Now that February has ended (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 an image of children holding “Black Lives Matter” signs 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.
For our third graders, we like to start with photographs of people, but infographics, like “A Lifetime of Inequality” from National Geographic, are a great tool to use with older students or adults.
This article from National Geographic magazine depicts the discrepancy between black and white motorists’ incidence of traffic stops, searches, tickets, and arrests, and is a potential resource for starting a discussion about institutional bias and its consequences. (As always, be mindful of your students and their experiences or potential perspectives!)
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; one student’s responses are pictured above), and then had a whole-class discussion. This example (black preschoolers being suspended at far higher rates than white preschoolers) 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 apply to all other categories. The book bin was just 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 during his visit to the museum. Milo is the only black girl there, and she’s not represented 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.
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.
What is Teach Pluralism? First and foremost we are educators, and we love what we do! We are constantly trying to push ourselves, our students, and conversations about education to be as socially just as possible. Find us at Teach Pluralism, and on Twitter @teachpluralism.