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Re-imagining Read Alouds

Exploring Social Issues Through a Literacy Unit

In our inquiry project, we (Elizabeth Silva and Ana López 4th grade teachers) wanted to reimagine the read aloud time and use it to explore a social issue we felt was pertinent to our students. Could we merge social and emotional learning with academic skills using a read aloud? What would that look like? How would we structure such learning? To answer these questions, we designed a unit plan that allowed our diverse learners opportunities to discuss their ideas about inclusion and practice academic skills. Throughout our inquiry, we documented our unit plan, teaching strategies and revision of the strategies. You will see videos of our students’ evolving ideas on the topic of inclusion.

Why a Difference Project?

Students are laughing, giggling, pointing. What could they be looking at? We had taken our class to the Museum of Natural History and were entering the lunchroom when we passed by a class of students with physical differences. A girl with cerebral palsy was immediately noticed by our students and their reaction was visible--and negative. We could have handled the situation in the same old manner, such as calling a community meeting to discuss their reactions, but we wanted to explore the irony in this situation. You see, we teach in an ICT classroom in Washington Heights, and in a class of 24 students, we have 14 students with an Individual Education Plan (IEP).  

Until now, our students did not have a definition of what being part of an inclusion classroom meant. The hierarchy between “smart/not smart” or “IEP/ No IEP” had not been solidified. However, only in 4th grade, ideas were beginning to form in our  students’ minds and they had already constructed a single story about people with physical differences. Based on their reactions to the girl in the museum, their emotions ranged from pity to ridicule. We wanted to offer them a different way to view the girl in the museum and hopefully other people they would encounter in their lives with differences.

What if our students read a book about a girl with a physical difference who was mainstreamed into a classroom? Would their idea of inclusion change?  Would they talk about people with physical differences using different words after reading the book?

In the video below, you can see some of our students discuss how a book began to influence their idea of inclusion: