Reflecting on the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action

Now that February is ending (how is it already March?!), we are looking back to the beginning of the month when we participated in the nationwide Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action.  When talking about something like Black Lives Matter with third graders, we work hard to make sure that the points of entry and examples are tangible, accessible, and developmentally appropriate.

As we reflected on Dr. Martin Luther King Day, anti-bias education is not something we do just one week (or day, or month) out of the year. It is something we try to do all day, every day as part of our curriculum, teaching philosophy, and classroom culture. The people we highlight and celebrate in our classroom day to day reflect the diversity of our world (just like we the teachers do!).

 Image from https://wearoutthesilence.org

Image from https://wearoutthesilence.org


We started our BLM week by asking students: What do you know about Black Lives Matter? We showed them the image above and then had them reflect using an I think/I wonder chart on large notecards. We were impressed with the thoughtfulness of our students’ responses. They understand that “Black Lives Matter” needs to be explicitly said because we still don’t have equality (as you can see from a few of their responses pictured above).

We continued sharing images throughout the week as an image is a tangible and accessible way for our students to start a discussion or learn about something new. When showing a new image, we would ask: what do you notice? What questions do you have? What do you think you know?

This is a great way to incorporate social justice work on all levels into your classroom - always start with an image! Ask what students notice. Ask what they think they know. Ask what questions they have. They will often surprise you and will have space and time to think deeply and reflect in a meaningful way.


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Later in the week, we read this article from Newsela about implicit bias in teachers and how black preschoolers are 3.6 times as likely to be suspended as white preschoolers. After reading the article, we had students write three statements (responses or questions) after reading it (one student's responses are pictured above), and then had a whole class discussion. This example (black preschoolers being suspended at far higher rates) is really helpful for pushing our students to move beyond the idea of history and past discrimination. It provides a way to explain systemic and institutional oppression through a concrete example. The idea of preschoolers being suspended also really upset our students. Many of them made connections to their Kindergarten Reading Buddies (who they read with once a week) and they were shocked that children so young could be discriminated against and suspended.

 

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Another resource we loved (and are keeping until the end of the school year) was our “Black History Month” book bin! As you can see (above), it is bursting with books. Students enthusiastically asked to read books from that bin and recommended them to each other. Important note: these are obviously not ALL of our books about black peoples (or that have characters of color). We have many that infiltrate all other categories. This was one way to organize some books related to Black History Month and Black Lives Matter that really worked for our students.

 

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We also did a read aloud of Milo’s Museum by Zetta Elliot and discussed the book afterward. During the read aloud, students volunteered to explain why Milo might be feeling uncomfortable, and said it’s racist because the painting is uncomfortable (referring to a painting of a white woman and a black woman who appears to be a slave), she’s the only black girl there, and she’s not in the museum! This was another tangible and concrete example of institutional exclusion. Students connected to Milo feeling upset about not seeing herself in the museum and many of them empathized (either through the read aloud or from their own experiences) with the concept that representation matters.

We culminated our week of action by asking students to write their own statements of what Black Lives Matter means to them, and why it is important. We told our students before they started writing that we would read and combine their responses into one piece for all of us to sign and display on our door with our “everyone is welcome here” sign. The process of taking all of their ideas and combining them into one overall statement is familiar to them as this is how we created our class contract.

After we received all of their statements, we spent some time paring them down and choosing parts that summarized overall ideas and came up with the statement pictured below. Finally, we had an  unveiling of our finished class statement and each student came up to sign their initials in cursive (which was a big deal because we had finally finished learning how to write all of the letter in cursive the week before!).  Some of our students also surprised us by creating their own Black Lives Matter poster as a small group and asking us to “put it up somewhere everyone can see it!” So today we have two posters up outside our door.

Did you participate in the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action? What resources or activities would you recommend? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

 

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Probletunities!

Finding the opportunities in our problems, creating new vocabulary for the classroom, and teaching into post Winter Break transition blues!

