocentric and not yet able to take the perspective of others, Susanne’s preschoolers are quite capable of demonstrating pro-social skills such as sharing and helping.

If there are so many benefits of doing service-learning at all grade levels, why aren’t we doing it (or doing it enough)? My friend, Susanne just shows us how competent children as young as four and five can do to better their class, school, neighborhood, and community. Children’s age is not really a limit. We can simply conclude that it is never too late to do something that is meaningful and educational like service-learning in our classrooms. I will start with the types of service-learning and end with steps for service-learning.

There are four main types of service-learning according to Catheryn Kaye (2010):

  1. Direct service (e.g., visiting a senior center, tutoring younger children, serving food at a soup kitchen)
  2. Indirect service (e.g., planting a community garden, collecting clothes for a homeless shelter, fundraising)
  3. Advocacy (e.g., letter writing campaigns, petitions, writing and disseminating a public service announcement about healthy eating)
  4. Research (e.g., develop surveys, testing water or soil quality, conduct interviews).

Kaye is an award-winning author and internationally renowned service-learning expert. Her book, The Complete Guide to Service Learning is the go-to resource. If you are new to service-learning, you will find this book to be useful. Another book to keep is Vickie Lake and Ithel Jones’s (2012) Service-learning in the Pre-K-3 Classroom. This fabulous book provides readers with lots of ideas, templates, and lesson plans based on their research with the early childhood children and teachers.

There are many reasons for getting involved in a service-learning project. Regardless of the reason, I am sure you know that it is the right thing to do. I like what Barbara Lewis states in her book, “The Kids Guide to Service Projects” about being that someone. “If you’re worried about the world you’re about to inherit, then it’s obvious to you that someone has to do something. You can be that someone, even if you are ‘just a kid’” (2009, p. 3).

Lewis suggests 10 steps to successful service projects in her book. They can easily be modified to fit your students’ needs:

  1. Research your project. Choose an issue that concerns you and come up with a project related to that issue.
  2. Form a team. You can have students do it alone (if they are older) or group children. Choose students who share the same interest. Lewis suggests that you can invite students of different ages or college students and seniors in your area to get involved as well.
  3. Find a sponsor. This can ensure you get more resources needed. This can be a community member, the principal, or a community organization that is willing to support the project. In my case, I was able to get a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning grant as well as community engagement grants at ISU to support the projects (e.g., supplies, books, and travels).
  4. Make a plan. Define your goal (what do you want to achieve). Decide when, where, and how often the group wants to meet.
  5. Consider the recipient. Have students get to know the people they plan to work with/serve. Have students find out their needs first. In my case, my students had to do needs assessment first before they come up with a project.
  6. Decide where you will perform your service. Depending on the types of service-learning, transportation needs to be taken into consideration. I grouped students to ensure each group had at least a vehicle to get to the location or the site was on the bus route.
  7. Get any permissions you need to proceed. Depending on the project, you might need to get permission from the principal/program director, youth leader, parents, teachers, etc.
  8. Advertise. Let other people know about your students’ projects. You can make a flyer or send out a press release.
  9. Fundraise. If your students’ project will cost anything beyond pocket money, you will want to fundraise.
  10. When your project has ended, evaluate it. You need to have your students reflect on their experiences. Have students talk it over with the people they served. It is important for students showcase their projects and what they learned.

If service-learning is a requirement in your school (more and more schools, both public and private, are making service-learning a requirement), that is great. If not, you can be the first one to start something new and exciting (just be practical to ensure the projects are manageable). You can always contact me if you need more information on resources or simply how to start a project.  To end, I would like to quote Lewis’ words, “Instead, let yourself approach it with enthusiasm and dedication. Throw yourself into it.  Get excited…even passionate” (2009, p. 6). I hope you are doing it for yourself (or your students are doing it) because you/they care and because you/they want to make a difference!

References

Dewey, J. (1938) Experience and education. NY: Macmillan.

Jacob, B. (2015). Service-learning essentials: Questions, answers, and lessons learned. San

Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kaye, C. (2010). The complete guide to service-learning: Proven, practical ways to engage

students in civic responsibility, academic curriculum, & social action. Minneapolis,

MN: Free Spirit.

Kendall, J. (1990). Combining service and learning: An introduction. In J. C. Kendall (Ed.),

Combining service and learning: A resource book for community and public

service, Vol. 1. Raleigh, NC: National Society for Experiential Education.

Lake, V., & Jones, I. (2012). Service learning in the Pre-K-3 classroom. Minneapolis, MN:

Free Spirit.

Lewis, B. (2009). The kids’ guide to service projects. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit.

 

This post was brought to you by Miranda Lin. She is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at Illinois State University. She has worked with children in various settings and countries. Her research interests include anti-bias curriculum, teacher education, service learning, and home school partnership. Check out her past posts here and here!

Advertisements

Singing and Dancing Our Way Through the Day

A few nights before the first day of school, the stress dreams had worked their way into my peaceful summer sleep.  A scene of chaos unfolded, where I had lost complete control of the classroom.  The students were running wild, trashing the room as if their favorite sports team had just won the championship.  Waking up in a panic, a flood of questions rushed to the forefront of my mind.  Am I really going to be able to get 20 three- and four-year-olds to do what I say?  How am I going to teach them to line up, when they have never stepped foot into a classroom before?  What if they don’t want to listen to me?  How can I create the classroom I always envision; one that encourages a love for learning and helps students build relationships with others?  As all of these thoughts swirled around in my head, I thought back to the many teaching courses I took at ISU.  The professors highlighted the importance of setting clear expectations, explicit teaching of the classroom procedures, and building a positive rapport with your students early on.  Focusing on these aspects within the first weeks of school is critical to their success throughout the year, and I found that one way to support all of these goals was through music and movement.

music-159870_1280

Image by Pixabay.com

Transitions

Early on, I found that my preschoolers were extremely responsive to music.  If I sang something they were more likely to follow through with the expectation, versus when I spoke it.  As a result, I became the teacher version of a Disney princess by singing my way through our transitions!  When we are preparing to change activities in preschool, we look to the class schedule.  To engage students in this transition, we sing a transition song, “It’s time to check our schedule, schedule, schedule, it’s time to check our schedule so we know what to do.”  While singing this, students participate in a repetitive motor movement such as patting their lap or stomping their feet to the beat.  This helps students focus their attention on the visual schedule and prepare their whole body for the change that is about to take place.  This activity benefits students of all ability levels, including those who struggle with transitions or focusing their attention on one task at a time.  Additionally, if they are non-verbal or an English language learner, they can still participate by following along with the motor movements and turning their eyes to the picture schedule.

