Social Justice in 7th grade ELA

In a previous post, I described the efforts of Ms. Fry, a 7th grade ELA teacher at United Junior High School, in using reading data to guide her instruction as well as differentiate learning among her varying levels of readers within her course. This is a process in which she has seen the fruit of her labor enjoyed by her students, and has left me as an instructional coach determined to better understand how to utilize such a process in other skill areas.

Relating it to Social Justice
As I mentioned before, using STAR data, Ms. Fry was able to group students in a way in which students were working with classmates who were at similar reading levels, and therefore able to assign like students to book studies finding appropriate literature to meet the needs of her students. These books all relate to student reflection on social justice and gave the students a chance to understand the struggles of others through the content of the class. This social justice unit is taking learning beyond the ELA classroom and has incorporated many other disciplines and skills.

Setting the Stage
The project began with the teacher passing out oranges to each of her students. She encouraged them to memorize its feel, shape, and it’s characteristics explaining that the following day, it would be their challenge to locate their selected orange from all the rest. The following students walked into class confident that they would be able to pick their orange out of the basket as they had committed each of these characteristics to memory. As the teacher laid out the oranges for them to identify, they were shocked and somewhat angered when they realized that each of the oranges they had taken the painstaking time to know, had been peeled leaving it almost impossible to identify the difference between them. This activity demonstrated where this unit was going in a way that the students understood. You can’t judge an orange by its peel, there is more underneath. In the same way, students now had some foundation on understanding that they would be learning about the human experience, and how casting aside our preconceived bias towards others is the first step to identifying and fighting for social justice.

Books Studies
After students were assigned their books and their groups, they participated in various activities throughout the course of the study. Students created their own Flipgrids literally judging their books by the cover and predicting what the book would be about through imagery. Students were asked to create a song list with their group that would best describe the book or characters throughout the book. Students also had time for silent reading among other small projects associated with the understanding of their books. During this process, each group would have a different task to do. One of the stations was the book talk group. This is where each group would meet with Ms. Fry and me to discuss the various details of what was happening in the book. Students were engaged in conversations, and at a time when this generation of students can be disconnected from the group and face-to-face conversation, discussed their book topics, how it related to their own lives and elaborated on these stories of injustice. Each group had a pre-determined number of pages to read each week and held each other accountable for meeting their goals. Throughout the process, the teacher has done “check-ins” so that students could reflect on their progress with their reading assessments.

Book Trailer
As a capstone to this part of the project, student joined together in their groups to produce book trailers that they had “proposed” to Hollywood in order to convince them of the potential to turn them into a movie. Students spent several days capturing footage and still-frames to help tell their stories. They then created their work through iMovie and had a finished product to turn in. This project allowed for the groups to concisely highlight the theme of the book and gave them a medium to share with their classmates.

Analyzation of the Book in Conjunction with Multimedia
The next step of the process is to introduce students to movies that closely reflect the moral lessons to be taken from the social justice books that each group had selected. We work hard to find videos that would allow students to understand the story through visual media, and relate what they watch to the understanding that was fostered through the course of reading the book. Each group will watch a movie in our media center and actively reflect on the connections that can be made between what they have read and the movie.

Book Study 2
Students will be assigned new groups and new books next week in order to examine a second social justice issue. This time, we have decided to add more structure to the talks in order to target the learning goals for our students by assigning guided questions as well as discussion roles. We will go through the process again so that each group has had a chance to examine two different social justice topics.

2nd Semester: Moving Forward
Next semester is where students will have the opportunity to create their own PSA’s that will be guided by a social justice issue that they feel passionate about. These will be created like passion projects, in which students identify what bothers them in their family, community, state, country, or the world around them. What are they passionate about changing? Then, the learners will be researching the topic and developing a message to those who will listen to how they can change the world. The project has been chunked into 9 missions for the students to work through and focuses on using what they have read and what they have learned, along with their own personal experiences to create a product for the world to see. Missions will focus on their social justice message, their research, multimedia production, copyright guidelines, storyboarding, peer review, standards for excellence, as well as the intended audience for publication.

I’m excited to see what the students can create. It should be very powerful, as well as authentic. I expect their perspectives will be a valued project for their community.