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«The teaching/learning experience that you are about to review is the first-person narrative of a first-year, fourth grade teacher in an urban school ...»

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Overview and Rationale for the Project

The teaching/learning experience that you are about to review

is the first-person narrative of a first-year, fourth grade

teacher in an urban school district on the southside of

Atlanta, Georgia. Mrs. Burnley, the teacher, is a young, white

female teacher who is pursuing an advanced degree in Early

Childhood Education at Georgia State University. In the

school where she teachers, ninety-seven percent (97%) of the students are African American and ninety-five percent (95%) are on free and reduced lunch. There are no white students in the school. Most of the children that the school serves come from surrounding apartment complexes in the neighborhood. Out of a total of 26 students in her classroom, there is one student from Mexico who has been in America only 2 years, and 3 students from Africa who have moved into the area within the last 3 years and whose first language is French. The remaining students are African American.

Although income levels vary within the classroom, only 2 to 3 students pay for school lunch. The first grade classroom that is also featured in this project has a similar composition of African American, Mexican and African students.

Mrs. Burnley wanted to explore with her students their responses to issues of racial and social justice. She did not hesitate to think that such issues would be too complex for her students to study. The day-to-day descriptions that follow are her account of her activities with the students and their responses. The project that she planned is a Problem- Solution Project, which directs students to answer questions to identify a societal or world problem and to test out their solutions to their selected problem. It is presented in this curriculum guide as an example of one teacher’s use of the 12- Step Questions, not as a model for the “right way” to explore such topics with children.

This Problem-Solution Project is a reminder that all successful leaders adopt a strategy to solve the problems that beset them.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. learned the power of non-resistant social change from Mohandas K. Ghandi, who fought for the liberation of the Indian people from British rule. Nonviolence became the overriding strategy for the ‘60s Civil Rights Movement. Children today must be taught the power and use of such a strategy; but more importantly, they need to understand that they too can develop and create effective strategies to solve complex problems in their world. The knowledge of how to approach any problem and to see it through to some positive resolution is the greatest challenge of our teaching. Children at all ages need to understand that they can think deeply about societal problems and can produce positive results within their own sphere of experience.

They need to know that they can positively control many aspects of their lives and those of other people. Once again, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is our role model.

With this curriculum project, it is hoped that you will see the value of such learning, which is based on the Dr. King’s commitment to making a positive difference in the world by helping others.


–  –  –


• read trade books on citizenship, the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., freedom, getting along with others, civil rights, Women’s Rights, the Civil Rights Movement, etc.

• read for literacy concepts emphasizing comprehension strategies such as compare/contract, main idea, noting details.

• read for literature concepts such as non-fiction, realistic fiction, historical fiction, biography, autobiography, folktales, allegories, etc.

Language Arts:

• study and use verbs, adjectives and quotations.

–  –  –


• solve mathematics problems based on ProblemSolution topic:

• Example: Letter Writing Campaign. Determine how many letters would have to be written to reach everyone in the school? How many would each student have to write to reach that goal? What if we tried to reach the community? How long would it take? How many would each student have to write each day to reach that goal? How much would it cost to mail one letter to every student in the first grade?

Every student in the school? What are the Post Office weights for letters vs. postcards vs. brochures vs.

fliers? How much money would we need for postage?

Social Studies:

Investigate and Study:

–  –  –

Freedom of conscience and expression: the right to hold beliefs, whether religious, ethical or political, and to express one’s views.

–  –  –

Tolerance: the allowable deviation from a standard. Indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.

Social Studies:

Respect for Others:

–  –  –

Compassion, kindness and generosity: concern for suffering or distress of others and response to their feelings and needs.

Courtesy and cooperation: recognition of mutual interdependence with others resulting in polite treatment and respect for them.


Information Processing:

Gathers information through reading, listening, observing and surveying.

Locates and utilizes information from a variety of sources, e.g., books, newspapers, atlases, glossaries, photographs, laser-disks, computer software, others.

Analyzes information from two or more sources for agreements, contradictions, facts, and opinions.

Social Studies:

Problem Solving:

–  –  –

Shows respect toward others.

Works in a group, following set rules of procedure to complete an assigned task.

Identifies and uses alternative methods of conflict resolution.

Participates in planning for effective civic action;

demonstrating effective civic actions.


Critical Questions Teachers should use the 12-Step Problem-Solution Questions to guide their instruction when implementing a Problem-Solution Project. Guide students to thoroughly answer each question.

1. How can we know what problems exist in our world?

2. How can we determine which problem to work on first?

or On which problem can we have the most impact?

3. What is the selected problem?

4. How can we state the selected problem so that we can take actions that we can measure?

5. What knowledge and skills do we need to begin to solve the selected problem?

6. What support and/or permission do we need to begin to solve the selected problem?

–  –  –

8. How can we test out possible solutions?

9. What are the results and consequences of each possible solution?

10. What solutions appear to work best and present the fewest negative consequences?

11. How can we state (communicate) the best solution so that others can try (replicate) it?

12. If we had to solve the problem again, what would we do differently and why?


–  –  –


Children and Social Action:

Clark, Sondra (2003). You Can Change Your World!

Sondra’s Tips for Making a Difference. Revell, Fleming H. Company.