Another important transition in early childhood is cleaning up the play space.  I play a clean up song over the speakers to cue students that it is time to clean up without me having to use my voice at all (I keep in mind some students require visual/ verbal warnings leading up to this transition).  Some classrooms can even use this song as a count down for how long clean up should take!

One transition song that was extremely helpful to my group was one I discovered from a fellow preschool teacher: “My hands are at my side.  I’m standing straight and tall.  My eye’s are looking forward…I’m ready for the hall!”  is the song we sing to line up and prepare our bodies for walking in a line.  This may have been the biggest triumph in our preschool day, as running through the halls while yelling is much more fun!  You can use transition songs to sing hello, goodbye, prepare for snack or story time and everything in between!  Here is a link to the playlist of songs I use throughout the day! https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLy7qlMs9mxuNqEHQAQobN6wgL-_QDmNO9

Learning Experiences

We set aside time everyday to sing and dance in preschool.  Whether it’s during our music and movement time or with a music therapist who comes in once a week, the students are motivated to participate in musical activities.  There are endless songs and musical activities out there that are engaging and fun for young learners, while also sneaking in academic building blocks that benefit their learning and growth.  All areas of the curriculum can be embedded within music and movement, including math, literacy, and social emotional skills.  A current fan favorite in our classroom is “The Number Rock.”  This simple song prompts students to repeat back numbers 1-20, while playing their air guitars, drums, and tambourines.  To increase the excitement, we start low to the ground at the beginning of the song and slow rise until we reach 20 to celebrate!  Songs can be made increasingly interactive and motivating with the use of visuals, hands on materials such as instruments, motor movements, and videos.  To practice identifying emotions in facial expressions, we sing a song called “can you make a happy face, jack-o-lantern?” by Super Simple Learning.  For this song, I printed out the different facial expression on jack-o-lanterns, the students can take turns holding up the correct face, while mimicking that face on their own.

dance-674749_1280

Image by Pixabay.com

Large Motor Activities

There are endless musical large motor activities that can be incorporated in the early childhood classroom, however including music in your gym activities helps to offer structure where structure can be more challenging in large spaces, such as a gym or outside.  Beginning with a warm up song can inform your students that it is time for gym and will offer a fun, quick activity for students to become engaged.  Everyone fondly remembers their favorite day in gym class: the parachute.  What they don’t recall is the chaos that quickly ensues if the teacher does not come prepared with clear expectations and a plan.  One way to avoid students being whipped around by their peers with the parachute is to pair the activity with a song.  Music can offer step-by-step directions for students to follow along with, set the pace, and offer a clear start and end to the activity.

parachute-790652_1280

Image by Pixabay.com

Bringing music into the early childhood classroom can benefit students’ educational experience in a multitude of ways.  Whether you are looking to facilitate smooth and clear transitions or help support students’ social-emotional growth, music can play a large role in reaching those goals.  My classroom wouldn’t be the same without starting the day with a hello song to greet each student.  How do you incorporate music and movement into your classroom?  You might be surprised at how often it naturally occurs, or this may have sparked some ideas to embed into your classroom routines.  Please feel free to share ideas or things that have worked in the comments below!

This post was brought to you from Julia Spencer, ’15.  This is Julia’s second post on the blog, and we’re so glad to have her as a guest blogger.  Check out her profile on the “Meet the Bloggers” page.

The ABC’s of Preschool Special Education

By Killian McIlvain

Structure & Routine

We’ve all seen the student that comes into the classroom first thing in the morning and immediately starts goofing off and wandering around…What if instead of having a loose direction of “unpack and sit down,” she had a checklist that walked her through exactly what she needed to do and showed her what her “reward” was once she was finished?  I don’t know about you, but I’m going to guess the morning routine is going to improve for that student.

Having a predictable and routine structure helps students to self-regulate and stay focused on what is expected of them. Structure begins as soon as students walk in the door, and I find planning for it to be one of the most difficult parts of teaching Special Ed. It involves thinking through every single second of your students’ day and figuring out what your expectation (as the teacher) is for them, what they will have to accomplish, and what problems might arise while this is happening.

For example, if my expectation is: Jimmy needs to wash his hands, throw out the paper towel, and sit down at the table for sensory time.

Jimmy’s tasks are:

  1. turn on water
  2. put soap on hands
  3. scrub hands
  4. turn off water
  5. get paper towel from dispenser
  6. walk across classroom to garbage can
  7. throw out paper towel
  8. walk across classroom to sensory table
  9. sit down

That’s nine tasks!  Something that you, or I, or most general education students could do without any further direction is actually a lot of tasks for my 4-year-old friend with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  Thinking through exactly what we are expecting of students helps us see where possible breakdowns may occur.  As I was typing that example (and it is a real example from my classroom), I was thinking to myself, “Why is the garbage can so far from the sink?  That’s a huge transition from one side of the room to the other.”  The answer is that it is close to the door so the janitors can grab it easily to empty the breakfast garbage, but getting a second garbage can is a very cheap and easy fix to remove two unnecessary transitions in this friend’s day!

In all of this, I am thinking through my students’ day in a way that allows me to make changes (like fixing that garbage can first thing Monday morning) that will help the day run more smoothly and will help my students be successful.  It is a tedious task that often gets lost because we forget that things like walking across the classroom twice are where a lot of issues come from, but when we have a strong, intentional, structured classroom, we can resolve issues before they even arise, which is always a win!

 

Language Supports

I don’t know about your caseloads, but in my three years of teaching preschool special education, I have only had one student that did not have some kind of language delay, which means that 99% of them did!  That’s a huge percentage of students with related issues.  So, it has been a big focus in my classroom, and, I believe, in all preschool special education classrooms.

One of the most important language supports in my classroom, and one that completely changed how I looked at language learning, is a Core Board. A Core Board is a visual that includes images for some of the most commonly used, or “core” words, such as “I,” “you,” “want,” “need,” “help,” “more,” “go,” “see,” and many more. Focusing on teaching my students to use these “core” words as opposed to more nouns or one-use-words like “pencil” or “bear” has lead to a huge amount of language growth, because my students are able to use these words across activities and throughout the day.  The blog The Autism Helper has a great post that has a more detailed description of Core Boards with a lot of good examples.  You can check it out here.

While Core Boards have been the biggest game changer in my room, we also use a number of other strategies to help give every child the means to communicate. One way we communicate is to have images of classroom objects/ materials that students are able to physically hand to a teacher in order to request that item.  This is kind of an improvised version of PECS (the Picture Exchange Communication System), which I have not been trained in, but love the concept of.  I am hoping to add PECS in its pure form to my classroom later in the year, once I am able to attend the training.  We also use some very simple signs using American Sign Language, for things like “more” and “help” (though ASL, again, falls into the category of “Things I Need to Learn More About”).  I also have one student who uses an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device that I am still learning about, as it is brand new to us.  It uses the Core Vocabulary concepts, so I am excited to get into it.

Overall, I don’t think there is any ‘right’ way to support language in your classroom, because every student needs something different. What is important is that you are making sure that every single student has at least some way to communicate because without that, everything else (behavior, academics, social skills, everything) will suffer.

 

Visuals

This one goes hand-in-hand with language supports, but really in a preschool special education classroom, there is no such thing as too many visuals!  I have visuals for communication, behavior strategies, the daily schedule, labeling where items belong on shelves, how to wash your hands, choice boards for which song to sing, options for greeting your teacher when you walk in…You name it, there is a visual for it!  A lot of my visuals I have made myself (because I am overly picky), but there are a ton of ready-made things out there for you to print and laminate and you’re ready to go.  The website TeachersPayTeachers.com is a great resource for ready-made visuals and Boardmaker is an amazing way to make your own.  Many school districts already have accounts, so be sure to ask around!

The most important visuals in my room are the visual lanyards that my paraprofessional and I wear around our necks.  They are small cards that each have an image and a word for common directions such as “sit” and “no yelling.”  Having these right there with me at all points of the day without any scrambling to find them has been invaluable in supporting my students that have trouble following verbal directions.

Another important visual (that may belong in language supports, but bare with me) in my classroom are choice boards.  We use choice boards for everything from picking which song we are going to sing to identifying colors to identifying characters in the story we’re reading.  They are a super easy way to include your non-verbal students in the conversation and to support the students who are verbal, but who may have still have trouble answering questions or making choices.  I make my choice boards on Microsoft Word using Google Images, so they are simple, and I can find whatever images I think best represent the ideas we need.

 

Support

Being a teacher is rough. Being a special education teacher can be even more so, because it is very easy to feel isolated and alone.  We do not always have teaching partners or even anyone else in the school who has the same type of classroom (in my school I am the only “cluster” teacher), and that can make it seem like no one else knows what we’re going through, but that’s not true!

Talk to the other teachers in your building!  Even the 7th /8th-grade inclusion teacher has been able to help me brainstorm my preschool problems!  Talk to the general education teachers in the same grade level; they may not have exactly the same dilemmas you do, but they can still be a great resource.

Look online!  There are a ton of amazing special education blogs that have helped me so much I cannot even begin to say.  Considerate Classroom and Fun in ECSE are two that are both dedicated to early childhood special education, but there are tons more that have a broader focus, but no less helpful information.

Talk to your family and friends!  My roommate has become quite the preschool expert (despite her job in the business world), thanks to all the times I get home, and I just need to tell somebody about the crazy day I had.

Take a break! Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to step back and say “I’m done with school for the day.”  It is so easy to get caught up in looking for ideas on Pinterest and cutting out materials for tomorrow that we spend all our time outside school, doing things for school.  Step back and take some time to do something for yourself.  It will benefit your students in the long run if you are able to stay focused because you haven’t burnt yourself out.

 

These are just my ABC’s (and D) on special education, not the whole book, not even the whole alphabet!  There are so many more things to consider, but this post was meant to be something to get you thinking!  I hope some of the pieces are applicable to your classroom, even if you’re not teaching preschool or special education, and that you can take away something new!  I am not an expert, just a teacher, but feel free to reach out if you have any questions or comments!

Killian McIlvain is an ISU ECE alumni, and a third-year, Special Education teacher in a Chicago Public Schools, blended, and bilingual Pre-K classroom.  See Killian’s past post on this blog here.

 

Say Hello: Using Books to Support Oral Language in Diverse Learners

by Sherry Sanden

picture1

A little disclaimer: In my 17 years of teaching in early childhood classrooms, in a variety of Head Start, child care, and primary-grade classrooms, I never once had a student whose birth language was not English. And I am monolingual; I speak only English. That is the background from which I, as a teacher educator, approach my pre-service teachers, who will encounter a very different world of teaching than the one I entered. Most of them will have one or several dual language learners in their early childhood classrooms, probably every year of their career. So I recognize the concern in the faces of many of my mostly white, mostly monolingual, mostly female teacher candidates when they ask the question, “How do I support the language and literacy development of all of the children in my classroom, even when we don’t share a language, or when I don’t have experience with their culture or their background?”

