Those last few days of class...

I can't recall who initially publicized this link (Mindshift? EdWeek? Random tweet that caught my eye?) but this blog entry about student analysis of the classroom library inspired quite a few thoughts (all links working as of 5/31/16).

  • Good on the teacher for being sensitive to the diversity in classroom literature. Reading is a great way to help students develop empathy (here's one short Scientific American article that discusses why and a booklist for empathy-building for all ages from Common Sense Media.) Students need exposure to cultures and norms and situations that they aren't familiar to help see outside of themselves (adults need this, too!). They need to realize that everyone has emotions that are THEIRS--regardless of whether others think that person may be over-reacting or "wrong"--and those emotions stem from past experiences we often can't even imagine. To understand the systemic pressures that marginalize different people in different cultures is incredibly hard. Diversity in reading can help students scratch the surface of understanding.
  • What's your favorite trend? Growth mindsets? Grit? Mindfulness? Fundamentally, all those relate to metacognition which - if you're reading this blog you probably already know - has been the cornerstone of CRISS for 30+ years. And this lesson brings in all of that. Maintaining and reading from a diverse library builds empathy and the non-fiction stories often demonstrate grit, growth mindsets, and mindfulness. For example, in the End of Average by Todd Rose (fascinating non-fiction read!), the author talks about struggling through a math problem, dutifully preparing to take the GRE with math problem after problem. He grows frustrated and demonstrates a fixed mindset as he thinks of how everyone else is successful with this method except him. His father, however, helps him find a strategy that better uses Rose's strengths. Rose states, "Once my father helped me identify a strategy that played to my strengths, I could finally answer the test questions correctly and demonstrate my true talent." Think you could connect a story like that to your students? Of course. And a diverse library will have lots of different stories with lots of different solutions and students can see that there are many paths to success.
  • A diverse library has an impact on content-area classrooms, too. Students who learn about the struggles of scientists do better in science. More recent articles have been writen but most seem to link back to this American Psychological Association article. Sure, this demonstrates appropriate scientific mindsets and questioning behavior but a diverse classroom library will help students relate to their content and understand it more authentically. Science and engineering is not just Darwin sailing around and pointing at birds like students may get to do on a family vacation and it's certaily not Tony Stark doing... well... just about anything we see him doing in the movies (but I'm still going to go see Iron Man films).
So what can you do?

Try it. It's the end of the school year in most places. Wherever I taught, there were always an odd few days between when grades were due and the actual end of the year. Can you have students examine your library? Even a fraction of it? Make a data collection sheet or just have them make observations.

Look at your articles. Content area teachers, you probably distributed a bunch of news articles to supplement lectures, videos, and textbook readings. What do students remember about the scientists and initial problems vs. the content? In history, what new discoveries or understandings came about and how did they develop vs. what does it mean to us now? Maybe next year, always keep one copy of each article in a binder so at the end of the year, you can let the students re-skim them for this type of assignment.

Prepare for next year. What sort of diversity do you want to highlight? Can you--either independently, with colleagues, or with your students--identify things that are missing? Are there articles you love that perhaps you need to replaceo or supplement with ones that provide more background? Heck... should you include a biography assignment in a class where you might not normally do one? I think about a student teacher I worked with this year and how he introduced DNA structure. They of course covered Watson, Crick, and Rosalind Franklin and he mentioned how she doesn't get the same recognition as the others and boy does that suck (I'm paraphrasing of course). But that's simplistic. You could make connections to classroom cheating/group work recognition and then add in the sexism and racism (Franklin was a Jewish scientist during World War II) and students would probably be appalled that their textbooks didn't have more on her. They could look at quotes describing her/her work from peers of the era and discuss if those same adjectives would evoke a different impression if they were of a man instead of woman. Heck, even the Wikipedia entry on her has great discussion points: American scientists seemed to view her as sunny and personable while her colleagues had different opinions. Watson deliberately refers to her as "Rosy", a name she disliked. Gosh that seems so petty. What does that say about Watson and Crick and her other colleagues? There's no right answer but it's clear this woman had to overcome much more than just content knowledge to get respect in her field.

I'm sure there are many other options: What books did the students like the most? Could you analyze them to find commonalities in struggles? Explore backgrounds of individuals in those readings more? Analyze them in a different way (i.e., perspective, time periods, socio-economic issues)? Ask students to research and identify 3-5 books from different categories that they would have been interested in reading and that you shoud look at this summer? Tweet to me @projectcriss with your ideas and I'll add them here!

The blogger that inspired this entry (I couldn't find his/her name) did a great service to the teaching community by sharing this lesson. I hope my kid has such a reflective practitioner in school when he finally gets there.

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