Haskins, James. S. (1983). The Guardian Angels.

Enslow Publishers.

Hoose, Phillip (1993). It’s Our World, Too!: Young People Who Are Making a Difference (and They’re Doing It).

Little, Brown and Company.

Hoose, Phillip (2002). It’s Our World, Too! Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Isler, Claudia (2000). Volunteering to Help in Your Neighborhood. Scholastic Library Publishing.

Kessler, Paula N. (1995). Amazing Kids! Random House, Incorporated.

Kielburger, Marc (2002). Take Action! A Guide to Active Citizenship. Wiley, John, & Sons, Inc.

Lewis, Barbara A. (1993). Kids Who Make a Difference.

MasterMedia Publishing Company.

Lewis, Barbara A. (1998). Kid’s Guide to Social Action:

How to Solve the Social Problems You Choose – and Turn Creative Thinking into Positive Action. Free Spirit Publishing, Inc.

Rusch, Elizabeth (2002). Generation Fix: Young Ideas for a Better World. Beyond Words Publishing.

Siegel, Danny (2001). Kids Can Do Mitzvahs. Kar-Ben Publishing, Inc.

Children’s Literature and Prejudice:

Dr. Seuss (1976). The Sneetcher and Other Stories.

Taylor, Mildred D. (1998). Gold Cadillac.

Cosby, Bill (1997). The Meanest Thing to Say (Little Bill Series).

Blume, Judy (1976). Iggie’s House.

Williams, Vera B. (1984). A Chair for My Mother.

Hopkinson, Deborah (1995). Sweet Clara and the freedom Quilt.

Parr, Todd (2001). It’s Okay to Be Different.

Taylor, Mildred D. (1998). The Friendship.

Couric, Katie (2000). Brand New Kid.

Fox, Mem (2001). Whoever You Are Raschka, Chris (1998). Yo! Yes?

Polacco, Patricia (2001). Keeping Quilt.

Hoffman, Mary (1991). Amazing Grace.

Mills, Lauren A. (1991). The Rag Coat.

Derolf, Shane (1997). Crayon Box That Talked.

Dorros, Arthur (1997). Abuela.

Cohn, Janice (2000). The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate.

Wells, Rosemary (1998). Yoko.

Bruchac, Joseph (1999). Trail of Tears.


Intentional and Unintentional Prejudice http://www.eburg.com/beyond.prejudice/Understand.html Social Action Principles and Process http://www.socialaction.info/socialaction.html

Study Guide:

Batiste, D.A. (2000). A World of Difference Institute Anti Bias Study Guide (Elementary/Intermediate Level) New York, NY: Anti-Defamation League.


“Close the Book on Hate: 101 Ways to Combat Prejudice.” (2000). Barnes and Noble and the Anti-Defamation League.


A Teacher’s Procedures and Reflections


Day 1: Introducing When I first introduced the idea of “social action” my students didn’t have a clue. So I stepped back a little and we defined relevant words like society, problem, action, etc. Each table of students looked up a different word in the dictionary and then reported to the class. I summed up their definition of “social action,” and they began to relate it to charity. That was enough for the day. This activity took about 15 minutes.

Day 2: Brainstorming

The next day, I asked my students if they were aware of any problems in our society that they would like to see changed.

While it took a minute for them to get started, once they did, it was like I couldn’t get them to stop! This session lasted about 30 minutes. I couldn’t believe the ideas they were coming up with!! Some of the things they said I tried to reword more appropriately when writing on the chart paper. For example, a boy in my class said that he saw on the news about strip clubs! I wrote nightclubs and talked about violence and drugs.

Another child said “Dads beating Moms.” I wrote domestic violence and explained about violence and family. Other examples are plentiful. Here is the complete list from my chart paper.

–  –  –

I was surprised at a few things. First, I was surprised some knew about issues such as government. A child said, “Why can’t the government just tell people that they can’t buy guns and that the stores can’t be open to sell them?” I took a brief minute to explain the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Other issues I didn’t think they would know or be concerned about were second-hand smoke (I guess the commercials are working!), suicide, nightclubs, and forest fires. The other aspect of this experience that was surprising was the fact that my students thought of things I would never have thought of.

For example, a girl said, “Sometimes dads don’t pay child support on time and we need to ask the police to punish them more.” This insight could only come from experience. Another thing I thought was odd was that I had a hard time getting them to come up with local problems. They couldn’t think of anything wrong with the school. Only one student said anything about city government when she suggested we fix the entrance sign to her apartment complex, because it was ugly to everyone that drove by. My students stuck mainly to national issues.

I think a lot of the topics came from the news. For example, kidnapping has been in the news recently and it related directly to students their age. Students tend to remember important stories about other students. Lyrics in rap music have been discussed on MTV News a lot lately centered on the performer Eminem. I know a lot of my students watch MTV consistently. Other things that might have come from television include forest fires, child abuse and crime.

Other topics, as mentioned earlier, might come from a child’s personal problems or experiences. Child support payments, domestic abuse, smoking (parents and others), racism, and perhaps vandalism are issues that a 9-year-old might have seen or heard about in the community. These were things they could talk more freely about.

Day 3: Narrowing the Choice

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