Pick up a picture book. The one closest to you. Look through it to find out the race or ethnicity of the people depicted in the book. No people? What types of characters are in the book? These are some of the questions posed by Devin Daugherty’s 4th graders as part of the Social Issues Book Clubs unit in their reading and writing curriculum, TCRWP (Teachers College Reading and Writing Project). After discovering this infographic and learning that there are more trucks and animals represented in children’s books than people of color, the students were moved to action.
This is such a lovely example of students being moved to action on a social justice issue raised through our curriculum and of the power of technology to get their message out to an authentic audience, which is far larger than their classroom community.
Ms. Devin’s class was really interested in exploring social issues that were relevant and connected to their local community. Students were motivated to learn more about how to find books with characters from backgrounds similar to their own and that of their friends. They decided that they could help their Malcolm X Elementary School peers choose books with more diverse characters and to get their message out to an even larger audience.
The class came up with a strategy to break into small groups with the goal of conducting research and publicizing their findings in various ways. Some students did interviews with the Malcolm X Library Media Specialist and Vice Principal because they each have influence over what books are purchased. Others created a class web site using Google Sites so that students and families from other schools could learn about this issue and their passion for it. Their web site is published here.
The majority of the class research was published in a printed book which was shared throughout the school. In reflecting on why they were compelled to learn more about and publicize this topic, these 4th graders wrote, “We knew this had to change because if this issue went on and never stopped who knows how bad it would get…That’s why we wanted to spread the word about this so that other people could also help…”
Finally, a team of students created a fabulously interactive presentation using Google Slides and went to classrooms throughout the school teaching a lesson on the importance of diversity in children’s literature. After sharing why they are passionate about promoting diversity in books and some research they conducted, they had students return to their desks to get their current silent reading book. Students looked through their book to determine the diversity of characters and these 4th graders led a rich discussion that included having the younger kids use white boards to write about what they found.
This student-initiated project was both integrated with the unit of study of our reading and writing curriculum, TCRWP, and used technology to more effectively and efficiently reach an audience far larger than their own classroom community. Love it!