There are lots of suggestions I give, like my recommendations to pursue our university’s ESL endorsement, and especially to use their time and resources to learn more about their students’ languages and experiences. But another way I suggest they bridge that gap with their students in real time is to plan experiences with children’s books. Children’s literature can provide a context through which to help bridge the divide and cross language and cultural barriers.

picture2

Burnam (2009) discusses a “culture of conversation” that needs to be the norm in early childhood classrooms, to support children’s speaking and listening skills. She mentions two types of conversation that are important, spontaneous & facilitated. We know how important authentic spontaneous verbal interactions are. That’s the chatter that is the lifeblood of the early childhood classroom, student to student, teacher to student, student to classroom pet turtle, all of it. That kind of natural talk is how children learn to speak from the beginning. The inclusion of spontaneous conversations in our early childhood classrooms is essential for language development. The focus here, though, is on the second kind of conversation: facilitated conversations in our classrooms, the planned instances of oral interactions that, if they’re done right, will look spontaneous to our students but that we will know were purposely inserted into classroom activities to support our students’ listening and speaking growth. There are many ways that children’s literature can be used to facilitate those conversations amongst all of our learners. I present below children’s books that can be used to prompt children’s oral language development. Hopefully you will find both some new ideas to support students’ developing oral language and some new multicultural titles that you can include in your diverse classroom library.

Purposeful greetings & ordinary interactions

In my Head Start and my primary-grade classrooms, our day started with Morning Meeting. This low-key, welcoming introduction to the day always began with a greeting of varied spoken and unspoken messages letting our friends know we were glad they were there. One of our primary greetings involved saying good morning and shaking hands, because that was a greeting familiar to me, from my tradition, but it certainly isn’t the only possible greeting that could be used.

In Say Hello!, children are introduced to multiple ways that people let each other know they are glad to see one another. As a monolingual English-speaker, a book like this supports my tentative attempts to include varied languages in my classroom greetings. Inviting family members to be a part of morning greetings would allow them to introduce their own familiar greetings and help your children learn them as well. Peekaboo Morning might be used with younger children, prompting them to mimic the teacher’s peekaboos and then to create their own. These are examples of facilitated everyday greetings and interactions, planned in a purposeful way to not only prompt children to participate but also to value the multiple languages of the students and to expose them to languages and traditions different from their own.

Experiences that inspire “extended discourse”

Extended discourse is talk that requires participants to develop understandings beyond the here-and-now and that require the use of several sentences to build a linguistic structure, such as in explanations, narratives, or pretend talk (Dickinson & Tabors, 2002, p. 12). This kind of often-decontextualized talk is important for developing young children’s ability to tell stories and carry on conversations about current and past events. Books can support experiences that provide topics for conversation about familiar and unfamiliar topics…cooking, zoo, library, and gardening are just a few. Experiences in a school or community garden, for example, provide a wealth of opportunities to prompt contextualized and unusual language.

One book that allows you to integrate varied cultures is The Ugly Vegetables, which depicts a family growing and then cooking Chinese vegetables, and can culminate in cooking “ugly vegetable” soup. There are numerous gardening-related and food books, all of which support the integration of literature and oral language.

Other experiences that can prompt rich conversation, or “extended discourse,” in a familiar environment are community interactions, or simply walking the neighborhood. A great book to include with neighborhood walking experiences is Last Stop on Market Street, the 2016 Newberry medal winner.

An opportunity to integrate multiple literacies through extending neighborhood experiences is a photo essay activity. Take your camera or smart phone along and allow children to photograph their experiences and what they see as important in the community. This exercise provides multiple opportunities for contextualized and decontextualized oral language, along with reading and writing. Using the photos in class books or on concept charts provides lots of opportunities for children to relive and discuss their experiences. This also provides opportunities for labels and captions in the multiple languages of your students.

Poetry, rhymes, and word play

Rhyming and word play support oral language, phonemic awareness and “…offer each child the opportunity to join with others and share the joy of language” (Buchoff, 1994, p. 29). While the use of nursery rhymes and finger plays is traditional in early childhood classrooms, the inclusion of poetry, nursery rhymes, and chants from multiple languages and cultures provides the opportunity to value the traditions of a diverse student population.

The book My Village: Rhymes from Around the World shares 22 nursery rhymes from multiple languages, included in English and their native language, and provides the opportunity to get to know and enjoy them all. You might rely on options like bilingual staff members who could audio record the nursery rhymes in their traditional language or family members who could join you, to provide a supportive language experience for your students’ biliteracy.

Another option is this website: http://www.mamalisa.com/?t=hubeh. It provides rhymes and poems in multiple languages. This would also allow you create your own class books of rhymes from targeted languages.

Story reenactments

Use familiar and well-loved stories to encourage children to act out the plot lines or make up some of their own, relying on a story’s characters. For story reenactments, use books with a clear sense of sequence and provide repeated readings so children are familiar with the plot and the language. You can use puppets or props or just children acting out parts, but the goal is in the process, not in a polished performance. Just let the children have fun with it. After children are familiar with the story and perhaps after you have prompted a reenactment with the group, put the book in your library or other space where children feel free to be performers. I guarantee you will have children acting as little thespians on their own!

Using puppets to reenact stories is excellent support for oral language as well as for reader response. In fact, Louie by Ezra Jack Keats, tells the story of a neighborhood child who is reluctant to speak until puppets catch his attention. After that, everyone wants to be involved in the puppet show.

Wordless picture books are an especially good choice for story reenactments. Wordless picture books like Jerry Pinkney’s gorgeous 2010 Caldecott award winner, The Lion and the Mouse, inherently inspire language since the illustrators so considerately leave the story telling to us, without a right or wrong way to interpret the story.

picture16

Interactive Read-alouds

Finally, I can’t end without advocating for interactive read-alouds, with both fiction and nonfiction texts. Using read-alouds with plenty of opportunities for children to talk–to you, to each other, to the story and the characters–is highly motivating for oral language production. Children get the opportunity to hear and to use decontextualized language in an atmosphere of authenticity. Informational and conceptual text are especially supportive of diverse student populations since they often contain fewer cultural barriers to understanding than do fiction texts (Kamil & Bernhardt, 2001).

Early childhood educators eager to support the oral language of their young learners can rely on children’s books to build bridges across language and cultural barriers. Learners who spring from languages and backgrounds different from our own will especially benefit from our efforts to allow children’s literature to pave the way toward greater interactive language experiences in early learning settings.

References

Buchoff, R. (1994). Joyful voices: Facilitating language growth through the rhythmic response to chants. Young Children, 49(4), 26-30.

Burnam, L. (2009). Are you listening: Fostering conversations that help young children learn. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Dickinson, D.K., & Tabors, P.O. (2002). Fostering language and literacy in classrooms and homes. Young Children, 57(2), 10-18.

Kamil, M.L., & Bernhardt, E.B. (2001). Reading instruction for English language learners. In M.F. Graves, C. Juell, & B. Graves (Eds.), Teaching reading in the 21st century. (pp. 460-503). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Web Resources:

International Children’s Digital Library: http://en.childrenslibrary.org/  (houses over 46oo digital books in 59 languages; iPhone and iPad apps

Multicultural Children’s Book Day resources: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/multicultural-reading-resources/diversity-book-lists-for-kids/diversity-in-kidlit-presented-as-every-day/

Mama Lisa’s World: http://www.mamalisa.com/?t=hubeh  (songs and rhymes from multiple cultures and languages)

Children’s Books

Food and cooking:

Akin, S. (2010). Three scoops and a fig. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.

Nayer, N. (2009). What should I make? Toronto, ON: Tricycle Press.

Clothing:

Emberley, R. (2002). My clothes. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Company.

Hoffman, S., & Hoffman, I. (2014). Jacob’s new dress. Chicago, IL: Albert Whitman & Co.

Tafolla, C. (2008). What can you do with a rebozo? Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press.

Gardening:

Bunting, E. (2000). Flower garden. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.

Emberly, R. (2005). My garden. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Company.

Lin, G. (1999). The ugly vegetables. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Celebrating individuality & differences:

Baker, K. (2011). No two alike. San Diego, CA: Beach Lane Books.

Beaumont, K. (2004). I like myself. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Fox, M. (1997). Whoever you are. San Diego, CA: Voyager Books.

Ludwig, T. (2013). The invisible boy. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Rotner, S. (2010). Shades of people. New York, NY: Holiday House.

Wyeth, S.D. (1998). Something beautiful. New York, NY: Dragonfly Books.

Rhyming & poetry:

Crews, N. (2004). The neighborhood Mother Goose. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books

Greenfield, E. (2016). In the Land of Words: New and Selected Poems. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Wright, D. (2015). My village: Rhymes from around the world. London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Wright, D. (2013). Korean nursery rhymes: Wild geese, land of goblins and other favorite songs and rhymes. Rutland, VT: Tuttle Publishing

Local and world community:

Chocolate, D. (2009). El barrio. New York, NY: Henry Holt.

Choung, E. (2008). Minji’s salon. La Jolla, CA: Kane/Miller.

de la Pena, M. (2015). Last stop on Market Street. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Global Fund for Childen. (2009). Global babies. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Gray, N. (1988). A country far away. New York, NY: Orchard Books.

Keats, E.J. (1972/2001). Pet show! London, UK: Puffin.

Kerley, B. (2009). One world, one day. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Children’s Books.

Celebrations:

Mora, P. (2008). Join hands! The ways we celebrate life. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Tafolla, C. (2010). Fiesta babies. New York, NY: Tricycle Press.

Home and family:

Alexie, S. (2016). Thunder boy, Jr. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Company.

Hurwitz, J. (1993). New shoes for Silvia. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Joose, B.M. (2005). Papa, do you love me? San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Joose, B.M. (1991). Mama, do you love me? San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

McCarty, P. (2000). Baby steps. New York, NY: Henry Holt.

Rotner, S., & Kelly, S.M. (2015). Families. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Tonatiuh, D. (2013). Rancho rabbit and the coyote. New York, NY: Abrams Books.

Williams, V.B. (1982). A chair for my mother. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Everyday life:

Bunting, E. (2006). One green apple. New York, NY: Clarion Books.

Falwell, C. (2005). David’s drawings. New York, NY: Lee and Low.

Heap, S. (2002). What shall we play? Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Johnson, A. (2007). Lily Brown’s paintings. New York, NY: Orchard Books.

Wordless:

Pinkney, J. (2009). The lion and the mouse. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Company.

Greetings:

Isadora, R. (2010). Say hello! New York, NY: Putnam’s Sons

Isadora, R. (2002). Peekaboo morning. New York, NY: Putnam’s Sons

Murphy, M. (2014). Say hello like this. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Raschka, C. (1993). Yo! Yes? New York, NY: Scholastic.

Stojic, M. (2009). Hello world: Greetings in 43 languages. United Kingdom: Boxer Books Limited.

Sherry Sanden is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Literacy at Illinois State University. She is a former first- and second-grade teacher and child care director. Her research interests include the ways that teachers learn about and use books and reading in early education classrooms. Check out Sherry’s past posts at this blog hereherehere, and here.

