Social Studies

Teaching for Social Justice creates change for teachers and students

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Back in May we introduced you to an innovative and exciting project being spearheaded by Scott Storm and the educators at Harvest Collegiate High School called Teaching for Social Justice.  While it’s only been a few months since the original blog post, “Teaching for Social Justice transforms curriculum, educator mindset and improves student learning” (May 2016), it’s been two years since the McCarthy Dressman Education Foundation funded this project.  We are exciting to be brining you another update on this effort to improve effectiveness and equity in high school classrooms.

Project Photo
Project Photo

Before we can talk about what they are doing now, let’s revisit the project’s original goals. Teaching for Social Justice” aims to design curriculum, support the development of teachers as social justice educators, and disseminate these lessons to progressively wider audiences. This requires a break from a dominant paradigm which views teaching as monologic, teacher-centered, and lecture-based. The following goals have been explored in this project.

  1. Design and revise courses to better support teaching for social justice.
  2. Conduct cycles of teacher inquiry and action research to further teaching and learning.
  3. Develop and grow a Professional Learning Community in our school that shares curricular materials, participates in peer-observation, and supports each other in formal and informal ways toward the goal of teaching for social justice.
  4. Disseminate our curriculum and research to teachers, teacher-educators, and the public.

Recipient Scott Storm explains, “In our work, we saw that the conception of teaching for social justice has been theorized from disparate, sometimes contradictory, epistemological and ideological positions. Our project aims to mesh these theoretical stances in locally situated practice.”  

What kind of teacher development efforts strengthen social justice pedagogy?

In the past two years they have made a lot of progress on the following four goals. We’ve shared them below with some examples of student work in this teacher development project.

Goal 1: Design and revise courses to better support the Teaching of Social Justice

  • Curriculum Retreats: In the first year of the project they held Curriculum Retreats to promote ideas for new courses, start to draft the courses, and reflect on their past work.
  •   New And Revised Courses:

o   Fall 2014, New Course: “Identity Quest”

o   Fall 2014, Revised Course: “Constructing Monsters”

o   Spring 2015, New Course: “Lit Crit & Grit”

o   Spring 2015, New Course: “Pop!”

o   Winters 2015 and 2016, New Course: “Writer’s Retreat”: They created a new course for the January term (two weeks) called “Writer’s Retreat” in which 26 students traveled to a cabin (with no Internet, television or other electronic distractions) for several days. Many of the students came out of this experience with stronger writing skills.

o   Fall 2015, New English Course—“Human Nature”: In this class students read Locke, Hobbs, & Rousseau alongside Lord of the Flies and Macbeth.  Students explored ethical and moral issues and participated in group simulations and role-playing activities that identified ethics, oppression, and privilege.

o   Spring 2016, New English Course—“Dysfunctional Love”: This course engaged students in questions around love and relationships through some classic literature.  Students read Romeo and Juliet, Jane Eyre, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and other texts.  Students talked through difficult issues while also analyzing textual form.

o   2015-2016 School Year, New Course—“AP English Literature & Composition”: This past year they offered an AP English Course open to all students. They recruited from special education classes, English Language Learners, low-income students, and those who are normally not encouraged to take AP at other schools. Students read poetry and many works including: Pride & Prejudice, The Sound and The Fury, Mrs. Dalloway, Invisible Man, Waiting for Godot, The Woman Warrior, Beloved, Midnight’s Children, Angels in America, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  Some essential questions that guided these courses were “what is literature—and what do we do with it?” and “what is the relationship between form and meaning?” The assessment at the end of the unit asked students to use the theories of literary modernism to create their own short stories, poems, paintings, or musical scores, and then present and/or perform these at an evening coffee-house event.

Goal 2: Conduct cycles of teacher inquiry and action research to further teaching and learning.

  • Teacher Research Team: For the past two years, Teacher Research Teams conducted inquiry on their teaching. They developed essential questions, created research designs, discussed relevant scholarship/literature, collected data, and analyzed the data together using qualitative research.
  • English Department as Teacher Inquiry Team: Teachers focused on two areas: reading literary texts and writing as process.  For each of these inquiries, they read articles about pedagogy around close reading, conducted their own close readings together, analyzed student work, planned for implementing shared practices, implemented these practices, analyzed post-intervention data, and created a plan for future directions.
  • Classroom Ethnography Project: Teachers in the teacher research team served as ethnographic participant observers in each other’s classes (one or two periods a day). The dialogue between the teacher and the researcher improved both teaching and student learning.  

