We started the first of our 4 big questions for the year. How do we balance our needs with the needs of others? The question has been on the wall since the second week of school, but only now are the students starting to find ways to answer that question. One of the ways the grade 5/6 students have started to approach the question is through their learning in Social Studies. As they learn about initial contact between Europeans and First Nations, they are also considering the needs of the explorers and settlers compared to the needs of the First Nations in Canada.
The other way that the students have broadened their understanding of the question is through read-alouds. One book in particular, Sees Behind Trees by Michael Dorris, was a favourite read-aloud to the class. It connected with our Social Studies learning as well as the model it provided for the descriptive writing we were experimenting with. At the end of the book, the students were eager to identify various relationships in the book and how the characters’ needs balanced with one another’s. Reading this book together seemed to click for everyone as a means of examining the big over-arching question.
This was a celebrated moment of understanding in our classroom and a confirmation of my own that students need to be immersed in a literature-rich curriculum. One of the most useful resources I have found to support discussion and understanding is ETFO’s Social Justice Begins With Me. This resource provides a robust list of books that connect to themes/ideas of community, empathy, rights of the child, as well as big ideas of cycles or beauty! It summarizes the text and highlights themes that connect the students to the learning. I also like that there are sections of the resource specific to Primary, Junior, and Intermediate grades with curriculum connections and activity ideas.
You can also view parts of the resource in pdf at http://www.etfo.ca/resources/socialjustice/pages/default.aspx or look at specific booklists that have also been added to the site.