Thursday, June 23, 2016

Digital Media, Human Rights, And The Writing Process

Source: Right To An Education
We teach social studies, not history. We don’t want our students to think that learning about the past has little bearing on today. It is quite the opposite. Many of the major conflicts around the world stem from deeply rooted hatred from long-ago. We chronicle events to put things in context, but we see history as part of the study of human society. Social interactions determine how people-related issues affect history, government, economics, etc., both past and present. Social studies and the humanities are inextricably linked, and we want our students to make those same connections.

Source: Freedom To Marry

One important aspect of our curriculum that we keep upfront and center is human rights. We’ve long been advocates for promoting human rights awareness in our classroom. Whether it’s talking about modern slavery or having conversations about peace, we continually try to find new ways to empower students so they can make a difference.

This year all of our fifth and sixth graders entered the elementary video competition called "Everyone Has Rights," sponsored by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ Speak Truth To Power program and the New York State United Teachers. For this contest, students needed to create a public service announcement (PSA) to address any aspect of human rights in videos that were under two minutes long. This eye-opening project made them painfully aware of just how many people around the world lack the basic rights that they take for granted every day.

The students started their research with the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in a modified format that was age appropriate. They also used the Youth For Human Rights website and app to read and watch short videos about each of the 30 rights in the UDHR before beginning their own PSA.

Our students' winning video on "The Freedom To Marry," which is Article 16 of the UDHR, could not have been timelier. The announcement came the day of the terror attack in Orlando, Florida. We were extremely proud of all the work of our students, but perhaps this PSA by two fifth graders hit home in celebrating diversity and tolerance on a sad day in the United States.

The writing process played a central role in constructing the PSA, including developing a question and thesis statement to home in on a point of view before the students digitally designed their media message. This key point was essential, and it needed to be targeted. They used Google Docs to write, edit, and finalize their scripts. They chose their own topics, depending on their comfort level. The practice of making digital media helped them understand social issues. It provided a context for content. Using an adaptable and flexible framework for the creation process allowed for their voices to come through, and the end result excelled beyond our expectations.

All of the PSA videos in this post were submitted to the Everyone Has Rights competition. To see others, please click here.

We fold in current events as a routine part of teaching social studies. We don’t ask students to do a weekly “current events” report. The news matters, and we tackle questions as they arise, because middle schoolers need answers.


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