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We are back from Winter Break and full swing into the wonderful world of 3rd grade!

We are also... tired, but isn’t everyone?

That tiredness though, and the adjustment period back into school routines, means that we (teachers and students alike) might bump into a few more dilemmas throughout our days. It happens! It is part of being human, and because we try to be thoughtful humans we have decided to teach INTO it! (Key word being try!).

Our first piece of teaching into it (besides the typical reviewing of our classroom contract etc..) is to read one of our recent favorite books aloud: What Do You Do With a Problem? By Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom. You may have stumbled upon other fantastic work these two have created, our personal favorite being, What Do You Do With an Idea?”, but if we told you all about that book we would be avoiding talking about problems! No, no problems we will not avoid you, in fact with this read aloud, problems is exactly what we discussed this week in 3rd grade.

Full disclosure, during this read aloud the students did the me too sign for pretty much the entire book. If you don’t have a silent signal to represent “me too”, it would be very useful to have for such a relatable read aloud like this one!

 

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By the end of the read aloud, we brainstormed a problem we’d had in the past, and what the opportunity was that was hidden inside the problem. Of course, after the fact, it is much easier to pinpoint what the positive part of a problem might be, but this is also what made this prompt a decent entry point for the rest of the activity.

 

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We then introduced our new classroom word: PROBLETUNITY! (not our finest, but it worked for them!). We used an in-school example that was relevant to them. Their incredible Music teacher had to let them know that 3rd graders are no longer going to be able to participate in the school musical because there are simply too many students, so they will have to wait until 4th grade. This was disappointing for more than a few students in our class, so we used this moment to think of it as a probletunity! We thought out how that means when they are in 4th grade they will have the opportunity to really shine and have more of the stage to themselves, along with other ideas following that positive thinking path..

 

We then had some reflection time on our own with two prompts: “What is a probletunity you’ve had at school recently?” and , “What was a probletunity you’ve had recently at home?” We haven’t journaled in a while, and honestly it was just nice to give them private time and space with their thoughts and feelings. Some students got really into it, while for others it was a little bit challenging and they got stuck staying, “I don’t have problems.” So they required some encouragement.

 

When we all came back together to share, many students were excited to share the ways in which they were reframing their problems as opportunities. One child talked about how she lives in an apartment so when she fights with her family her only alone time is leaving the apartment, but then she is happy to have fresh air, and in the future she will know how to live with other people. Another child talked about how she had to apologize to her brother the other day and he wouldn’t accept her apology. She talked about how she had to think again and come up with a more genuine apology even though she was very upset (she admitted the first time she didn’t say what she was sorry for!). We also added on and coached her through how it is a phenomenal life skill to be able to think of words you need to say when you have strong emotions, and she is already becoming very skilled at that! Another child shared that his brother kept stealing his favorite pen, but when he finally talked to his brother about it, it turned out his brother didn’t realize it was a big deal or think of it as stealing-- talking to his brother gave them both some clarity. We loved the ideas they came up with, the space it gave us for reflection, the normalizing of ‘dilemmas’ and ‘problems’ coming up in life, and the practice in reframing those moments into what they really are (most times): probletunities!

 

We wrapped up by asking for a catch phrase-type way to say probletunity in the classroom and perhaps a hand signal to go with it. We had suggestions endless excited suggestions. We had one to do the clapping sign in American Sign Language (“Because you can see that you should celebrate instead of being mad”), we had a disco dancing suggestion, flexing muscles (“to work through the problem”), and some hilarious hip shaking (“Stay loose!” Oh the things 3rd graders say). We’ll keep you posted on what we decide, and how this term evolves in our little community.For now, we’re eager to remind them that all sorts of things are opportunities-- from that Math problem they are stuck on, to the conversation that they come to us with that they really need to have with their friend.. We will cheer them on to see it as a probletunity. In writing this, we’re just realizing how much they might start to despise this word, but we are excited for the shared vocabulary, and the fun and pushing through rough patches that may come with it!

 

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