And now, may I present to you, my course 1 final project: Social Justice Heroes! A unit for grade 7 ELD students.

The end is here! Well, for Course 1, at least…

HERE IS THE LINK to my final project for COETAIL course 1. It’s a grade 7 ELD unit called “Social Justice Heroes” that I plan to start teaching tomorrow (Monday, April 5th, 2021).


Why did I choose this unit?

The beauty of being an ELD teacher is that there isn’t really any set content. My only objectives are to build students’ English language abilities in the domains of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Since the class is primarily skill-based, the “what” that I teach is really up to me.

I consider myself an anti-bias/anti-racist (ABAR) educator, and my work in the classroom has been greatly influenced by my belief that teachers should be activists, and use their platform to promote social justice. This article, from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), provides a good introduction into the principals of ABAR education if you are interested in learning more. Briefly, the four goals of ABAR education are to:

  1. promote positive identity development in each child
  2. honor diversity in the classroom and showcase diverse viewpoints
  3. help students recognize injustice and learn what justice looks like
  4. encourage students to develop an activist mindset

    Rosie the Resister

    Image by Jackie Ramirez from Pixabay.

With that context in mind, I chose the topic “Social Justice Heroes” for our last unit of the semester because I wanted to end on an inspirational note. It’s been a tough year (an understatement, for sure), and there hasn’t been a lot of positivity. I thought it would be nice to finish with a bit of hope.

The unit asks students to research, write, and publish an illustrated biography of a social justice activist from their home country. The language focuses of the unit are: 1) writing narrative nonfiction, 2) using author’s craft moves to tell a compelling story, and 3) revising/editing one’s work to make it better.

The standards that the unit tackles are the following:

  1. WIDA standards for narrative writing grades 6-8 (see page 148)
  2. Common Core standards for narrative writing and research (grade 7)
  3. ISTE standards “Creative Communicator” and “Empowered Learner”

I chose these standards because the students have not done any narrative writing this year. Almost all of the writing they have completed this year has been informational/argumentative. And, sadly, the older the students get the less narrative writing they do (but that’s a topic for another post). I wanted to put a storytelling unit into the curriculum because stories connect us to our humanity, reflect our cultures, and remind us of what’s important.

Additionally, this unit builds upon the study of social issues that we completed last quarter. In the previous unit, the students learned about social issues (especially racism), and created informational books to explain about the harmful effects of discrimination on people’s lives. See the students’ completed work from that unit on Book Creator here.

Justice for All

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels.

If you revamped a previously created learning experience, what have you changed and why? What’s been added and/or removed? Why?

This unit is similar to a unit that I taught a few years ago when I was teaching grade 7 Humanities. That unit was called “Faces of Resistance” and was also a nonfiction narrative writing unit.  I wanted to revamp this unit in particular because I thought it was a successful unit and the students were really engaged in the learning tasks. The unit is highly accessible to EAL students, because it relies on the use of picture books as mentor texts and then asks the students to create their own picture books.

The biggest change to the unit plan is the level of articulation that has been provided as a result of using the COETAIL APLE unit planner. The goals and objectives for the new unit are much more detailed. The learning journey is easier to track in the updated unit plan.

The integration of #edtech tools is stronger in the new unit than in the old one. The final product for the Humanities unit was an analog book, whereas the revamped unit asks students to create a digital book using Book Creator. Book Creator allows for the students to easily see each other’s work. The publish link on Book Creator also makes the work readily shared with a wider audience – the completed narratives will be sent to the school librarian to publish on the library website.  In the revised unit, the students will record their stories and upload the recordings to a youtube playlist.

Lastly, this unit asks students to choose an activist from their home country to study. I wanted to make that part explicit in order to honor the students’ backgrounds, and to encourage them to share stories about their national heroes with their classmates. I didn’t shy away from using the word activist in this unit planner, as I had previously. The word can sometimes have a strong/negative connotation. I intentionally wanted to “take the word back” and spin it in a positive light.

FYI: I plan to show the below video at the start of the unit in order to explain to the students what an activist is. It features Malala Yousafzai and the voices of a few other teen activists talking about why it’s important to share your story and speak out for what you believe in, no matter your age.

How was this learning experience (unit plan) different from or similar to other learning experiences (unit plans) you have designed?

