Grade Level: 3rd grade
Location: Enumclaw School District, Washington State
When I moved to California nearly three years ago, I was not sure what awaited me. I packed up all of my life into three suitcases, boarded a plane, and moved all of that same stuff into a college dormitory, a place so uncomfortable and unfamiliar. What awaited me when I got there was a blonde haired, blue eyed girl named Eliana, speaking Spanish with her mother and father, arguing over where her lamp should be placed. My mother and I immediately share glances, absolutely confused. How could these “white people” be speaking fluent Spanish? And then I would shortly learn that Eliana and her family identify as Mexican Jews– an identity so completely foreign to me at the time.
I come from Enumclaw, Washington, something that I am not ashamed to say. I am grateful to have grown up in Enumclaw, and to have had the life that I did there. Although Enumclaw was a small town and safe community, it was extremely sheltered from the rest of the world, as if there was a bubble that covered its borders and kept its inhabitants inside. I was one of the courageous ones, eager and excited to escape. But many do not. Many stay in the bubble because that is all they know. I don’t blame them for that, but rather, I see power in what can be done in the classroom to help them learn early on that there a big, big world outside of that bubble. Therefore, this lesson plan and its ideas are geared towards Enumclaw and the small towns alike, with the hope that someday the bubble will be popped.
Literature Engagement and Activities:
Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
Elliot lives in America, and Kailash lives in India. They are pen pals. By exchanging letters and pictures, they learn that they both love to climb trees, have pets, and go to school. Their worlds might look different, but they are actually similar. Same, same. But different!
WHY this book & WHAT to do:
This book is fairly simple, short, and easy to implement within the classroom. It has a great message about even though the boys were different, they were also the same and that is OK. But, what I wanted to highlight from this book was the idea of “pen pals”. Growing up, I had a couple of pen pals that I would write to frequently; one from Tennessee and another from the Bronx. One of them being a woman of color, and another identifying with a disability. Although I was only in 6th grade, the perspective and life experience from someone in a community outside of mine was extremely valuable to me, especially reflecting back now. Thinking of my small town of Enumclaw, I could have benefitted greatly if this was something that was implemented inside of the classroom. Me having pen pals was on my own accord, something my mom agreed to let me do. But, I imagine how awesome it would have been had I gotten to write those letters in class alongside my peers, and what a true learning experience it could have been. With that, I encourage educators to think about that. There are so many interdisciplinary aspects that could go along with the act of having your students write letters to someone else. Personally, I would partner up with one of my friends planning to teach in California. Knowing how diverse California is, I would know the students would have plenty to learn from students their age that reside here. But, even just writing to students in a Seattle public school, Enumclaw students could learn a new perspective and a new way of life. I believe in the power of learning by doing, and I think the act of writing letters and hopefully making a new friend will really “stick” with the students.
Red by Michael Hall
Red has a bright red label, but he is, in fact, blue. His teacher tries to help him be red (let’s draw strawberries!), his mother tries to help him be red by sending him out on a playdate with a yellow classmate (go draw a nice orange!), and the scissors try to help him be red by snipping his label so that he has room to breathe. But Red is miserable. He just can’t be red, no matter how hard he tries! Finally, a brand-new friend offers a brand-new perspective, and Red discovers what readers have known all along. He’s blue! This funny, heartwarming, colorful picture book about finding the courage to be true to your inner self can be read on multiple levels, and it offers something for everyone.
WHY this book & WHAT to do:
This book is sweet, and very powerful in its message. I like that it really emphasizes being yourself, and showing your true colors (or in this case color!) to the world, no matter what others try to tell you. I think this is an important message for young children to hear, and I love that this book promotes that. I think it can really target any and all students who come from marginalized groups and are afraid to show who they really are because society is not what they expect them to be. So, I think this is a really good piece of literature to use for those activities in the classroom that let students showcase themselves and who they are. Social Work Scrapbook, a social worker and blogger, has a great activity that I feel could be implemented in a 3rd grade classroom. The activity is to draw a self portrait of just your head, and fill the inside with things that you like about yourself or things that make you special and unique… essentially, what makes you, you? Then on the outside, she has you put empowering quotes that she offers or encourages you to make your own. Read more about it here! I loved this idea, and would love to do this activity in my future classroom with my students. It is a really great way for students to build confidence in who they are and their identities. As an educator, fostering student identity is one of my top priorities and goals.
I also love the website, teachingchildrenphilosophy, for it gives excellent guiding questions for children’s literature. There is one on Red, and many other stories. You can find the one on red here… I encourage educators to inspire 21st century learning skills within their students and spend time investing in dialogue with your students on critical thinking topics. Get them to think. Get them to feel empowered. Amazed. Confused. Angry. Uncomfortable. Enlightened. Excited. That is what critical thinking does.
Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer and Holly Clifton-Brown
Stella’s class is having a Mother’s Day celebration, but what’s a girl with two daddies to do? It’s not that she doesn’t have someone who helps her with her homework, or tucks her in at night. Stella has her Papa and Daddy who take care of her, and a whole gaggle of other loved ones who make her feel special and supported every day. She just doesn’t have a mom to invite to the party. Fortunately, Stella finds a unique solution to her party problem in this sweet story about love, acceptance, and the true meaning of family.
WHY this book & WHAT to do:
As educators, it is really important not to make assumptions about our students and their home lives. Not every student has one mom and one dad in this day and age. Not every student lives with their parents. These are things to be mindful of, and why it is so crucial to really know your students. Introducing this idea to students and giving them the opportunity to ask questions at their age is extremely important. This is why I would include this book in my classroom. I think it is also a great way to open up the dialogue about family and what family really means. This is a great book to introduce around Mother’s Day too because it reminds students that not everyone has a “mom”… and that is OK. I would personally introduce this around Mother’s Day and then have my students do something special for their parents, whatever type of family dynamic they come from. In Enumclaw, the idea of someone having two moms or two dads seems almost impossible to imagine. Therefore, introducing this idea to students at a young age would be extremely important.
Now, all these books are really great books, and I really want to share them in my classroom. But, I also think it is really important to introduce students to books BY authors who identify with that particular identity, and to really hear their voice and story because the best way to learn is from the very person who identifies with ____, themselves. Therefore, the following books are some that I think are good to also include in the classroom:
The Other Side by Jaqueline Woodson