Goal 3: Develop and Grow a Professional Learning Community in our school

  • The Teacher Summit: A “Teacher Summit” was a day-long conference where half of the faculty presented on the courses they developed, on a portfolio of their work, or on one of their teacher inquiry projects.  The faculty were excited for continued improvement of their teaching and the enhancement of their professional community.
  • Teacher Learning Teams:

o   Year One: In the first year of the project they brought together three teacher teams focused on:  1) descriptive review of student work in order to reflect on and refine teaching practices; 2) designing and implementing intervention plans for high-need students.; and 3) use of Critical Friends Group protocols from the National School Reform Faculty to fine-tune curriculum and assessment. Year one was about deep understanding and new knowledge.

o   Year Two: In the second year of the project, they had the teachers from each of these teams use the skills that they had learned the first year to spread this learning so that all teachers became more familiar with these methods.

o   Teacher Study Group: Each semester the Teacher Study Group chose a focus of study. In the fall, the group looked at “questioning as pedagogical tool” and in the spring they explored “formative assessment.”  Each week they read a peer-reviewed journal article about the topic and discussed how this could improve their practice.

o   Whole-Faculty Peer-Observations: In year one they had all teachers conduct a series of monthly peer-observations.  They continued this practice in year two which has been helpful for the teachers to see themselves as a community of practitioners rather than individual silos.

Goal 4: Disseminate Curriculum and Research

There has been substantial progress in this area. They have written conference proposals, presented at conferences, and had articles published about their work!

  •   Publication: Storm, S. (2016). “Teacher-Researcher-Leaders: Intellectuals for Social Justice” Schools: Studies in Education. 13.1 57-75.
  •   Academic Conference Presentations:

o   February 2015, “Tensions in the Teaching for Social Justice” presented at the University of Pennsylvania’s Ethnography in Education Forum.

o   December 2015, “Adolescents Enacting Disciplinary Literacy in English Literature: Education for Social Justice or Model of Cultural Reproduction?” presented at the Literacy Research Association’s annual conference in Carlsbad, CA

o   December 2015,  “Epistemological Tensions in Teaching for Social Justice: A Case Study” presented at the Literacy Research Association’s annual conference in Carlsbad, CA.

o   February 2016, “Reading Literary Criticism: Method of Critical Liberation or Tool of Cultural Assimilation?” presented at the University of Pennsylvania’s Ethnography in Education Forum.

  •   Other Presentations/Workshops

o   Fall 2015, Critical Pedagogy Workshop for Student Teachers: Swarthmore College

o   Fall 2015, Grammar/Writing Pedagogy for Justice Workshop for Student Teachers: Swarthmore College

o   Spring 2015, Teachers as Researchers Presentation for pre-service English education students at the University of Pittsburgh

o   Spring 2015, NYC Writing Project Teacher to Teacher Conference—one of our colleagues presented her work at this conference.

Additionally, they have submitted a number of presentations that are currently under review.

How does social justice pedagogy impact teachers and students?

They have definitely been busy and while it is great to hear what they have accomplished, it is even more important to hear about how they are doing.  We also wanted to know how the teachers responded and how this has impacted students.

Project Photo
Project Photo

This project allowed teachers to collaborate, build shared professional knowledge, and to work toward social justice.  In the first year of the project they did a lot of capacity-building as they worked to develop the skills of teacher-researchers.  This year they have gotten to reap the benefits of putting so much time and energy into these activities.

In a reflective meeting in August before they started the new school year, one teacher remarked, “it’s incredible how much we learned…and now we get to use it all year!”

The English department in particular had some major achievements.  They continue to create new courses that leverage students’ strengths and engage them in rigorous intellectual instruction. This has been a benefit to both teachers and their students.

At the school-wide level, the team is seeing the benefits of training teachers in peer observation, descriptive review, equity interventions, and Critical Friends protocols.  Teachers who were participants in these groups last year are leading these activities in their departments and their grade teams. One teacher remarked, “I just feel like the tools that we have now let us actually focus on teaching and learning more and that to me is what improves practice.”

Finally, a big achievement this year has been having some of the teachers going to and presenting at conferences.  At the conferences they shared their work with a wider audience. By doing this, they are hoping to  improve practice beyond their school.

The teachers are not alone in being recipients of the benefits of this program.  Students across the school were able to engage in interesting and deeper work through the courses that they have designed.  Through the AP English course, students who might not have access to this level of work in another school were able not only to access the curriculum but also really thrived in this environment.  One of the assessments in the course had students write an 8-10 page literary analysis on a book and question/topic of their choice and then present their work in an oral defense to a panel of external examiners.  The examiners used a rubric to score the student’s work.  One of the teachers, who has been doing this type of work for a decade, said of the students, “I have never seen so many students get [the highest level of the rubric] on projects like this.  Our students have really learned how to do so much.”

Excerpt from Harvest Collegiate Student, Karen S.'s paper from the Lit, Crit & Grit: Deconstruction course.
Excerpt from Harvest Collegiate Student, Karen S.’s paper from the Lit, Crit & Grit: Deconstruction course.

Here is a sample of some students and the titles of their papers:

  •      Leo R. – “Flower Imagery in Mrs. Dalloway
  •      Elijah R. – “The Comparative Use of Animals in Modernism and Postmodernism”
  •      Omar C. – “To Close Read or Not To Close Read: Resolving the Epistemological Tensions Between Close Reading and Pleasure Reading”
  •      Emely H. – “The Gothic: A Solace for Humanity”
  •      Michelle H. – “The Coalition of Inner versus Outer Self in Palahniuk’s Fight Club”
  •      Francisca H. – “Accepting the Inevitable: A Discussion of Death and Time in Mrs. Dalloway and Beloved
  •      Vanessa P. – “Forming Identity with Talk-Story in The Woman Warrior”
  •      Lucas G. – “Beloved: Redefining Motherhood Through the Language of Obligation”
  •      Nafissa M. – “Literary Era and the Construction of Motherhood”

As exciting as this project is, it’s not without it’s challenges and ways to improve.  While many of the challenges from year one were about creating buy in and building capacity, the challenges the second year have been about sustainability.  The teachers have found themselves with less time budgeted for professional development meetings than they would like but they are working around it as best they can.  Additionally, it has been difficult to get teachers to write about their experiences for wider audiences.  To address these for next year, they are scheduling more time to write, reflect and think about how they can frame their learning for wider audiences.  They have also started to have more teachers present at conferences to “get their feet wet” in conversations beyond their school.

Challenges aside, it sounds like this program is reaping benefits that ripple far beyond teacher development. Students who were never given this opportunity are excelling and teachers are learning to better serve those students. The pursuit of Social Justice is an invaluable virtue but this program goes to show it can also be a valuable teaching tool.

Where can I learn more about implementing a social justice curriculum?

ESD: Expandng Sustainable Education Through International Understanding

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“I learned that even though other cultures live totally different lives, many things are still the same and we do them alike.” – Student Participant

Students Exchange Pen-pal letters with students in Korea. Project Photo.
Students Exchange Pen-pal letters with students in Korea. Project Photo.

How do students learn about other cultures from studying sustainability? In a project like ESD: Sustainable Education Through International Understanding based in Orem, Utah, these things go together quite naturally. In our first update from this project we learned about how an international collaboration with Japanese students focusing on global issues and sustainability. They also worked within their local community through service projects to highlight local issues. Since we last heard from this team, they have busy growing their sustainability focused academic enrichment project to involve more learners, more educators and more conversations.

Exploring Human Equity Through Sustainable Development Education

http://wbvsmallingerland.nl/ CC by SA 2.0
http://wbvsmallingerland.nl/ CC by SA 2.0

During this second year of funding for the project, the goals expanded. The team wanted to stimulate and facilitate responsible sustainability awareness and interaction at the individual, community and global scales, so they planned to:

  • Develop teacher collaboration;
  • Build a Sustainability Retreat;
  • Expand the Sustainability Fair;
  • Conduct cross-curricular collaboration/training
    and
  • Expose students to international discussions.

