On dignity, respect and racism

The 21st of March is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. We worked with eleven-year-old primary school students on the topic of racism, not only on that day, but also during the following week. Here is an account focusing on two of the resources we used and the activities we worked on.

Racism Explained to My Daughter by Tahar Ben Jelloun

Tahar Ben Jelloun is a Morrocan writer whose entire work is written in French although his first language is Arabic. Racism Explained to My Daughter is a wonderful book which involves a compelling dialogue between the author and his ten-year-old daughter on the difficult topic of racism in an admirably straightforward and understandable way. There were three main activites that guided our way through the excerpt we worked with:

  • +1 Routine

I described this in the previous post. It is a thinking routine that provides learners with a structure for identifying key ideas and committing them to memory. It can be used after reading a text, watching a movie,  or being presented with new information or ideas. Students are asked to a) recall and note (a list of key ideas), b) exchange notes with classmates, read others’ ideas and add one new thing to the list, and c) review their returned notes with all the additions from their classmates and maybe add any new ideas they have picked up from reading others’ notes. The way we tried it in class was slightly adapted since recalling from memory would be difficult for the students’ language level. I let them have a look at the excerpt whenever they felt they needed to.

  • Make note

Make note is a routine that enhances students’ memory of and engagement with ideas by focusing on capturing the heart and distilling key issues and questions.

After a film, reading or discussion we ask students to make a note of ONE of the following:

 

  • What is the most important point?
  • What do you find difficult to understand?
  • What question would you most like to discuss?
  • What is something you found intesting?

 

 

  • Sentence, phrase,word

A final activity that we tried with the same text was the sentence-phrase-word routine. Students chose a sentence, a phrase and a word that they thought was powerful, important or moving and justified their choices. The children offered a wealth of ideas highlighting diverse aspects of the issue. Some choices and explanations offered:

Murder at Sharpeville by Godfrey Rubens

Murder at Sharpeville by Godfrey Rubens

This painting by the painter and photographer Godfrey Rubens portrays the massacre in the town of Sharpeville, South Africa, which took place on the 21st of March, 1960. The incident in which 69 unarmed black African people were shot dead during a peaceful protest against apartheid’s pass-books system marked a turning point. It is the reason that today this day is commemorated as the Universal Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

  • See, think, wonder

We first worked with the see, think, wonder routine. The children wrote and shared  interesting ideas and thoughts and were very curious to know what, where, and why this happened.

  • The story behind the painting

This high curiosity level led us to look at the historical facts behind the painting. I wanted to avoid developing another reading text since we had already worked with the excerpt from Tahar Ben Jelloun’s book. I decided to frame it as a listening activity. I started telling the story using simplified language to ensure understanding. At the same time I was writing key points on the board. Students were listening and taking notes. From time to time I asked them questions or invited them to ask me questions. I also paused regularly and asked individual students to repeat the story so far. Little by little we built a diagram with the story behind the painting on the board. When we finished that session I asked them to study the diagram at home and be prepared to talk about it next time. In the lesson that followed children practised speaking about the incident by drawing on the diagram. We tried this a few times, students took turns among them each narrating a part of the story and then another would take up and continue. Their confidence gradually grew. During this stage, we added two more clouds to the diagram. In the first one we included the verbs they used (base form) while in the second some other words and phrases they needed to refine their story-telling. The final diagram served as their blueprint for stepping into writing the story. We started that in class and they finalized it at home. Although it was one of the longest texts the children have written so far, it worked really well. I asked them in the following lesson how they coped with writing the story and they said that having the diagram with the key points, verbs and extra words was very helpful. Some of them also said that having talked about it in class made writing easy because they “had it in their minds”. We spent a small part of that session narrating the incident again and after having told, retold and writing about it there was a very satisfying, smooth speaking flow.

I remember that when we started working on this topic, I had asked students if they knew what we celebrate on the 21st of March. They had come up with the answer: the world day of sleep. It did not come as a surprise. After all, World Sleep Day was quite prominent on tv those days, and I myself had seen a surge of tv commercials for furniture, mattresses and other relevant products. The children had probably seen them, too. I think it’s good that they now know it is the day against racial discrimination.

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