Sunday, July 14, 2019

Social Justice With Young Learners: Using The Read Aloud To Promote Empathy

Source: ASIDE 2019

Tackling social justice with young learners is more important now than ever before; it is also a lot easier to bring into the classroom than educators might think. So many picture books published in the last few years addressing empathy issues make integrating social justice into the learning process less complicated. When we read books with children, it offers an opportunity to use the character as a vehicle to identify negative feelings or to wrestle with different points of view. It creates a safer space for deeper conversations, debates, and switching viewpoints after hearing the pros and cons for both sides. We also find that young minds can definitely handle more courageous conversations. In their innocence, they often raise issues or point out problems more easily than adults.

Source: ASIDE 2019
Children have a natural ability to feel empathy and compassion. For that reason, we decided to begin introducing ethics to our Kindergarten students through storytelling. We chose the book, “Hey, Little Ant” by Phillip and Hannah Hoose. It was a prefect tale to spur a dialog with small children about philosophical questions, such as “How does this story relate to respect” or “Who is worthy of that respect?” It provides opportunities to discuss giving and denying respect for others, as well as power and responsibility.

Source: ASIDE 2019
The story begins with a boy poised to squish an ant under his shoe, but the ant pleads with the boy to spare his life. The students were asked to think about others and whether everyone deserves respect no matter how different they are, as well as whether others should have rights when they are different. While this seems like a tall order for Kindergarteners, they actually had a lot to say, and they thoughtfully engaged in conversations to argue their points of view. Librarian Stephanie Temple made a chart of the reasons the boy gives for squishing the ant and the reasons the ant gives for not being squished. As young as these students were, they debated whether these reasons were valid.

Source: ASIDE 2019
The students were asked to consider, “Is the ant merely stealing food, or is it trying to feed and care for his family, just like humans?” With this in mind, they collaged self-portraits of their faces with their thought bubble opinions and tiny beaded ants. The head from the nose up was meant to emphasize the difference in size. Most were compassionate toward the ant after hearing all the reasons for survival. The point was not to convince them one way or another, but more to make them think about all sides before making a decision.

This story opened up opportunities to discuss giving and denying respect based on power and responsibility. We wanted students to stop and think before deciding. That was the most important lesson.

For an excellent resource see: Social Justice Books, a project from Teaching For Change: Building Social Justice Starting In The Classroom.

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