International Teacher Collaboration Fosters Partnerships and Training Opportunities

Educators from The World Studies team at Lakeridge Junior High School collaborated with teachers from Utah and Scandinavia on sustainable development education to establish partnerships and teacher training. This included hands on sustainability training in Hammarby Sjostad, Stockholm Sweden and at the European Union Offices for Environmental Education. In addition they visited schools and met with teachers where we were able to set up exchange projects between their students. This collaboration directly impacted student learning by giving students hands on and direct contact with students in Finland about sustainability.

Examples of Projects created by Merinda Davis http://www.davisworldstudies.com/
Examples of Projects created by Merinda Davis http://www.davisworldstudies.com/

Through the grant team members were also able to arrange an international exchange with students in Finland and pay for penpal letters to be sent to Finland, Japan and Pakistan. Students were also able to Skype with students in Japan and South Korea to discuss global issues and learn some of the language. They were also able to continue to work with Japan Societys Going Global project (from the first year of this project) to talk about current events with kids in Pakistan, Japan and Finland. These collaborations also inspired an end of the year international food tasting so that students could experience new foods.

Project Team members were able to present and train teachers at several conferences during the course of the year including Utah Council for Social Studies/Utah Geography Alliance Conference, Utah Environmental Education Conference, Utah Coalition for Educational Technology Conference, and Merinda Davis was a panel speaker for Finnish Educator/Author Pasi Sahlsberg when he spoke at BYU. Utah Education Network has also asked the team to submit lesson plans for these projects to share with teachers throughout the state.

Sustainability Retreat Prepares Students for Global Conversations

Using from the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Lakeridge educators were able to sustain the‐day, 2night Sustainability Retreat. At the retreat this year they offered special schedule of University Professors and community specialists who came to speak to the students in a TEDTalk format.

Students who participated in the previous year of the project helped to serve as councilors and helped prepare the current students to be chairmen for the school wide Model United Nations Conference. During this time they were given the opportunity to learn about sustainable development topics and how they influence the local and global communities.

To share their learning, students who attended completed reflection videos from their experience. Through access to technology students completed sustainability based research, communicated with international partners on global issues and produced dynamic media in partnership with Adobe who donated software for all of the computers labs in the school.

Project Sign Up http://www.davisworldstudies.com/
Project Sign Up http://www.davisworldstudies.com/

Student Documentaries Evolve for Sustainability Fair

Using the model they created the previous year, the team made some changes to the ‘Sustainability Fairso that they could include more students. As the 9th grade students worked on their sustainability documentaries they created posters, trailers and PSA’s to advertise their documentaries. Each poster had a QR Code linked to their trailer or PSA and were posted throughout the school for ParentTeacher Conference and for the rest of the year.

Another way they evolved the project was that they set up a school Student Film Festival, where each day student media was exhibited and students voted on the best documentary. The winners of the best documentary for each day received prizes being donated by local businesses as well as purchased through the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation grant. In addition, students created projects for the Fairchild Challenge, a sustainability based competition for Utah. Through these partnerships, the team was able work together to expand student participation in sustainability fair.

Model United Nations and Model European Union Conferences expand Student Perspective on Migration

Modern European Union Project http://www.davisworldstudies.com/
Modern European Union Project http://www.davisworldstudies.com/

In addition to the Model United Nations (MUN) Sustainability Conference that they offered on the topics of Water, Urban Planning, Energy and Agriculture in December 2014, in May 2015 they scheduled a Model European Union (MEU) Conference to discuss the topic of Migration. About 400 students participated in both conferences.

For MUN they assumed roles of diplomats from over forty different countries in ten different committees. Students studied their respective countries and their policies on the assigned topics, two topics per committee. They produced documents that outlined their countries’ policies and applied this knowledge, using parliamentary procedure, in debating, compromising and writing resolutions with fellow participants. For MEU they assumed roles of country leaders in the European Council. Much like MUN, they studied their countries and the impact of migration on both their country and the European Union using the most recent information available. Because this is a timely issue and they have contacts in Europe, students were able to learn about the perspective of European students.

