Social Action Literacy for Elementary Teachers

Social Action Literacy for Elementary Teachers

Christine A. Woodcock
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-4240-1.ch016
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This qualitative action research project follows a case study format as a means of exploring critical literacy and the design of social action curricula in graduate coursework for elementary teachers. Teachers created social action literacy units (SALUs), which each consisted of five lesson plans focused on literacy components, accompanied by a two-page rationale for the curriculum. The following research questions emerged: What are the edgy issues of our time, and how do we tackle them? Findings revealed two major trends. First, analysis indicated that the environment/climate change was the most frequently identified topic for teachers' projects, followed by poverty and racism. Second, results indicated that the act of crafting their own SALUs provided the teachers with a sense of control and ownership in how they approached literacy instruction and critical engagement with tough topics, which helped to ease any fears associated with edgy teaching. Practical suggestions are provided, including topics, lesson ideas, and lists of children's literature.
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Presumably, most teachers enter the profession because they want to make a difference. They wish to make a difference in the lives of the students they teach, and in the world. Overwhelmingly, young people possess this desire to make a difference as well. Hip-hop artist Big Sean wrote the flowing song lyrics as a tribute to his late grandmother, Mildred V. Leonard, who told him he could accomplish anything. “I hope you learn to make it on your own. And if you love yourself just know you'll never be alone ... And when you get it all just remember one thing…That one man could change the world” (Big Sean, 2015). Big Sean’s grandmother, Mrs. Leonard, was one of the first Black female captains in World War II, returning home to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree; she also served as one of Detroit's first Black female police officers—a true inspiration. To honor his grandmother’s legacy, Big Sean wrote the song “One Man Can Change the World” to remind the audience of his dear grandmother’s wise words, that all persons have the power to change the world (Spinditty, 2021).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Freedom Portal: Both imagined and tangible pathways that provide a means to pose questions and to seek the answers to them.

Critical Race Theory: Introduced by feminist and legal scholars during the 1960s civil rights movement as a response to racial inequities in the world, this framework helps to explore the ways race and racism consciously and unconsciously shape practices, discourses, and societal structures.

Literacies: Rather than conceptualizing literacy (singular) as a simple set of skills, or as an autonomous historical process, the plural form of literacies is more accurate and inclusive of the dynamic social formations and powers that literacies enable, and by which they are shaped.

Social action: Individual or group behavior that involves interaction with other individuals or groups, especially organized action toward social reform.

Critical Literacy: The act of taking apart a text and relating its messages back to one’s own personal life experiences. This act of actively engaging with text that can help students to become more socially aware citizens.

Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors: A phrase coined by Dr. Sims Bishop to explain how children see themselves in books and how they can also learn about the lives of others through literature.

Social Justice: A commitment to challenging social, cultural, and economic inequalities imposed on individuals arising from any differential distribution of power, resources, and privilege.

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