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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.