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 “You Matter”?
Recently, “matter” is a word that we hear often which means our students are hearing it, too. It is a difficult word to define, especially with younger children, so it is important to take some time to help students understand what it means as a way to build their empathy muscles.
This lesson is simple in its implementation because we wanted to focus on what it means to matter and did not want lots of distractions.
- Essential Question: What does it mean to matter?
- AASL Standards: Include/Share II.C.2 Learners exhibit empathy with and tolerance for diverse ideas by contributing to discussions in which multiple viewpoints on a topic are expressed.
- Social Justice Standards: Identity 1: Students will develop positive social identities based on their membership in multiple groups in society.
We chose You Matter by Christian Robinson to read with all of our students because it does not highlight any one particular identity and is accessible by all. The text and illustrations are simple enough to use with younger students but the message is sophisticated enough to engage older students.
Before the read aloud we asked students to look at the cover of the book and to brainstorm what they think this story is going to be about.
"They All Saw a Cat meets The Important Book in this sensitive and impactful picture book about seeing the world from different points of view by Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Honoree Christian Robinson. In this full, bright, and beautiful picture book, many different perspectives around the world are deftly and empathetically explored—from a pair of bird-watchers to the pigeons they’re feeding. Young readers will be drawn into the luminous illustrations inviting them to engage with the world in a new way and see how everyone is connected, and that everyone matters." -- publisher
Some student responses:
- “Playing together”
- “Being kind”
- “P.E. class!”
We showed the video of Christian Robinson reading You Matter because he does such a lovely job of reading his story, highlighting important parts of his illustrations, and explaining what “matter” means to him. We just couldn’t do it any better; he truly is the Mr. Rogers of our time!
If you are interested in reading other stories that help students understand what it means to matter but with a more specific identity focus or just need different titles for different grades, the following books are great choices:
"Discover this poignant, timely, and emotionally stirring picture book, an ode to Black and brown children everywhere that is full of hope, assurance, and love. Tami Charles pens a poetic, lyrical text that is part love letter, part anthem, assuring readers that they always have, and always will, matter. This powerful, rhythmic lullaby reassures readers that their matter and their worth is never diminished, no matter the circumstance: through the joy and wonder of their first steps and first laughs, through the hardship of adolescent struggles, and the pain and heartbreak of current events, they always have, and always will, matter. Accompanied by illustrations by renowned artist Bryan Collier, a four-time Caldecott Honor recipient and a nine-time Coretta Scott King Award winner or honoree, All Because You Matter empowers readers with pride, joy, and comfort, reminding them of their roots and strengthening them for the days to come. Lyrical, personal, and full of love, All Because You Matter is for the picture book audience what The Hate U Give was for YA and Ghost Boys was for middle grade: a conversation starter, a community touchstone, and a deep affirmation of worth for the young readers who need it most." -- publisher
Shares a story of loving who you are, respecting others and being kind to one another
"Empowering and validating, Your Life Matters reassures Black children everywhere that no matter what they hear, no matter what they experience, no matter what they're told, their lives matter. Written by national speaker Chris Singleton, who lost his own mother in the 2015 Charleston church shooting, Your Life Matters teaches kids to stand tall in the face of racial adversity and fight for the life they dream of. Each page depicts a famous hero from Black history mentoring a child of today and encouraging them to use their mind, heart, voice, and hands in that fight. Hero-mentors in the book include: Maya Angelou, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Aretha Franklin, Katherine Johnson, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Mary McLeod Bethune, George Washington Carver, and others." -- publisher
This is such a challenging concept to grasp for many students. We helped our students understand the word “matter” by explaining that if something matters it is “worth caring about” such as family and kindness. It was also important that we helped students understand what it isn’t before we could ask them to brainstorm what matters to them. We explained that things we enjoy such as pizza and soccer are considered favorites or hobbies and are not necessarily important to the bigger world. We did a whole group brainstorm of things that matter to us and students shared ideas such as family, friends, themselves, pets, school, kindness, and the Earth.
“Would you/could you live in a world without . . .?
Then we asked students to independently express what matters to them. We gave students a variety of ways to show their thinking. They could draw/write their ideas, create a videorecording, or write a letter to someone telling them why they matter. Some of the most insightful student work came in the form of letters. With an authentic audience they were able to get to the heart of the question and share deeper thoughts.
There is a fine line between the concept of “what matters” and “what I like.” The challenge with the post read aloud activity was in keeping students focused on the intended conversation without veering off into what they like (which they can easily share about). They needed a lot of modeling. One way we handled this was by brainstorming ideas as a group on the board and having students identify one of these to share in their own activity.
As students get older, it is important to scaffold this lesson by moving their thinking about what matters to themselves personally towards what matters to them outside of themselves. This is a precursor lesson to engaging students in activism and thinking about what matters to them, what matters to others, and what is worth fighting for.
Understanding what matters is one way we build empathy in our students as well as give them a bit of a global perspective. Yes, this is a challenging concept but we know it is worth teaching because, well, it matters.