This unit plan was different from other unit plans I have written because it asked me to spell out the stages of learning. Prior UbD plans that I have written have a section for that, but I can’t ever really remember doing it. I liked how the APLE planner helped me to think about what the learning would look like during each part of the unit, and  included set checkpoints for self and peer assessment and teacher feedback. The reflection opportunities are more intentional this way.

How does this learning experience (unit plan) relate to what you learned in Course 1?

During course 1, I learned that it is important for educators to be reflective and  think consciously about what types of learning opportunities they want to structure for their students. I have never spent so much time thinking about my pedagogy and my professional development during the actual school day. At first, I felt a little guilty closing my door and doing quiet research and writing during my planning periods. But, gradually, I found myself becoming more open to the idea, and more thoughtful and contemplative about what I was doing in the classroom and why.

I know this is kind of cheesy, but through COETAIL, I am also learning to find my own voice. The experience of blogging has really pushed me to develop my perspective and point of view. I feel like I’m doing a better job than I was previously of articulating my beliefs and values as an educator, and explaining my pedagogical choices to others. My confidence is increasing!

Lastly, I learned in course 1 that messing around, experimenting, and playing with new media is a good thing. And that kids should be given opportunities to do just that (and adults should too). I also learned that technology should not be an “add on”, but rather something that is integrated in to the fabric of the curriculum. Tech should not be used for tech’s sake alone, but rather to enrich the learning that is already taking place in the classroom.

What has influenced you the most in Course one and how is that reflected in your learning experience/unit plan?

The idea from course 1 that resonated with me the most was from the article, “Designing Learning Experiences” by Kim Cofino. In her article, Cofino writes about how “teachers need to be creating signature learning experiences for their students”. She goes on to say that many adults, when surveyed about their years at school, cannot name a single signature learning experience that they have had.

Signature learning experiences are memorable learning experiences that stick with you throughout your life. According to Edsurge, these are “the moments in your PK-12 education that were transformative, or had the most lasting impact on you.” When designing this unit, I was thinking a lot about that idea. I was wondering: Will students remember this unit? Will it stick with them? What will their lasting take-aways be?

What outcomes do you hope to see when students complete this learning experience/unit?

I hope that my students will come away with the understanding that anyone can make a positive difference in the world if they are courageous, and willing to stand up for what they know is right. That the world is full of heroes, and that there will be more heroes in the future. And that they could be heroes, too.

And, wait for it. You knew this was coming. I’d better end with this…

TLDR:  What do you think? Is this unit a winner? Have I hit it out of the park? Let me know in the comments below…

4 thoughts on “And now, may I present to you, my course 1 final project: Social Justice Heroes! A unit for grade 7 ELD students.

  1. Dear Megan,

    I’m glad you’re learning and exploring. I hope you continue being an ABAR educator. It’s a journey, not a destination. Be humble and be ready to learn even more from your students as you follow this path.

    Keep it up!

    • Thank you for the words of encouragement! You are right in saying that being an educator means being on a learning journey that is continuously unfolding. And, in order to stay current and relevant, it is necessary to stay up to date on research, world events, and social trends. I will do my best to always remain open to professional development, and to avoid stagnation in my career! Hope all is well and thank you, Jim, for modeling the values of inclusivity and respect for all in your work as a school leader.

  2. Megan,

    So you win simply for ending your post with Bowie! Heroes is one of my favs. Great guitar riff to say the least, but most importantly the lyrics are timeless. I hope you’ve shared it with your students!

    I was drawn to your mention of Kim’s article on signature learning experiences for students. Accessing and activating student intrinsic motivation is the key to developing real learning. I would bet that the reason few adults remember their learning experiences from school, is because they weren’t learning experiences; rather they were compliances based activities for grades. Bringing social justice to the classroom is a way to make things real for kids and get them thinking and hopefully stir some power to action which will trigger a learning journey. Great unit!

    • Hi Patrick!

      Nice to “meet” you:) Thanks for commenting on my post. I’m glad you liked the Bowie song and the theme of inquiry for the unit. I rolled it out last week to my classes and kicked it off by playing the video. Surprisingly, despite being 12-14 years old, a lot of them already knew Bowie. Score one for the old folks.

      The idea of signature learning experiences has really been on my mind recently with the limitations placed on schooling as a result of the pandemic. Can I craft meaningful units for hybrid and distance learning models? And, if so, what do I need to do differently to make that happen? Just because kids are online and at home doesn’t mean that their learning opportunities should be limited. But how do we ensure richness within those constraints? It’s a lot to think about…

      Take care,

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