Defining unfair

To begin our journey into social justice, I wanted the students to have an understanding of the word unfair to help them choose a topic that is within the framework of social justice. As a whole group, we defined unfair as something that is unequal, not the same, and does not make you feel good. Then, the students viewed The Sneetches via YouTube. The cartoon's underlying theme is prejudice and therefore depicts many examples of unfairness. After the video, the class returned to the rug and debriefed the film. Next, the students returned to their seats and wrote and/or drew one to three examples of unfairness they saw in the video. To close, we returned to the rug and discussed how the plain-belly Sneetches felt when these acts of unfairness were happening. My next plan's objective is for the students to develop a sense of fairness and equity by sharing an experience that was unfair to them.

Examples of student work:

Example #1: The thing that's unfair is the star belly children don't let the plain belly Sneetches play with them.

Example #2: The thing that's unfair is the star belly Sneetches ate marshmelle (marshmellows) with our the plain belly Sneetches.

Example #3: The thing that's unfair is the star belly Sneetches ate hot dogs.

Example #1: The other Sneeches did get stars and the star Sneetch beley (belly) Sneeches (Sneetches) got to play in the beach.

Example #2: The mommy told the little Sneeche (Sneetch) to not talk to the plain belly Sneeches.

 We continued with our discussion of The Sneetches by highlighting the star on the Sneetches' belly and what it symbolizes. We made an anchor chart: Stars for Sneetches vs Stars for First Graders (please see below). After our lists were complete, we reviewed how the plain-belly Sneetches felt when they were excluded from the star-belly Sneetches' events. 
       Next, I had the students vote on what "star" was the most important to them. Prize box won with a landslide. Then I asked, "How would you feel if prize box was taken away?" I recorded their answers (i.e. disappointed, unfair, sad, mad) on the chart and offered another example. "Imagine it's Friday, pizza day for lunch. As you are walking toward the cafeteria you smell the cheesiness in the air and your mouth starts to water. When you arrive, Ms. Taylor (our head lunch lady) tells you Ms. Liza's class will be served a different lunch today." I observed the students' reactions and asked how they would feel if this happened. These exercises allowed the students to make a connection with the plain-belly Sneetches by experiencing the feelings associated with unfairness.

Stars Anchor Chart

1st Graders in Charge

Once the students gained an understanding of fairness, I put them in charge. I read the poem, "If I Were in Charge of the World" by Judith Viorst. Then I asked the students, "If you were the boss of the playground, what would you do to make it a better place?" For homework, I positioned the question in the context of their neighborhood. The students received worksheets with the questions and two prompts: I would like _____ to stop and I think _____ should change. The goal of the worksheets was for the students to identify things that they would change to make their playground and neighborhood better places for them. I received a range of answers from practical to extravagant, particularly for the worksheet they completed in class: If you were the boss of your neighborhood, what would you do to make it a better place?

Practical answer

1. I would like the playground to stop.

The playground looking like the street.

2. I think the playground should change.

I want sli(d)es in the playground.

Extravagant answer

1. I would like rocks to stop.

I would like a pool fill of hammerhead shark. I will not get in I will jest (just) love to see them grow.

2. I think park should change.

I will like the park to change because I don't like the rochs (rocks).

In reflection, the wording of the question and prompts were complicated. I could have use more specific language in the questions such as, "What don't you like about your playground/neighborhood or what is unfair about your playground/ neighborhood?" These questions would have provided the link between unfairness and the students' environments. This activity led us off track because adding a water slide or shark tank to our playground is enticing, but is not a social justice issue. However, Ms. Liza and I reframed the questioning for our next lesson to guide the students' thinking about issues that can affect their quality of life.

Our topic: Bullying

We began with a discussion about preferences versus unfair issues. We included an example of social justice performed by Newark students in response to the Trayvon Martin story. NEWS 12 New Jersey covered the story (click here). Then, we asked the students, "What don't you like in school or in your neighborhood?" The students named three topics: crime, littering and bullying. The students drew a picture of the issue most important to them.

The following day, we viewed YouTube videos of the top two topics: littering and bullying. After, the students voted. It was a close race, but bullying was voted our main focus.



Reflection: Throughout the year, I have learned my students respond well to visual aids. Their comprehension enhances when they are able to see a picture or video of the subject. In addition, visual assessments, such as drawing, help me understand what my students are thinking and allows me to formulate the next steps in our learning phase.

Bullying Behaviors

We have moved into the learning phase of our project. To provide a basis, we define what bullying is: Bullying is actions that can hurt someone physically and emotionally and wrote down two thoughts about bullying and one question. This allowed me to assess my students prior knowledge on the topic in order to determine the areas for research. I compiled the students answers into an anchor chart. 

Two Thoughts and a Question

From this evaluation, I learned the students know the actions bullies perform, but the underlying reasons for bullying are not identified (i.e. the individual had a bad day, there is not enough crayons or playground equipment to share, etc). I decided to use literature and invited our guidance counselor, Ms. DG, to provide more information. 

I read the students The Juice Box Bully by: Bob Sornson, Maria Dismondy and Kim Shaw. Throughout the read aloud, we tried to confirm our thoughts and answer the questions on the anchor chart. From the story, the students learned that Pete, the main character, became a bully because he used to be bullied at his old school. Therefore, he used bullying as a way to protect himself; by bullying others, no one could hurt him. Even though this was one answer to why people bully, the students' understanding was still framed on the individual. I hoped Ms. DG would help reframe this topic to investigate the systematic factors that cause bullying. 

"The Anti-bully Specialist"

I was looking forward to Ms. DG visiting our classroom and talking with the students about bullying. First, she shared her definition of bullying and then did a read aloud of Bully B.E.A.N.S. by: Julia Cook. The book teaches students how to be proactive against bullying by eating jelly beans to emotionally prepare yourself to stand up to a bully. It also defines what a bystander is and the role that this individual plays in bullying. 

In the following video, Ms. DG asked the students, "What are the things that we learn from this book, if you are ever faced with a bully?"

I was unhappy with the framing direction Ms. DG took with bullying. The story and the actions to stand up to a bully all placed blame on the individual. Even more alarming, Ms. DG placed the blame on students who are bystanders. She stated, "A bystander is somebody who just stands there and just kinda goes 'oh' and you don't tell anybody. You're not going to do anything. That's the worst part to be too. That's even worse than a bully because then you're not even helping. You're just gonna let it happen and not tell anybody." It seemed to be a lose-lose situation. 

As I continue to reflect on that lesson, I am going to use it to teach the students there are multiple perspectives on issues, such as bullying and the best way to learn is to gather all the information then formulate an opinion. I think it is very interesting I am currently experiencing this learning process as well. Our next step is to gain another perspective on bullying. We will achieve this by taking a tour of our school to see how our school community feels about bullying.

Investigating Bullying at Abington Avenue

The class took a tour of Abington Avenue to learn how its community feels about bullying. We walked through the floors of Abington Avenue looking for evidence. When we reached the center stair well to the fourth floor, which the first grades rarely use, we found the "No Bully Zone."

"We decided for one of our lessons to walk around the school and see what Abington Avenue thinks of bullying. By the time we got to the fourth floor, the top floor, we found this in the stair well."

The students read the posters and pointed things out to their classmates. I took pictures of many of the posters. I explained to the students we will have more time to analyze the posters in the classroom. The students know the posters exist, but I want to encourage them to critically think about what they mean and why are they there. This is the objective for our next lesson.