for social responsibility:
Five essential ingredients
This essay also appears on teachhub.com,
which includes many lessons and ideas for teachers.
Teaching for social responsibility means intentionally teaching
young people to understand themselves, each other, and the world.
We help teachers create classrooms where students can air and
solve conflicts, discuss controversial topics, have a say in what
and how they learn, ask questions and engage in dialogue, and
are sometimes moved to action as a result of their study.
are five essential ingredients to teaching for social responsibility:
Make your classroom more democratic and participatory
the spirit of Occupy Wall Street, many teachers are considering
how to "occupy the classroom" by infusing democratic
principles. Think about how to give your students more say in
the curriculum and what happens in your classroom. Are you willing
to let students determine classroom rules/guidelines and consequences?
How can students share their ideas about reading assignments,
areas of study, and homework? Can some decisions be made by consensus?
How about letting students take turns teaching the class, either
individually or in groups? Remember that it is human nature to
be more invested in something if you have a say about it.
all felt the frustration of watching the same five hands shoot
up over and over again in whole class discussions. Think about
ways to get more students to participate. Mix up your teaching
strategies to get more kids to contribute to the conversation:
try small groups, pairs, fishbowls, collaborative groups, and
micro-labs. Students who are usually quiet in class can sometimes
be motivated to participate through activities that involve writing,
theatre, or art.
2. Teach kids to solve conflicts
is part of life. In fact, conflict often makes life interesting
and can lead to greater understanding and deeper connections between
people. Unfortunately, conflict in schools often causes disharmony,
fighting, or even violence. That's where social and emotional
skill-building comes in. Having these skills will help students
navigate their social world, and help them do better academically
(as a new study of Morningside Center's 4Rs Program - and other
studies like it - have shown).
by helping your class develop a sense of community by doing team-building
activities and collectively determining the classroom rules (see
above). Teach active listening and practice "I-messages"
(saying how you feel rather than blaming the other person) to
cut down on the number of conflicts. When conflicts do arise,
don't brush them under the rug; use them as an opportunity to
teach skills and promote healthy relationships. Help students
learn concrete problem-solving and negotiation strategies. Teach
them how to stand up for what they need without putting down the
other person in the conflict. We call this being "strong
not mean." Help them get underneath their position to identify
their underlying need. Work towards win-win solutions.
aware that sometimes prejudice and stereotyping are the root causes
of conflict. To address this, integrate concepts of diversity
and intercultural understanding into your curriculum as much as
3. Address controversial issues
live in a world filled with controversy. It is all around us,
and it is compelling. Students are usually passionate about the
hot topics of the day, and will want to discuss them in school.
Be both proactive and reactive: Bring up difficult or controversial
topics yourself, and also respond to their questions. If students'
questions come up at a moment when you don't have time for a long
conversation, don't just change the subject. Acknowledge the question
and come back to it if you can. Let the students know that nothing
is off-limits. Be sure to bring parents into the loop: Let them
know what you're doing and be sensitive about what topics might
hit particularly close to home. And of course, always consider
what's appropriate for your students' age. For example, if your
third grade students want to discuss a devastating earthquake
that has been in the news, you might focus on the science of earthquakes,
how people have helped the victims, and perhaps how students themselves
could help. High school students can better handle discussions
about the death and damage the quake caused.
Ask essential questions and promote dialogue
you begin a new area of study, determine what students know and
don't know by listing and analyzing their questions. Start off
by discussing content questions -- who, what, where, why, and
when. But eventually get students to dig deeper until they reach
some "essential questions." For example, instead of
asking "What is the role of different branches of government?"
students might consider: "What would happen if we had no
government?" Or if you're discussing a piece of literature,
a question might be: "What causes some people to prevail
in the face of adversity and others to fail?" These kinds
of questions will help students think more deeply and critically.
students explore their own opinions as well as others' points
of view. Do an "opinion continuum": Read a statement
expressing a particular opinion about something, and have students
choose: I agree, I strongly agree, I disagree, I strongly disagree,
not sure. Then have students explain why. Assign opinion articles
reflecting different points of view. Have your students interview
people with different perspectives -- each other, friends, or
family members. This will complicate students' thinking and encourage
them to reflect more on the opinions they hold.
5. Develop social action projects
ways to encourage your students to take action on issues that
concern them. This not only fosters active citizenship and builds
students' leadership skills, it provides an antidote to feelings
of powerlessness or apathy. Whether the topic is the war in Afghanistan,
climate change, or gay marriage, social action projects can connect
students to your curriculum and to the wider world. Begin by having
the students identify the problem(s) that need to be addressed.
Brainstorm possible solutions, including a wide range of possibilities.
Then vote or use consensus to narrow it down to a few options.
Actions can range from activist projects like letter writing,
protesting, or testifying, to service-oriented projects like raising
money or working at a local organization to help a group of people.
Making the leap from investigation to action can be a powerful
experience for young people.
This essay is offered by TeachableMoment.Org,
a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility.
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