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Lessons and Strategies to Engage Students in Social Comprehension Learning

Currently, our nation is impacted by many critical social issues that affect large portions of our society. These concerns include: poverty, homelessness, climate change, overpopulation, civil rights, racial/gender discrimination and two major wars, to name a few. And to make matters worse, there is a great deal of political strife which exists between our American political parties and their divergent views. It is incumbent upon us as educators to encourage and support students’ accessibility to the knowledge of these social/political issues and to encourage discourse of informed democratic interactions with other students. Encouraging students to share their opinions and ideas and champion courageous conversations enables students to collaborate for a greater understanding of our world’s issues. Understanding these issues or socialization is not inherited; it is learned. Harvard Study (2014), finds that our kids today ranked achieving happiness as the most important and caring for others as least important! 

As educators, we can provide scaffolded lessons to help students to develop empathy, affirm their identities and build active listening skills which support well-informed discussions. In order to create this type of community, students need to have the opportunity to work together and discuss the “real stuff” of teaching and learning (Darling-Hammond, 1997).

According to Sara K. Ahmed, author of the best-selling book called, “Being the Change” students can develop skills that help them to make sense of social issues as they navigate their way to discuss relevant topics with each other. Sara Ahmed believes that in order to teach our students social comprehension, we need to understand their interactions from their points of view first and then find teachable moments along the way. Her rhetoric encourages educators to focus on teaching and modeling empathy and compassion as students mirror the language and behavior of their teachers. Below are some activities from her book that illustrate her excellent ideas

  • Affirming our identities with Identity Webs and Celebrating Name Diversity: students work to connect to others by sharing their backgrounds and finding commonalities among each other. This exercise of relating to each other creates curiosity, encourages interest and the affirmation of varied identities.

  • Sharing Engaging Texts: The teacher reads an engaging text aloud and creates an identity web with the class about the protagonist. Some recommendations are: Having Hope by Kathleen Krull and Manfish by Jennifer Berne. Students experience the creative and unique qualities of others by appreciating accomplished individuals with similar identities.

  • Journeying into Family Histories: Introduce mentor poems such as, George Ella Lyon’s, Where I’m From: The discussion centers around regional and cultural differences and again, how we are all similar.

  •  Creating Identity Statements: Students examine who they are and learn how to become comfortable developing affirmation statements such as “I am a friend” and “I am a sister” and also statements that say, “I am not a foreigner”. They learn about the origin of biases and how to stand up for themselves.

  • Making thinking Visible: Students have the opportunity to jot down what’s in their news; issues and events that they are thinking about in the first column of the chart and then they include their opinions and emotions about this news in the second column. The follow up activity is to include an identity column.

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