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Developing a Social Justice Unit in English Language Arts

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This rigorous, standards-aligned narrative unit combines classic literature and contemporary social issues.

“I feel fortunate that I had a teacher who let us talk about racism and other social justice issues in his class. He taught us all the terms and helped develop the language to talk about and address racial inequity.” Those words from Josh, one of my former students, describe a defining experience in his school life and speak to the power of a social justice education, which the book Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice describes as a pedagogical approach that teaches skills for exploring how systems of oppression operate at the individual, institutional, and structural levels.

As a social justice educator, I work to help students develop awareness, knowledge, and processes to identify, respond to, and redress inequity in their communities.

DISCUSSING SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES TAKES PREP WORK

In 2015 I developed a unit that was based largely on the project-based learning framework to meet my county’s English Language 9 curriculum expectation that students write a fictional narrative essay. I had my students engage in counter-storytelling, a concept grounded in critical race theory, to use the power of narrative to counter and disrupt stereotypes and bias against marginalized groups.

Many teachers shy away from a social justice approach because they worry about their students’ ability to handle such topics, but I’ve found that students are eager to engage in this approach. However, teachers cannot simply dive into these lessons without preparing students.

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