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The Bed Project: Real-World Problem Inspires Social-Justice Response

EducationWorld is pleased to feature a variety of book excerpts in collaboration with Stenhouse Publishers. The following excerpt comes from Yes, But...If They Like It, They'll Learn It! by Susan Church, Jane Baskwill and Margaret Swain (Pembroke Publishers, 2007; distributed in the U.S. by Stenhouse Publishers). The book retails for $20 and is available on the Stenhouse Web site.

This innovative book explores best practices and projects designed to meet the literacy learning needs of a diverse range of students. The article below demonstrates how a “Conversation Corner” discussion mobilized a second-grade classroom to solve a complex social problem while also meeting the literacy requirements for their grade. See The Toy Unit: Problem-Based Learning Puts Students in Charge for an additional excerpt from Yes, But...If They Like It, They'll Learn It!

Anna has created a space in her busy Grade 2 classroom schedule for students to discuss issues and matters of importance to them. Sometimes they are about things happening in the news or in their local community, and sometimes they are about their school. But unlike most Show-and-Tell or News sessions, Anna has incorporated a social justice focus. Therefore, there is the expectation that some form of action will come out of the issues the children bring forward. Sometimes that action results in a fact-finding mission; other times it may involve inviting in guest speakers or raising money. In this case, when student Celia found out that her friend Callie didn't have a bed to sleep in, Celia asked if she could share this with the class, in order to help solve Callie’s problem.

When everyone was quiet, Anna gave Celia the go-ahead. In her very quiet but confident voice, Celia began, “How many of you have ever slept on the floor?”

With Anna’s help, encouraging, asking questions, and keeping students’ growing enthusiasm in check, Celia explained that she wanted to bring a problem to her classmates’ attention. She asked how students would feel if they had to sleep on the floor all of the time, and if they thought it would be good for them. A lot of discussion ensued, with the consensus being that it would interfere with a person’s sleep to lie on the floor, even if s/he had layers of blankets or a foam pad to sleep on. Celia then shared that this was the situation her friend Callie was in.

The children listen intently as Celia outlined her idea to find a bed for Callie. She asked her classmates how they might go about finding one, given that they didn’t have any money to buy one. Anna acted as secretary, writing down the ideas on chart paper. As they came to the end of their scheduled conversation time, Anna suggested a committee be formed to discuss the suggestions and to make recommendations to the class. It was decided that Celia should chair the committee and that Callie should be a member. Three other students volunteered to be members. The Committee was to report back to the class in three days, with recommendations for an action plan. Anna asked the school’s guidance counselor if she would act as a facilitator for the meetings, which were to be held at lunchtime.

When the committee returned to the Conversation Corner three days later, they brought with them pages of chart paper outlining their recommendation. They talked about how they had been thinking about yard sales, the environment, and reducing/reusing/recycling, and had come up with a plan they felt was both good for Callie and good for the environment. They thought they should see if anyone in the class had a bed they didn’t want and would be willing to donate. As their idea was discussed, concerns were raised: that the bed needed to be a good one and that they needed a backup plan in case no one in the class had a bed to spare. They also realized they would need help to move a bed, and that they probably had to get permission from the principal before going any further.

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Stenhouse publishes professional development books and videos by teachers and for teachers. Their titles cover a range of content areas -- from literacy and mathematics to science, social studies, the arts, and environmental education -- as well as a variety of topics, including classroom management, assessment, and differentiation.

Once again, Anna recorded their discussion and drew up a list of actions in response to their concerns/questions. With her help, the class decided on what work needed to be done, and divided the class into the appropriate committees. It was decided that the original committee should go see the principal. Once the principal gave her okay, the other committees began their work—researching types of mattresses and beds, interviewing Callie and her mom to see what kind of bed they had in mind, and drafting a notice to go home to students’ parents explaining what they were looking for.

Other groups began their work as the project progressed. It was decided that a committee would view the beds to see if they were suitable. This involved measuring the bed and examining the mattress and other parts to see that they were in good order. In order for the committee to leave school grounds, they also had to arrange for permission and line up transportation, in keeping with school board policy. They had to telephone the donors to schedule the viewing. Once a decision was reached, arrangements had to be made to transport the bed and to set it up in Callie’s house.

The entire process was undertaken in a serious and purposeful manner. It was important to Anna that the children be respectful of Callie’s and her mom’s wishes throughout, and so Anna steered the children toward consulting with them whenever there was a question about how to proceed.

The entire process took a while from start to finish, but after approximately one month, Callie had a bed to sleep in. The class had also managed to get appropriate bedding and an assortment of stuffed animals and bedtime reading—all prerequisites for a good night’s sleep.

Spin-offs of the original project resulted in the class becoming actively engaged in researching and participating in global projects, in which they raised funds for children in need of bedding, clothing and school supplies. They wrote letters of thanks to those who helped. They also appeared before a staff meeting to make teachers aware that other children in the school may be in the same situation as Callie, and to show that they were willing to share their expertise should it be needed.

The students put what they learned to good use as they prepared for the presentation. Prior to the staff meeting, the children once again met in their committees to decide on the information they wanted to convey and how they wanted to share it. They included testimonials from classmates and their teacher about how they felt doing this kind of work, why it was important, and what they learned.

This was an authentic literacy project that involved students in multiple aspects of literacy in critical and purposeful ways. A closer look at what these students undertook, along with their teacher, reveals the richness and depth of the literacy engagements provided.

Using the Atlantic Canada English Language Arts Guide as an example, below is a list of related specific curriculum outcomes met.

  • Students will speak and listen to explore, extend, clarify, and reflect on their thoughts, ideas, feelings, and experiences.
  • Students will be able to communicate information and ideas effectively and clearly, and respond personally and critically.
  • Students will be able to interact with sensitivity and respect, considering the situation, audience, and purpose.
  • Students will be expected to select, read, and view with understanding a range of literature, information, media, and visual texts.
  • Students will be expected to use writing and other forms of representation to explore, clarify, and reflect on the thoughts, feelings, experience, and learnings, and to use their imagination.
  • Students will be expected to create texts collaboratively and independently, using a variety of forms for a range of audiences and purposes.
  • Students will be expected to use a range of strategies to develop effective writing and media products to enhance their clarity, precision, and effectiveness.

Although the Bed Project can be seen to address several of the NCTE/IRA Standards, the standard this project most exemplifies is

4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

Most importantly, while strengthening literacy skills, students also saw the relationship of the skills they were learning and using to the everyday, and the power they had when they used their skills effectively.


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