Social Justice in 7th Grade ELA: Part 2

Earlier in the year, I highlighted the work going on by students in our 7th grade ELA course in regards to social justice projects. This project has been all-encompassing and Ms. Fry has pushed her students not only through academically rigorous expectations but also has taken students outside of the comfort zone to think more deeply about the world around them. We first worked together to develop ways to use data to differentiate social justice books based on student reading level; moreover, we allowed them to track their own data to drive their own ambition to be better and more reflective readers.

Throughout these book studies, students began to think more critically about social justice issues ranging from racism, to how we treat our population of people who are disabled, to women’s rights. These book studies went through two cycles and are detailed more comprehensively in my original post on social justice. At this project’s conception, we originally had determined to do a single round of social justice reading centers; however, the student engagement in the activity was really none like I had ever seen before. To this group of 7th graders, I could see their thirst for knowledge about both historical kinds of literature as well as historical fiction unquenched. Ms. Fry instinctively determined that the student investment in this project was worth further exploration.

At the end of each book study, students were able to watch a movie that similarly depicted what they had read as a group. Each video parallelled the books they had read and ignited further reflection and discussion. But, where does this project go next? It's time to put the ownership of Social Justice in the hands of the students. What can our students do now to unveil injustices in their own world, and how can they relate what they have read to their own personal lives?

Public Service Announcement or Address
To begin this part of the project, we ask students the following questions?

  • What hit you in the gut the hardest while reading your books?
  • Can you relate it to your own life?
  • Did it make you reflect on your own actions?
  • What do you want to learn more about?

Using the above questions, students responded by answering what they were thinking on sticky notes and posting them in the front of the classroom. Students were allowed to think and discuss these topics and relate others’ comments to their own thoughts and developing personal principles. This comment board was a catalyst to some really insightful discussion.

Private KidBlog Shared Between the Student, the Teacher, and the Instructional Coach
After we finished the whole class discussions on their book studies, we wanted to get some cognizance of how they really felt on a personal level, and what type of thoughts or emotions the first part of this unit had arisen, but perhaps they were too apprehensive to share in the full class discussion. Students were asked to respond to the following prompt:

After reflecting on your books, what bothers you about the world you live in today? What is happening in your community, your school, your hometown, your state, your country, your world, or your family that is tough to handle? How does this relate to what you have read? When you look around you, is there someone who needs a helping hand? What is a big problem in our society that we need to solve? Not only what it is that breaks your heart in this world; but also, what could be done to fix this problem? These are the questions you will address while creating an awareness video or public address for this class. This is your social justice passion project.  This assignment should drive you to do the best that you can for your cause.

The purpose of this type of project in English Language Arts is to connect your learning to the world around you.  Therefore, this assignment will allow you to create multimedia to express yourself through your social justice passion project. For this project, it is up to you to decide what you would like to do. These passion project activities allow you to identify an issue that concerns you, then provide the means to pursue avenues in which to make people aware. By giving you this choice, it allows you to work on content while doing something that is meaningful to you and that will make a difference in the lives of people around you. Hopefully, you will create something to encourage people to #BeUnited.

The Rollout of the Passion Project
The purpose of this reflective journal was to provide students an opportunity to express what is important to them in their own world. The journals were read and responded to by the instructional coach as well as the teacher, providing a way to narrow down, or just perhaps providing a label, as to what the students seemed to be passionate about. Also, this process was essential in encouraging students to fight for what they are passionate about; however, to ensure them that their own personal story didn’t necessarily have to be told to the masses. Instead, they could use this passion project as a platform to create more meaningful change.

Understanding Storyboarding
It was important to us that students understood not only the purpose of a quality public service address but also for them to see the impact that a well-crafted video would have on its audience. We watched the below video clips in class so they would have an understanding of what a quality PSA would look like.

After watching these clips, students were able to identify the components of a good PSA, as well as how the style of the video can have an emotional impact on those who are watching. This was the basis for how the students developed their own rubric. Using a rubric that I, the instructional coach had already created for a once similar project, we turned it over to our students to see if those components were easily understood by 7th graders and applicable to their upcoming projects. Students tore apart the old rubric and replaced it with one that used kid-friendly language and created high expectations for themselves and their classmates. In truth, they had developed their own understanding of what their quality assessment should look like.

Last week, students spent time in our media center watching sample PSA’s and developing storyboards for the videos as they watched them. Students paid close attention to dialog, camera angle, music, mood, and many other components that they witnessed. This activity was designed to prepare students for the development of their own storyboards that will directly reflect the topic they are passionate about and on which they have chosen to do a PSA. This portion of the project will begin next week following IAR testing.

Not only have we discussed these passion projects with our students, but Ms. Fry has also identified her own passion project that she would like to develop. Along with her students, she plans to develop her own video to reach a goal she has for the United School District. I won’t discuss that further, but will let her do so as she is ready.