All Screen Time Should Not Be Considered Equal

by Rena Shifflet

As the influx of technological devices in the lives of young children has evolved, so has the concept of “screen time.” Recommendations for the amount of exposure to screen time were originally based on children’s TV viewing. Agencies like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that children under the age of two should not watch TV, videos, or DVDs at all. Today, the Internet provides access to digital media with capabilities beyond passive viewing, on an ever increasing variety of devices. Children can now access videos, games, educational apps, even Skype with grandma on computers, tablets, and phones in addition to TVs. This variety in digital media content has resulted in a reconsideration of screen time. In lieu of recommending a specific number of hours, the AAP now recommends parents create a family media plan that takes into account each individual child’s needs, as well as the benefits and challenges that come with children’s media use (see Online media plan tool).

Rather than using the element of time to designate limits on screen time, we should consider how the devices are being used. A distinction must be made between creativity and consumption – are children passively consuming media or are they actively engaged in some type of creative production? Devorah Heinter cautions this should not be considered an “either or” situation, but more of a continuum. For example, passively watching YouTube videos on how to use Minecraft can lead to cognitive engagement and creative problem solving, while watching numerous episodes of Paw Patrol will not. Likewise, there is a difference in the degree of creativity. Curating or reposting the content of others is not at the same level as creating original material and sharing those creations via online sites.

Here are just a few of the many ways screens can be used to promote creativity.

Making Art

moma-art-lab

Students can use a pencil to draw or stamp shapes using a variety of colors. Consider offering a challenge of using a specific number of shapes or limiting it to just a single shape. Students can narrate a story to go with their creation. All the student drawings can be uploaded to VoiceThread to create a class collection. Students can then individually record a narration for their picture. (See this earlier eceteachertalk blog post for more information on Voice Thread)

  • Bord (Free for Android; $1.99 for IOS)

bord

This app lets children create original artwork on a green or black chalkboard background. Tools include six different chalk and size options. The app chalk functions the same as actual chalk. The more strokes applied to the same area, the more concentrated the color will become, just as all the chalk will not be removed with the first pass of the eraser.

Making Stories

this-is-my-story

Children can make their own story book by dragging images onto the page. Simple sentence frames can be completed. Finished stories can be saved and read by a narrator.

storybird

Storybird, a web-based app, is more complex. Students can use professional artwork to create their stories in the form of picture books or poems. They can then write a story to fit the images they have selected. Keep in mind, users must be 13 years of age to become a member but a parent’s email address can be used for younger children. The parent will receive an email when the child becomes a “storybird.”

Making Music

toca-band

Children are charged with creating a band. They have 16 band members, each with a unique appearance and talent from which to choose. Characters can be placed on the “golden star platform” to perform a solo. While there is basically one song, children can experiment and manipulate the instruments to create many variations.

Programming by Design – Early Childhood Coding

The word “coding” can spark concern among early childhood educators. How can children who have yet learned how to read, learn how to code? Mitchel Resnick, MIT Professor of Learning Research and head of the Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten group, considers coding to be an essential literacy. The newly released standards from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) call for all students to be “computational thinkers” and “innovative designers.” “As young children code with ScratchJr, they develop design and problem-solving skills that are foundational for later academic success,” said Marina Umaschi Bers, professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts, and director of the Tufts’ Development Technologies research group which co-developed ScratchJr. “By using math and language in a meaningful context, they develop early-childhood numeracy and literacy.”

Perhaps the most impressive observation I’ve made when watching young children use coding apps, is their resiliency. Rather than becoming defeated and quitting when a path they’ve set doesn’t work as intended, they are anxious to try again! Since there is little risk associated with this trial and error environment, students are more than willing to pursue alternate solutions; a great way to learn from mistakes! I can’t encourage you enough to try these apps out on your own and judge the value they have to offer for yourself.

scratch-jr

Students can program their own interactive stories and games by dragging LEGO-like pieces that snap together to create a command sequence for Scratch the cat. After some carefully planned instruction to guide students through the activities, students as young as 5 will be ready to modify existing programs and begin constructing their own interactive stories.

the-foo1

the-foo2

This app was specifically designed to be used with children as young as 4-year-olds. The Foos has three worlds, each with its own set of programmable characters. Children create a series of actions by dragging blocks at the bottom of the screen to create a series of commands in order to help a character achieve a goal, such as earning stars or capturing the Glitch. As children progress, the levels become more challenging requiring more complex programming skills, making this app suitable for a range of ages.

Final Thoughts

As with all things, creativity is in the eyes of the beholder. Not every child will get excited about the same creative outlet, and no one app or website offers more creative potential than another. Playing with each of these apps can only help in determining possible matches for the children you know so well.

I hope this has helped to offer an alternative perspective about children and screen time. 

Rena Shifflet spent over thirty years in public education as a classroom teacher and district technology coordinator. As an assistant professor at Illinois State University, Rena works with preservice elementary education majors and practicing educators.

Breaking Down Standards to “Bite Sized Pieces”

by Julie Derden

 A little background…

In January 2016, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) adopted the National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies prepared by the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) and integrated that framework into the Illinois Learning Standards. The rulemaking requires school districts to fully implement these K-12 standards for social science in the 2017-2018 school year. The Illinois Social Science Learning Standards introduction states, “[t]he vision supporting this design is to produce Illinois graduates who are civically engaged, socially responsible, culturally aware, and financially literate [emphasis theirs]” (Illinois State Board of Education, p. 2). Additionally, the document (click on the first bullet point for the entire K-12 standard document to download as a PDF) details that in Illinois, social science curriculum is determined locally and that these standards are broken into two broad categories as a framework for implementation: inquiry skills and disciplinary concepts.

Changes to curriculum and learning standards can be unsettling to both new and experienced educators for the obvious reasons: Will I have to create my own curriculum for my own grade? Will I receive some professional development to promote this shift? How will students be assessed on the new standards? These are all real concerns weighing on the minds of already very busy teachers. I can relate, albeit in a much different situation…

Last semester, I was contacted by a faculty member in history education to assist in developing a bibliography of children’s books tied to the new standards that could be used in a K-5 professional development session that she was facilitating with area teachers. The process through which I attacked this relatively daunting task made me think that both the process and the product might be of interest to early childhood educators, ECE pre-service teachers, and other readers of this blog. With that in mind, I shall attempt to walk you through my thought processes and searching of the library’s online catalog, and I will only focus on K-3 social science standards. Preschool (Age 3-KDG enrollment age) Early Learning and Development Standards (IELDS) can be found here.

Where to start?

In order to build a useful bibliography, I knew that I had to first understand the structure of the standards themselves from the document that had been provided to me. The Illinois Social Science Learning Standards are broken into K-12 Inquiry Skills (not addressed in this article) and K-5 Disciplinary Concepts (I’ll call them DISCIPLINES.) that include civics, economics and financial literacy, and geography. These broad disciplines are further delineated into disciplinary concepts that spread across the K-5 standards and align with a particular standard. Themes by grade level allow teachers to see the “big picture emphasis” for a specific grade level. This flow chart (see below) that I sketched out helped me better understand the structure of the document itself before I even attempted to think about or locate books that would complement an individual standard.

flowcart-derden

In addition to making my own flowchart, this piece within the standards document was helpful in terms of the coding convention that was used to format the document:

how-to-read-the-standards-derden

[Note: Only the first four on the list apply to Grades K-3.]

Formatting the document:

For the in-service training, I thought it would be helpful to have the structure of the Standards document replicated (sort of) in the handout/bibliography.

civics-standards-by-grade-level-derden

As I began working on the kindergarten standards, it became apparent to me that it would be helpful to indicate at the end of the citation whether the book was fiction (F) or non-fiction (NF) – later, I would add historical fiction (HF) to the list for other grades. Here’s how things started in my document, based on the original document:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Using Children’s Literature with the Illinois Social Science Learning Standards

(F) and (NF) at the end of the citation indicate Fiction and Non-fiction titles, respectively. Kindergarten Theme: My Social World

Civics Disciplinary Concept: Understand Political Systems, with an Emphasis on the United States

Civic and Political Institutions

SS.CV.1.K. Describe roles and responsibilities of people in authority.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Beginning the search

Hmmmmm. As I looked at the broad scope of each standard, I realized that I wouldn’t be searching the catalog “as usual” by title or author, or for that matter, even a subject or topic. Fortunately, Milner Library has a “faceted catalog,” allowing one to “filter” or narrow one’s searches. I knew I’d limit my search to children’s books in Milner Library’s Teaching Materials Center by following these directions:

locating-tmc

Keyword searching in online catalogs has made searching much easier because the term or terms used will result in a “hit” for that word that appears anywhere in the catalog record. Because the topics were written for educators and not for children, I had to think “simply.”

I went back to the structure of the standard and drew on my own experience as a primary teacher when I looked at SS.CV.1.K. I realized that I needed to think about how I would explain roles and responsibilities of people in authority through the lens of a kindergartner’s social world.

Eureka! This standard is talking about community helpers! Firefighters, police officers, mail carriers, the principal, teachers and nurse at a school! Now I had the vocabulary to begin my search.

milner-search-derden

In the catalog search, I used school nurse as my search term on the Books & Media tab and then limited the Teaching Materials Center in the location after the initial results displayed. After getting the results for just children’s books (PK-12), I looked in the individual title record to determine whether that particular book was appropriate for kindergarten.

books-and-media-tab-derden

I could see from the More Details tab in the first title in my results that this book was 24 pages (a picture books is typically 32-pages) and would provide information about what the nurse does at a school. Clues from the catalog record allowed me to search and determine age-appropriate titles for many standards from the comfort of my office chair/computer screen. When I did go to pull the individual titles, I determined I was very successful on identifying age-appropriate books, with few exceptions (e.g., the book was too advanced in typography/layout/content for Kindergarten). Ultimately, you know your students best, and therefore can determine which books “fit” the learning outcomes for your students.

As I proceeded, there were some standards that I realized would be best implemented with local resources, as the state of Illinois is so diverse in its typography, commerce, and urban versus rural populations. Some standards were really tough, but once I thought about how to explain them to children in an age-appropriate way, it made searching the catalog much easier. One of the standards for kindergarten in the Economics discipline was a real mind-bender:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Economic Concepts

SS.EC.1.K. Explain choices are made because of scarcity (i.e., because we cannot have everything that we want).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This one was a challenge, but I entered the term(s) poverty AND easy (“Easy” is the TMC locater for picture books; this might vary from library to library) in the advanced search, limited to the Teaching Materials Center, and looked at the results. A great book titled Those Shoes lent itself perfectly to this standard for this grade level!

those-shoes-derden

details-those-shoes-derden

Finishing the bibliography…

After a lot of hard work and hard thinking, I was able to produce the beginning of a bibliography that includes a book for almost every social science standard. This is by no means an all-inclusive list nor one that is “bound” to a book for a specific grade for a specific standard (click this link to view the full bibliography: social-studies-standards-and-childrens-literature-derden). It is meant to serve as an example of how using children’s books on social science topics can enhance the unit or lesson and allow children to help drive the conversation and learning.

Ultimately, by thinking about our students FIRST, we can find stories and materials that can help children grasp the concepts set out in the standards, and we, as educators might learn a little something along the way, as well!

References

Boelts, M. (2007). Those shoes. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.

Garrett, W. (2015). What does the school nurse do? New York: PowerKids Press.

Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards [for Preschool to Kindergarten    enrollment age]. (September 2013). Retrieved from http://illinoisearlylearning.org/IELDS/index.htm [html version]. [PDF version available from link in blog.]

Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). (Jan. 27, 2016). Illinois Social Science Learning Standards. Retrieved from https://www.isbe.net/Pages/Learning-Standards.aspx

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.socialstudies.org/standards/introduction

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.socialstudies.org/about

Julie Derden is a former elementary public school teacher who found her first real love teaching first graders to read. She currently serves as the Teaching Materials Librarian at Illinois State University’s Milner Library where she is responsible for maintaining a PK-12 materials collection for use by education faculty, preservice teacher candidates, and other students. Check out her full bio here.

Dear Students, Something Happened Last Night…

vote

by Kyle Miller

Think back to November 9th, the day after the presidential election. How did you wake up? Maybe you woke up with a smile; maybe you woke up excited that the election was over; maybe you woke up annoyed; maybe you woke up not caring. I woke up in a complete fog. Donald Trump was our new president-elect, and I had to get to campus to instruct courses with teacher candidates.

As I drove to campus the looming question was, “Do I address this in class?” My first thought was to ignore the topic, get through the day, and process it with my family that night. My second thought was to spend the whole period discussing the election, and what this might mean for their current and future students, as well as the field of education. I decided to introduce it at the beginning of class and allow it to unfold without any specific expectations. This is how it unfolded…

After welcoming students I said, “So….something happened last night. I think we need to talk about it. I want to begin by telling you that I am very emotional right now. As you know, my husband is a Haitian immigrant and my daughter is biracial. This presidential campaign was very draining to watch and hurtful in many ways. However, I also want you to know that I respect all of the ideologies in this classroom, and I am not here to endorse a side. Rather, I want to process this major event.”

I continued with, “After any election, students come to school scared. They have heard many things about the candidates and may have fears or misconceptions of what will happen if a certain candidate is elected. When I worked in Boston Public Schools, I had one student arrive in tears because she was scared that her single mother would lose her public assistance and housing based on the positions of the new president. I had a Muslim-American student who stopped attending school for a while because her family feared how she would be treated. Even yesterday, a friend of mine told me that her first grade daughter came home from school and begged her mom not to vote for Hillary Clinton, because her friend’s dad said she “cuts off people’s heads” (yes, that is a true story). So, I want to open it up to the class – how would you address the election with your students?”

There was a significant pause in the classroom, and then students began to share. The suggestions began with taking a neutral approach to the election:

“I work with first graders, and I really don’t think they knew what was going on. They knew that people were voting for a new president, but my school didn’t get into the candidates or their positions. I think that is probably for the best.”

“My students learned about democracy and the voting process, but my teacher made sure to avoid talking about the candidates. So, they all voted on whether they wanted new swings or a slide for the playground. They were able to talk about the pros and cons of each and go through the process without getting too political.”

Then one student challenged the idea that young students are unconcerned with the election:

“I don’t think they are that oblivious. I work with first graders and we didn’t talk about it in class, but it definitely came up at recess. They even started forming teams for a game with the team names of Trump and Hillary. I would want to discuss it. My cooperating teacher didn’t talk about it, but maybe she should have.”

This opened up the discussion to explore the other side:

“I think my cooperating teacher has handled the situation well. Students kept asking her who she was voting for. At first she didn’t want to tell them, but then she finally let them know. But she also told them that her husband was voting for the other candidate. She explained her reasons and her husband’s reasons. She also emphasized that even though they have different views, they love each other and live in the same house.”

“I do agree that it is not the place of the teacher to encourage students to support a certain candidate. But I do think a lot of good can come from helping students understand different sides and perspectives. That’s one of the big things now, helping students be critical thinkers. Since they are going to be voting one day, I want my students to be able to think critically about their voting decisions.”

I agreed with my students that it can be intimidating to bring controversial topics into the classroom because you do not want to offend any students or their families. At the same time, classrooms are probably the best place to discuss controversial topics because you can set expectations and facilitate the discussion or activities in culturally responsive ways (McBee, 1996; Hess, 2002). I reminded my teacher candidates that knowledge of your students is the most important component of appropriately selecting which topics to bring into your classroom and how to facilitate the teaching and learning process. But, you also need to know yourself, and affirmed one student’s comment that she was too upset about the election to address it with her students in an unbiased way.

I ended the discussion by distributing a quote I found from a teacher educator in response to the election. I encouraged them to use it as a starting point to address the election or a tool for the future. I read it aloud:

Tell them that you will honor the outcome of the election, but that you will fight bigotry. Tell them bigotry is not a democratic value, and that it will not be tolerated at your school.  Tell them you stand by your Muslim families.  Your same sex parent families.  Your gay students.  Your Black families.  Your female students.  Your Mexican families.  Your disabled students.  Your immigrant families.  Your trans students.  Your Native students.  Tell them you won’t let anyone hurt them or deport them or threaten them without having to contend with you first.  Say that you will stand united as a school community, and that you will protect one another.  Say that silence is dangerous, and teach them how to speak up when something is wrong.  Then teach them how to speak up, how to love one another, how to understand each other, how to solve conflicts, how to live with diverse and sometimes conflicting ideologies, and give them the skills to enter a world that doesn’t know how to do this (Retrieved from http://alimichael.org/blog/what-should-we-tell-the-children/).

I am not suggesting this was the best or right way to process the election, but it is one example of how a post-election discussion transpired. It was an opportunity to model how controversy can be integrated into the curriculum and classroom. It was also an opportunity to begin the “healing” for many students. I walked away from class feeling a little more optimistic about the world, and I hope my students felt the same.

Works Cited

McBee, R. H. (1996). Can controversial topics be taught in the early grades? Social  Education60(1), 38-41.

Hess, D. (2002) Teaching controversial public issues discussions: Learning from skilled teachers. Theory and Research in Social Education, 30(1), 20–41.

 

Dr. Kyle Miller is an Assistant Professor of Child Development in the School of Teaching and Learning.  She has worked in a number of educational settings, as a teacher and student support coordinator.  Her research focuses on lower-income families and strengthening the relationships between families and schools. 

%d bloggers like this: