Some say the world is getting smaller thanks to the abundance of digital technology that brings together the corners of the world at the push of a button. Others say the world is getting bigger as it is easier than ever before to communicate with more people; our understanding of the world is ever expanding.
This presents an exciting challenge to educators who are looking to advance diversity curriculum for their students. Over the last few months, curriculum administrators have been working to revamp the English language arts programs in an effort to include newer and less traditional tools that speak to the experience and interests of students while continuing to open their minds about the world around them.
“Part of what we’re doing now is taking famous historical speeches and documents and examining them from a variety of perspectives,” said Dr. Elise Frangos, Assistant Superintendent and Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the ORR district.
She has been working with almost 20 educators from all grade levels and schools in the district to redesign much of the ELA curriculum, from reading different books, employing new teaching techniques and taking advantage of technology.
In the case of studying historical speeches, that includes using tools from textbooks to YouTube.
“Our teachers have access on the network to YouTube. What they are able to do is show their students how some of the great speeches of the world have been delivered,” she said. These include, of course, “I Have A Dream,” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday observance was just celebrated here in the United States.
“They’re looking not just at the syntax of his language or the beauty of his language, but they’re looking at the historical context and asking why,” said Frangos.
They are also learning to break down the content of these documents via the three branches of rhetorical analysis: ethos (ethics behind the statements), logos (the logic used to derive those statements), and pathos (the emotion connected to the meaning of the statements.)
“So they are asking questions like, ‘what is this document, what is its purpose?’” she said.
ORR is further expanding diversity education by incorporating more reading by a wider swath of authors from a broader demographic of people.
“We are bringing representative works from a number of different groups that perhaps have not had great representation [previously in the curriculum],” said Frangos.
Included in the new reading requirements is The Breadwinner trilogy, geared for younger readers, which tells the story of Parvana, an 11-year-old Afghani girl living under the rule of the Taliban. After her father is arrested for receiving an education in a foreign country, Parvana must transform herself into a boy in order to work and earn money for her struggling family.
“Our use of literature and non-fiction will help them understand the lives of others and take the perspectives of others.”
While the subject matter may be considered mature, the context of the story is prescient for much of today’s geo-political discourse. The books offer young readers a window into a world that stands in stark contrast to our own, which is vital in developing critical thinking skills in students.
“What we’re trying to do is go deeper and give kids transferrable skills so whatever they read, the reading or literature becomes a transport system.”
In addition to the new literature, teachers are encouraged to find ways that take advantage of the Internet and how it can bring distant classrooms together. Last year, second grade teacher Joyce Borden used an educational network to do a videoconference between her students and children in California and China.
ORR students are also encouraged to work more in small groups in an effort to allow everybody opportunities for leadership.
“We’re believing more and more in the importance of kids taking leadership roles in the classroom. It’s modeling what’s really priced in the knowledge economy we have,” she said.
By Eric Tripoli