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Photographer, author and conservationist Peter Forbes once said, “Stories create community, enable us to see through the eyes of other people, and open us to the claims of others.” As a corporate communications professional – and now blogger, as well – I absolutely agree. There is so much power in storytelling. It can open our eyes to new experiences and perspectives.
As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout from several race-related incidents, including George Floyd’s death and Ahmaud Arbery’s barbaric execution, there are many reasons to listen to – and reflect on – others’ experiences.
On the racism issue in particular, I’ve been taking in a lot of info in via Instagram posts and YouTube videos that black teachers, counselors and health professionals have posted. These heartfelt messages are two examples:
- Dear White Teachers by La Tawnya Robinson, creator of SmartieStyle
- Let’s discuss Black Lives Matter by Nekole Amber, creator of Kids OT Help
I also loved episode 147 of The Cult of Pedagogy podcast, featuring insights from Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D., founder of the Leading Equity Center and host of the Leading Equity Podcast. His collaborative approach, and his experiences as both an educator and school administrator, all spoke to me.
Pat Flynn’s SPI podcast episode #426. Called Black Entrepreneurs Speak Out, he had asked his African American listeners to call in and share their experiences. The episode includes eight of the voice messages Pat received. (He eluded to a future episode highlighting additional stories from listeners.)
Encouraging kids to be social scientists, too
Approaching big issues, like racism or a worldwide health crises, through a lens of curiosity is one of the best ways to learn.
Here are several activities I found on Teachers Pay Teachers. They’re designed to help students build skills like listening, reflecting and critical thinking:
- How things have changed interview This activity, by TpT creator Sharing Teachers are Caring Teachers, is a great start. To incorporate current events, you could easily add a couple questions at the end like: What do you think is the same? Have you lived through any other pandemics or do you remember scientists finding a cure for an illness or disease? What were race relations like when you were young?
- Interview a classmate or family member activity Created by The Whimsical Teacher, this mini interview unit is a bit more detailed. It was designed as a back-to-school assignment so teachers can get to know their students, and students can learn about their classmates. However, this season of widespread change and adversity is a great time for it, too! It covers a variety of topics and prompts students to ask deeper-thinking questions.
- Character portrait of a family member This assignment involves interviewing a relative or family friend of a different generation. Students come up with their own questions and then write an essay that also has aspects of a narrative.
“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn, tell me the truth and I’ll believe, but tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” – Native American proverb
- Stanford Prison Experiment critical-thinking writing assignment The Stanford Prison Experiment offers fascinating insights into power and the forces that can corrupt all of us. This text pairs well with units that explore darkness, power, bullying or greed. Use the organizer and essay prompt in this resource to guide students through the Stanford Prison Experiment website and ask them to consider questions like, “Why do people often fail to stand up for others, and rather act as bystanders when bullying or racism is occurring?” This resource culminates with a three-paragraph essay.
- Pandemics and Populations: 1918 Spanish Flu Case Study This lesson plan, by The Frizzle Factor, incorporates history, science literacy and empathy. It uses a variety of meta-cognitive techniques to discuss and consider the effect of disease on populations and ecosystems. As you’ll see in the reviews, teachers have used it for small-group discussions as well as extension projects in which students made predictions about COVID-19.
- Critical Thinking Strategies This five-week unit, by Educircles 21st Century Skills, teaches students about higher-level thinking, which is so important in a world full of sensationalized news and social media. Lessons in this unit explain that opinions should be based on: high-quality information, being open-minded and seeking out opposing points of view. There also are tips for delivering these lessons via distance teaching.
I’ve also seen courses on Outschool.com that tackle these stressful events from a variety of angles. Some are more traditional classes in the sense that they focus on providing information about one aspect of history and link it to current events. Others, like Positive Talk for Stressful Times and Breaking News! What Is Happening in the World Around Us? Junior Edition, are free-flowing courses designed purely to provide a safe space for kids to have a healthy and respectful dialogue about these issues.
Stories in written form
Of course, books are another good way to learn about others’ current and past experiences – and how they’ve influenced individuals, segments of our population, and our society as a whole.
Here are a few articles I found that highlights dozens of books for varying ages:
- Children’s books to help explain a pandemic by Carolyn Hart with Storytime Standouts
- When You Need to Tackle Hard Topics at School by a sixth-grade teacher who has a blog called Mentoring in the Middle
- 13 Children’s Books About Race and Diversity posted on the PBS website
- Respect and Inclusion Books for Kids by veteran teacher and reading specialist Jodie Rodriguez
- 20 Picture Books with Main Characters Who are Black Girls by Allison McDonald, a teacher and the creator of the No Time for Flash Cards blog
I’ve also been hearing great things about A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory. The author, and father of six kids, wrote this children’s book as an introduction to the topic of racism. It provides: a clear description of what racism is, how it makes people feel when they experience it, and how to spot it when it happens.
In addition, check out these tips from EmbraceRace on how to create an anti-bias children’s library and evaluate books yourself.
These thought-provoking TpT products that prompt kids to look inward sound awesome, too:
- Fingerprint I Am Unique writing activity A simple, yet wonderful way to learn about your students, and to remind them about fun experiences and how special they are.
- COVID-19 Time Capsule: History in the Making – This writing and world history activity, by TpT creator Creekside Education, dissects this pandemic and the reasons it will go down in history. The lessons we learn and the experience we endure, need to be recorded and remembered, so we can share them with future generations. Out of tough circumstances, can come incredible learning opportunities.
- What problem will you solve? This project by Hello Fifth encourages students to think both critically and globally to help solve issues in our world today. It provides several ways for students to brainstorm problems and processes. There is also draft and final publishing paper that can be used to write a culminating essay. This is a great activity to get students thinking about the impact they can have on our world.
It’s a scary and confusing time for kids. Providing them with a framework to: ask questions, listen to various perspectives, and brainstorm solutions can help, though.
Like this article? If so, you’ll also enjoy Why we should never forget the emotions that accompanied COVID-19.
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