Empowering Students Through Choice, Voice, and Action
A Unit Redefined
The unit I redefined for my final project was a Reading & Writing Unit on Social Justice Issues. In this unit, students would choose a social issue using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals asking, “What does it take to create change?”
To be able to answer this question as well as present their issue to an audience, students would read both fiction & nonfiction texts on their topic, and then write a persuasive TED TALK speech for an audience of their choice.
This got me thinking, how could I make this unit more collaborative and how could I utilize experts to help broaden students’ knowledge of their topic? What if I made the 4th Graders collaborate to research and write a persuasive TED TALK? Would this benefit their learning? And another question I would face, how would I modify the unit when my school suddenly went to home learning?
Deep learning opportunity
My first thought on redesigning the unit would be to create an experience that utilized the 6Cs of Deep Learning: creativity, communication, citizenship, critical thinking, character, and collaboration. In order to do this, I would change the final product from a persuasive essay to a collaborative, persuasive TED TALK Speech delivered to an authentic audience (communication & collaboration). Furthermore, I would reach out to experts in the areas my students chose to foster new learning partnerships that would broaden students’ views on their issues as well as potentially lead them to possible solutions (critical thinking). Without the use of technology, all of this would not have been possible.
Before I taught the unit, I reached out to a few people I knew had some good resources. First, I reached out to an old colleague of mine in Korea who taught a similar unit to her 4th-grade students. Marie shared ideas and resources to get me started! Next, I reached out to a teacher working at another international school in Vietnam, who had presented on “Empowering Students to Share an Authentic Voice.” Her Grade 4 students had also created Talks. These Grade 4 Talks would become our mentor speeches throughout the unit. With these resources along with my own ideas, I was able to redesign my unit.
Make it Collaborative!
When considering this unit and the fact that I wanted students to give a Talk at the end as an assessment, I felt that it would benefit students to work in learning partnerships. This would be their first-time students would be giving a speech like this in front of an audience. Plus, it would give students the opportunity to work together. Students could read both fiction and nonfiction books together, discuss their texts, conduct research, share notes, and finally, write a persuasive speech (creativity). This set-up also worked really well when we shifted to home learning halfway through the unit. Students were still able to continue with this project because of technology.
I also collaborated with 3 local businesses to organize a learning opportunity for students. Our plan was to visit these three local social enterprises in Hanoi. Students would be able to visit Simple Coffee, a coffee shop that employs and trains individuals with intellectual disabilities, KOTO Villa, a restaurant that trains at-risk youth culinary skills so that they can find jobs in the hospitality industry, and Humanity Hanoi, a concept store celebrating socially conscious fashion, beauty & more. Unfortunately, this field trip had to be postponed due to a 3 week COVID shut down in March, but we will finally be able to go on May 12.
And although we were unable to do the field trip during the unit, I did, however, find ways to be CREATIVE, when trying to connect students with real-world learning opportunities. I knew that I wanted to have a global collaboration component to the project, so it felt right to take advantage of digital tools like Google Meet and Zoom to connect with experts on my students’ topics. Connecting digitally ended up working out well as we weren’t allowed to have guests on campus. These “virtual field trips” were a fun added component that technology allowed us to do! A field tip redefined!
Launching the Unit
I began the unit by having students begin to think about the question, “What does it take to create change?” As students thought about this question, they began to explore real-world issues by reading picture books that explored different social issues. Students then used Flip Grid to respond to the different issues they recognized in those books. Students also viewed a local news story about an American family living in Hanoi who has a son with down syndrome. This family recognized the need for opportunities like their own son and eventually started a training center for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Seeing their story was a great way for students to start generating ideas for “What it takes to create change?” It also allowed students to see that one person can truly make a difference.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
We also spent time reading two NY Times articles about kids creating change, took a deep look at the SDGs, and viewed sample TED Talks asking “What makes a good speech?”. Once students had some background knowledge on the issues that exist in the world, they chose their top 3 issues to tackle using a Google Form. From there, I was able to pair students and now they were ready to begin their research.
Once students had selected a topic and were partnered up, they were ready to begin broadening their perspectives on the issue they had selected. During reading, students would read both fiction and nonfiction texts.
Since the topics were student-selected, I did not necessarily have fiction books for every group. Therefore, I made use of digital resources such as the SORA app, EPIC, and Newsela. Here I was able to find books and articles for each group. This would allow them to analyze characters’ responses to social issues while also reading multiple sources of nonfiction texts on the same issue to deepen their understanding. Furthermore, I curated a list of resources for each group that was stored on the Social Justice Issues Website I created for students to access resources. I used the book Amal Unbound as a Read Aloud text during this unit.
Students would use the knowledge they gained from both digital resources, as well as print, to construct a persuasive argument connected to a social issue. This knowledge would help students create their TED Talk.
