Book tip: “Being the Change”

Beingthechange.jpgThere is a need for culturally competent teachers in as well North-America as Europe. The content of Culturally Responsive Teaching is sometimes hard to translate in practical lessons, especially learning engagements that are appropriate and relevant in European classrooms. However, I found a resource that provides educators with hands-on activities and teaching strategies that supports conversations about identity, biases and heritage.

The book is called “Being the Change. Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension” and written by Sara k. Ahmed. She worked for Facing History and Ourselves, hence the approach of the book is a focus on reflection and action. The lesson strategies offered by Ahmed are contributing the development of a reflective classroom. According to Facing History, reflective classrooms are the following: “places where explicit rules and implicit norms protect everyone’s right to speak; where differing perspectives can be heard and valued; where members take responsibility for themselves, each other, and the group as a whole; and where each member has a stake and a voice in collective decisions”.

In reality, the creation of such classrooms is easier said than done. This is also something that I touched upon in an earlier blog, which focussed on the confrontation with uncomfortable conversations. After that, I searched for resources that supported me in creating a classroom atmosphere described by Facing History. The core of reflective classrooms is the acknowledgement of different perspectives that are all valued and heard. Ahmed focussed on this by beginning her book with talking about identity.

Ahmed provides readers with lesson ideas, but also guidelines in how an educator can introduce the activity and conduct conversation about the news, biases and heritage. The book includes references to other sources that are helpful, for example anthologies featuring diverse stories.

Culturally Responsive Teaching can be rather vague or academic, and focussed on the North-American context. However, this book helps European teachers to realise what culturally responsive teaching is in our classrooms, as we can easily adapt the strategies used by Ahmed to our European context.

What's in the news
 From the book “Being the Change”

An example is a lesson I did with grade 6, which is a copy of Ahmed’s lesson “What is in our News?”. Students wrote down what was in their news, while I provided them with my example about topics that were important to me. Thereafter, students compared their list with their neighbours and synthesised why there were differences in each other’s topics. This enhanced conversations background, nationality, selection and interests. After that, the second column focussed on thinking: what emotions or questions do you have about this news. Again students first worked independently and compared with another student afterwards. The third column focussed on action: what can I do to put my thinking into an action. This unit was related to the sustainable development goals, therefore the students linked their news items to the categories, along with their action. In this way, I connected one of Ahmed’s teaching strategies with something that was already in my syllabus.

This is merely one example of how an educator can work towards a reflective classroom while sticking to the prescribed syllabus or curriculum. More to come…

Students categorised their news items according world issues and formulated something they could do to support their thinking about this news item. 

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