Social Justice-driven Literature Circles

Students will use their innate passion for a social justice issue to form literature circles, discuss issues, and argue for a change.

Photo of Ellen Fox
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No one is more passionate about fairness than the average 7th grader:
"You let Jayden go to the bathroom, why can't I go?"
"But yesterday you said I could return my book to the library!"
"Did he get two Jolly Ranchers? I only got one!"

Equality and equity all begin with recognizing contexts when analyzing a decision. Contexts are difficult to consider when you have only lived twelve years, and many of those years have been spent in the same (or similar) environments. Most of my students do not know the circumstances outside of themselves, and so a decision I make-- like letting one student go to the restroom-- can seem unfair if they do not have all of the pieces of the puzzle like I do. They don't know that "Jayden" has a doctor's note to let him go to the restroom whenever he needs because he has a condition.

Middle school is a critical time when a child's brain is shifting from the concrete operational stage to the abstract. Abstract thinking is necessary to think hypothetically, to anticipate others' needs, to imagine another perspective. Ultimately, we need abstract thinking to empathize. 

Enter literature: books, stories, films, and articles assist all people in understanding others' perspectives in ways we could not reach alone. As students read, we must consistently ask them why they think a character made a certain decision, or what they would do if they were in the middle of the conflict they are learning about. 

Ultimately, I want my students to learn about issues they care about, while confronting literature that exposes them to a variety of perspectives on the issues. 

[Optional] Synthesize a little! What's one take away or insight to leave people with?

Literature (stories, articles, films, songs) is one of the most powerful to cultivate empathy. Building literature circles around social justice issues will provide students with safe spaces to explore a variety of diverse perspectives on issues they innately care about.

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Photo of Donna Teuber

Hi Ellen! I love your insights about about literature! I'm looking forward to seeing how you develop this more in the Ideate phase. Ideate opens tomorrow!