We began writing, by generating ideas. 2nd students began gathering parts of their speech. This was also when we went back to home learning. But the research slide decks that I created so that students could collaborate made it easy to move online. Using the research slides also allowed me and my EAL support teacher, easy access to students’ work which allowed us to give regular feedback. We were also able to utilize Breakout Rooms in Zoom to meet with groups. Empowering our learners to use feedback to strengthen their work.
Furthermore, students were provided with lessons on finding credible sources, pulling data and statistics that would support their arguments, and citing their sources. Throughout this bend, we frequently went back to our Mentor Talks with the lens of, “What makes these Talks Powerful?” Using these mentors, students gathered ideas on how to angle their ideas to convince their audience.
Back to Campus Learning
During Bend 3, we were back in person and students started to prepare their Talk Scripts using a template shared by a 4th-grade teacher at Saigon South International School. I also introduced fair use policies before students gathered images for their presentations and how to correctly give credit. We also reviewed the CARP Design Principles that students have used throughout the year to create presentations.
Cross School Collaboration
Lastly, during bend 4, students prepared to present their Talks. I paired up with the HS communications teachers and had his students come by to offer individual groups’ feedback. Students took this feedback and made changes or added things like gestures or emphasis to words that would make the Talk more convincing.
We also had a practice day where my students were able to present for the other 4th-grade class. By filming the presentations, students were able to go back and watch themselves identifying areas of strength and areas to improve upon. This was also a good opportunity for students to practice with the headset mics and work out their jitters.
The Big Day
Finally, it was time to present to our authentic audience. Originally, I had planned to make this a huge event: inviting multiple grade levels, parents, and staff. But Because of COVID restrictions, we had some limitations. BUT we were so happy that we could still hold even some sort of event with an audience. My class was able to present for each other and all of their parents were able to join in our black box theater. It was a huge success and the kids loved being up on the big stage!
Following our TED Talks, students spent time reflecting on the unit using Flip Grid. I provided students with feedback using a rubric. And as a class, we reflected back to our question, “What does it take to create change?”
Not only did the students produce a TED Talk that allowed them to be creative communicators, but they also learned how to collaborate both on-campus and off, and they learned the value of utilizing both local and global experts to strengthen their understanding of an issue. Students were learning from each other, both at home and on campus as well as from others near and far. Furthermore, Because the 4th Graders identified their audience early on, they had a vested interest in creating a speech that would be convincing and powerful.
Another outcome that was surprising for me is that the digital tools I had created before knowing we would go online for three weeks of this unit, made the transition to home learning go smoothly. Once again, I was reminded how powerful digital tools can be especially during this time!
What would I change?
If I were to teach this unit again, I would have students choose less complex topics. Many of the issues chosen required a lot of research and background knowledge. When I look back at the mentor talks we used from Saigon South, those students chose topics that they were already familiar with such as how can video games benefit children? By choosing topics that students already know about, the unit requires less time on research.
Additionally, I would have loved to extend the unit after the TALKS by having students take some sort of action related to their issue. For example, one group presented on Academic Pressure put on children from parents. This Talk would be perfect to present at a PSO Parent Coffee Meeting. Their strong evidence and reasons may have changed a few parents’ minds. However, with COVID restrictions we weren’t allowed to gather a large parent group besides our own classroom parents.
My greatest takeaway from this project is that our kids are capable of so much. At the beginning of the unit, my team was a bit skeptical of whether or not students would be able to accomplish the learning goals of this unit; especially with such big topic choices. However, with the right scaffolding, mentor texts, or speeches, in this case, teacher feedback, and collaboration, students were able to do it! My students as well as I learned that through hard work and perseverance, anything is possible!
Students had an authentic audience to write for, which gave them the motivation to create the best persuasive speeches they could. While the technology was not new or fancy, it provided the path for students to connect with each other and share ideas during home learning as well as on campus.
Was this a unit redefined?
I think so! Without technology, students would not have been able to collaborate as easily. By using the research slide deck, students could easily collaborate both on-campus as well as off-campus. I was also able to connect students with our mentor speeches from Saigon South through YouTube. These speeches were so helpful because students could see what the final product would look like as well as get some ideas for making their own speech powerful! Additionally, students used up-to-date online resources to deepen their content knowledge and connect with global experts, something that would not have been possible without technology!
Additionally, with access to digital reading resources, students were able to broaden their knowledge on the topics they chose. This allowed students choice and access to the knowledge they needed to construct a persuasive argument. Furthermore, access to digital images allowed students to communicate their ideas through the use of visualizations in the image slides used during their Talks.
This was a true deep learning experience that allowed students to discover, create and use knowledge in the real world and with authentic audiences.
Throughout this unit, students have seen, read, and watched individuals who made a big impact. My hope is that they are the ones the future generation is watching and learning from.
Although my COETAIL journey is coming to an end, I look forward to what the future holds. I am leaving my COETAIL journey with a toolbox full of new resources and ideas, plus a larger PLN! A special thanks to Joel Bevans, our cohort 12 instructor, for guiding us all along this journey. Your support, feedback, and encouragement have made this learning journey truly enjoyable and meaningful! Thanks, COETAIL for pushing me to do better!