In our latest blog series, Laura D’Elia and Wendy Garland discuss their experiences and offer diversity, equity, and inclusion lessons that can be taught in the K-6 classroom or library. Each lesson incorporates the Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards and the AASL Standards Framework for Learning, as well as includes recommended picture books from the Diverse BookFinder collection.
Laura Beals D’Elia (she/her/hers) has been an elementary library teacher since 2002. She has presented at various state, national, and international conferences on such topics as 1:1 iPads in an elementary school library and technology program, digital storytelling, and guided inquiry. She currently co-teaches a professional workshop for educators with her district’s ELL District Coordinator about using inclusive picture books in the classroom for all grade levels. Follow the Armstrong Elementary Library at @aeslibs.
Wendy Garland (she/her/hers) has been an elementary librarian since 2002. She has a BA in Spanish and a BS in liberal studies from Southern Connecticut State University and a MLIS from Simmons College. She has spoken at library conferences both locally and internationally and was a participant in the AASL Induction Program. She shares all things “library” at @dancelibrarian and Listen. Connect. Empower blog.
Why Schools Around the World?
One of the themes of our DEI lessons is Celebrating Differences. Classrooms typically do a great job of exploring the varied holidays that are celebrated amongst its students but we wanted to go beyond that. School is a familiar concept and a great topic for engaging students in making connections to their own lives. Other universal topics could be hair, food, birthdays, and libraries. We have considered these topics as we developed lessons across all of our grades.
We chose to teach this lesson to second grade students, but it can easily be adapted and used in other grades. What we loved about this particular lesson was its natural connection to inquiry. Using nonfiction books is always an opportunity to have students be curious, ask questions, and wonder about things beyond themselves.
- Essential Question: What can we learn about a community by understanding what school is like?
- AASL Standard: Include/Think II.A.3 Learners contribute a balanced perspective when participating in a learning community by describing their understanding of cultural relevancy and placement within the global learning community.
- Social Justice Standard: 9. Students will respond to diversity by building empathy, respect, understanding and connection.
We began this lesson with a simple survey of students and asked, “How do you get to school?” This survey did not take a lot of time and was a great way to start the conversation while anchoring the topic to students’ daily routines.
This lesson is another great opportunity to use nonfiction for your read alouds. We read The Way to School by Rosemary A. McCarney because of the dramatic photographs. As we read, we asked questions, shared thoughts, and marveled at the differences. There were lots of oooohs and ahhhhhhs.
The way to school
Your way to school might be by yellow bus, bicycle or car, but around the world children are also getting to class by canoe, through tunnels, up ladders, by donkey, water buffalo or ox cart. In Rosemary McCarney's The Way to School, a collection of gorgeous, full-color photographs of schoolchildren from Myanmar, Ghana, Brazil, China, Canada and beyond, readers will see that the path to school can be "long and hard and even scary" depending on the lay of the land, the weather, even natural disasters.
Here are a few other read aloud suggestions with the topic of school:
My First Day
"A visually stunning story of resilience and determination by an award-winning new author-illustrator team. This is no ordinary first journey. The rainy season has come to the Mekong Delta, and An, a young Vietnamese boy, sets out alone in a wooden boat wearing a little backpack and armed only with a single oar. On the way, he is confronted by giant crested waves, heavy rainfall and eerie forests where fear takes hold of him. Although daunted by the dark unknown, An realizes that he is not alone and continues to paddle. He knows it will all be worth it when he reaches his destination—one familiar to children all over the world." -- publisher
"This brilliantly illustrated picture book tells the story of the Aajibaichi Shala, the Grandmother School, that was opened in Phangane, India, in 2016 to teach local grandmothers how to read and write. Every morning, a young girl walks her grandmother to the Aajibaichi Shala, the school that was built for the grandmothers in her village to have a place to learn to read and write. The narrator beams with pride as she drops her grandmother off with the other aajis to practice the alphabet and learn simple arithmetic. A moving story about family, women and the power of education—when Aaji learns to spell her name you’ll want to dance along with her. Women in countless countries continue to endure the limitations of illiteracy. Unjust laws have suppressed the rights of girls and women and kept many from getting an education and equal standing in society. Based on a true story from the village of Phangane, India, this brilliantly illustrated book tells the story of the grandmothers who got to go to school for the first time in their lives." -- publisher
A Sky-Blue Bench
"A young Afghani amputee matter-of-factly removes her own barrier to education, building a bench from discarded wood so that she and her “helper-leg” can sit through school in comfort. It's Afghani schoolgirl Aria's first day back at school since her accident. She's excited, but she's also worried about sitting on the hard floor all day with her new prosthetic "helper-leg." Just as Aria feared, sitting on the floor is so uncomfortable that she can't think about learning at all. She knows that before the war changed many things in Afghanistan, schools like hers had benches for students to sit at. If she had a bench, her leg would not hurt so much. The answer is obvious: she will gather materials, talk to Kaka Najar, the carpenter in the old city, and learn to build a bench for herself. In A Sky-Blue Bench, Bahram Rahman, author of The Library Bus, returns again to the setting of his homeland, Afghanistan, to reveal the resilience and resolve of young children—especially young girls—who face barriers to education. Illustrator Peggy Collins imbues Aria with an infectious spunkiness and grit that make her relatable even to readers with a very different school experience. An author's note gently introduces an age-appropriate discussion of landmines and their impact on the lives of children in many nations, especially Afghanistan, which has the highest concentration of landmines of any country in the world." -- publisher
Neema’s reason to smile
"Neema's Reason to Smile is the story of Neema, a young Kenyan girl who dreams of one day being able to afford to go to school. Slowly, and with great purpose, Neema makes a plan to save money in her dream basket and make her dream come true. One day, a mysterious young girl skips down the street wearing a red skirt and white shirt. Soon, she guides Neema all the way to a new school."-- Publisher's website
The children arrive on the first day of school and build a mud structure to be their classroom for the next nine months until the rainy season comes and washes it all away
Following the read aloud, we took a deeper dive into the photographs and spent some time looking at and wondering about the images. As a class, we answered the questions,
- “What do we see?”
- “What do we wonder?”
Students brainstormed and we recorded their responses. In our experience, moving from observation to wonder required a bit of guidance. We used prompts such as, “We noticed that the students were walking IN the water and it comes up to their knees. What does this tell you or make you wonder?” Students were then able to make the leap to wondering if the younger students could stand and if maybe that was why they were being carried. The level of the water also made them wonder if their backpacks might be wet.
Students were then given "I see, I wonder..." worksheets with images from the book they completed independently.
To wrap up our thinking with this book, we came back together to think through a final series of questions, such as “What do the pictures tell you about the children? About where they live? About how they feel?” Student responses included:
- They don’t look scared or worried.
- They use what they have to get to school (animals, boats, chairs)
The questions students loved the most were “Based on the images from the book, how would you like to get to school? How would you NOT like to get to school?” The images involving height (walking the ledge, climbing the ladder, or ziplining) had the strongest opinions.
Finally, students looked at illustrations from This Is How We Do It and thought about how the illustrations were either Mirrors or Windows for them. It was important for us to provide multiple opportunities for students to use the language we learned in previous mirror and window lessons.
This is how we do it
Follows the daily lives of seven children from around the world, including such places as Japan, India, Uganda, and Italy, and discusses how schools, meals, and play can be different or similar in different places in the world
If you have the time to build more inquiry into this lesson, consider using:
- School Bus primary sources
- The Most Dangerous Ways to School documentary
- Wonderopolis school wonders
The first time that we did this was earlier during the COVID-19 pandemic when students were unable to work together. We digitized materials for this reason. Now that students can work together in person, we use printed copies of our materials. For This is How We Do It, we would give students mirror and window sticky notes and have them identify their selections with them. Students could then share and compare their choices with each other.
Celebrating differences is an important part of our lessons. When students are given lots of opportunities to learn about and understand how the world can be so very different from their own lives, students learn that there is nothing to fear when exposed to something new and different. At the same time, we must also remember to balance the celebration of differences with a celebration of similarities. It is just as important to understand that we are all human and that we have more in common with each other than we think. Next year, we would like to be more thoughtful about how we incorporate the idea of our similarities into our lessons.
These kinds of lessons are fun and generate great conversations and questions. There are so many wonderful books to read on so many different kinds of universal topics that it will be difficult to decide where to start! In terms of this lesson, this is how we did it . . . how are you going to do it?