Achievements Extend Beyond Curriculum

Students, in conjunction with watching the movie “Gandhi,” completed ‘Roman Kent Peace Projects’ for which the purpose was to help them understand how their actions make a difference. Students came up with a wide variety of ideas – as unique as the students themselves. All of the projects throughout the year had a cumulative effect in increasing awareness and student discussion.

One student decided to write kind notes on index cards and hide them in books in the library for people to find. Another sent 25 text messages to friends and family telling them how important they are, and said after, “I learned that everyone needs a little love no matter who they are, and the community as a whole should express more kindness and peace towards their peers.” 

Another student taught a lesson on tolerance and avoiding discrimination to elementary school kids, because “I wanted to leave an impact on people younger than me. My generation and the generations following mine are responsible for the future moral values of society, so I thought it would be important to reinforce ideas about tolerance and peace to kids at a young age.” 

Reflecting on their international and sustainability experiences students said:

“I learned that it is important to experience other cultures and talk with other people about their lives. I also learned that it is somewhat difficult but important to communicate with people from other countries.”

“I learned that even though other cultures live totally different lives, many things are still the same and we do them alike.”

“I learned that we have a great future map of Utah’s water which makes me happy. I did learn that we don’t have enough water if we just keep wasting, if we take little steps right now and start to conserve like shut off water then you are good and our future doesn’t need to be worried about.”

“I learned that I’m better at stepping outside my comfort zone than I thought, with talking to new people and things.”

“I learned that I can be a good leader and help people know what they can do to be helpful.”

“I learned that I have great editing skills. And I can also lead a group that doesn’t really work to get things done with. I didn’t wait until the last minute but I did at the same time. Next time I just need to take it and do little by little.”

“We learned that what we do personally can make a difference. But we can make a difference as a community to be more sustainable.”

“I liked how we were able to find out about a problem pertaining to sustainability in our community, Utah, USA, or even bigger, the world. It helps people to realize how many problems there are that may go unnoticed to many people.”

The program has also affected the learning of educators. Davis stated,

“The McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Academic Enrichment grant has allowed for learning opportunities that I never expected. This grant has not only been transformative for my students, but for my school community and me. My curriculum is being revitalized in a way to engage and enrich students’ lives. It has given students opportunities that they would not have had otherwise. In addition to presenting to teachers throughout the state, I was able to present these projects to the Utah House of Representatives Education Committee and to the Governor during the Governor’s Education Committee meeting. As a direct result of these projects I was selected as a 2015 National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and a 2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator where I will be able to bring back more engaging projects for my students to enrich their learning. Additionally, in January 2015 I was one of twenty­‐four international educators selected to attend the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz in Poland. Because of that experience and collaboration with international educators I was able to expand the sustainability projects to include social equality.”

What could other educators learn from this project?

The end of year project report from the team offered a few reflections for project improvement. Although the documentary project worked better this year with the adjustments that they made, next year they will continue to improve by making adjustments based on student feedback. The biggest challenge they faced this year was timing because of the new projects they implemented took extra time.

Team members plan to adjust the curriculum pacing to help build a stronger foundation for students to build on using these projects. They were able to develop projects with schools in Finland and will continue that, in addition students will have more exchange time in the following year. Although students had more time this year to work on sustainability projects, next year they will submit projects to the Fairchild Challenge and Davis will work with the district to help other schools get involved in this sustainability fair.

Next year as part of the curriculum redevelopment they are going to include more of the human rights as part of sustainability. As the three ‘E’s’ of sustainability are: environment, economics, and equity, next year will be a culmination of what they have learned these last two years.

All in all, at the end of the second year, more than 100 students were able to participate in a sustainability retreat with experts and professors.

More than a thousand students were exposed to sustainable development concepts, International exchanges and international culture/food.

As Davis explains, the funding was leveraged to meet many needs and sustain further academic enrichment in this area, “This McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation Grant allowed us to support pen-pal exchanges, subs so we could get the resources, international teacher collaboration, and funding field trips to local restaurants with guest speakers. We now have a class set of computers, a multimedia lab so students have access to filmmaking equipment, filming studio, and training. These students have been able to exhibit their work and be recognized for their learning. We have been able to share these academic enrichment projects with teachers around Utah as well as internationally.”

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