Curriculum and the Power of Story: Empowering students to write a positive future

Curriculum and the Power of Story: Empowering students to write a positive future

This post builds on earlier articles about the curriculum I believe students need to thrive into the future. There is simply not enough room here to describe the stunning units teacher colleagues are designing, so please contact me if you’d like to learn more about this inspiring work and the achievement results. Or, check out our case studies.   To thrive in the 21st (and 22nd) Century, students will need to solve many “grand challenges” ranging from global climate change to local food security. Turning these complex topics into effective learning experiences is daunting at best. How can educators design units and courses that make content accessible and relevant–while also meeting standards? Creative Change has developed a method that uses the concept of story as a powerful metaphor for designing instruction. In this approach (which we call “Inquiry as Narrative”), learning unfolds as a story about real world issues. In the narrative, learners (and other stakeholders) are characters, communities are the setting, and interdisciplinary topics form multiple plot lines. Learners move through the story through a process of engagement, inquiry, decision-making, and action. Through this process, students discover what’s at stake and gain the skills to become “authors” of positive solutions. Here’s how an upper elementary unit on food and health might unfold: Stage 1: The story begins Opening lessons situate learners in the plot and setting. Sample lessons: Through interviews and journaling, students identify foods they eat, like, and have access to. (This opens up questions about food security and social justice.) Students assess the foods they eat based on health and nutritional value. Students use poetry and creative writing to express the food traditions important to their families and cultures. The writing, discussion,...
Beyond Celebrations: Culturally Responsive Teaching and Citizenship in a Multicultural Society

Beyond Celebrations: Culturally Responsive Teaching and Citizenship in a Multicultural Society

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is here and no doubt many schools will observe the day with instruction on diversity and Civil Rights. Perhaps it will be a speaker, a cultural heritage celebration, or posters prominently displayed in the hall. These activities can help students become more aware of race and other dimensions of diversity. But is “awareness” enough to create a more just society—the one envisioned by Dr. King? Realizing this vision requires culturally competent citizens. Renowned multicultural scholar James Banks conceptualizes a “citizen” as an agent of social change – an active, engaged, and caring individual able and willing to advance democratic goals (2001, 2007). To get our kids there, curriculum should help them acquire the knowledge, dispositions, and skills needed to: Participate in personal, social, and civic actions that will help make our nation more democratic and just. Interact positively with people from diverse groups, whether based on ethnicity, race, culture, class, sexual orientation, gender, or other social groups. Develop a commitment to act to make their communities, the nation, and the world moral, civic, and equitable.   How can we make this happen? Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) offers a framework to reach the above goals. CRT uses the cultural knowledge and experiences to make learning more appropriate and effective (Gay, 2010). Becoming a culturally responsive educator involves a range of skills impacting curriculum, pedagogy, and school climate. Here are a few: A culturally responsive educator can: Identify their own biases and recognize their impacts. Challenge the deficit thinking that assumes students of color are less capable and motivated. Identify how biases and deficit narratives manifest...
Democracy Leaves No Room for Colorblindness in the Classroom

Democracy Leaves No Room for Colorblindness in the Classroom

This post continues our #NewTeacherVoices series featuring pre-service teachers. Today’s guest blogger is Clamentia Hall Jr. He is a double major in elementary education and language arts in elementary education. Along with being an advocate for democratic education, Clamentia hopes to create more opportunities for students to experience the arts with his music education & academic support project called My Gift From Above.   Diversity is a fact of life and schools are not exempt. Race is not a negligible concept within the classroom. Teachers cannot afford to take a colorblind approach to teaching because race absolutely does have an impact on educational and economic opportunity. Educators that teach or promote colorblindness counteract the focus of democratic education and standby to the repetition of cultural misrepresentations and stereotypes. A democratic education is one that goes beyond just helping students to develop the skills necessary to be successful. A democratic education fosters self-worth and purpose within the student, teaches active communication skills, and encourages civic and community involvement. A democratic education should allow students to challenge and discuss topics; especially those that directly relate to the demographics of their own school and community. Community involvement gives students the opportunity to discover their possible calling while also developing a purpose for their lives. David Orr, author of Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect, states that “a calling has to do with one’s largest purpose, personhood, deepest values, and the gift one wants to give back to the world.” Educators should give students as many opportunities as possible to have these types of experiences and by practicing colorblindness in...
Collaboration, communication, creativity: Timeless ’21st century skills’ that will shape the 22nd century

Collaboration, communication, creativity: Timeless ’21st century skills’ that will shape the 22nd century

For over a decade we’ve been hearing about so-called “21st century skills,” including collaboration, communication, and creativity. These are all wonderful, but they’re nothing new; they’re timeless abilities that have propelled culture and civilization over many millennia.   Just as we find these skills in the past, so must we bring them to the future. A child born today may live into the 22nd century. Isn’t it time to start thinking about how we’ll get there? We live in an era of global upheaval with environmental, economic and social challenges that will follow our children and grandchildren beyond the year 2100. Will schools sidestep this, or will education create a hopeful future: one where communities thrive, the environment is healthy, history matters, and the economy provides opportunities for all. The good news is that the seeds of change are taking root. The change is nourished by transdisciplinary thinking that emphasizes (wait for it . . . ) collaboration, communication, and creativity—all in the service of solving shared 21st and 22nd century problems. Each student’s life is a story yet to be written, and we must give each child not only knowledge and skills, but also hope. Curriculum has the power to help youth become the authors of success for themselves, their families and communities. This solution-oriented learning is especially crucial for students of color and those in poverty—students too often impacted by environmental and social problems, while also receiving the low-quality education that reproduces these inequalities. I’m passionate about improving the quality of education as a way to improve the quality of life for people and their communities, near and far....