The key to ending racism and racist acts of violence within our society is to examine what is taking place in our classrooms.
—Tauheedah Baker, Doctor of Education Leadership, Harvard University Graduate School of Education
My worry began when my colleagues and I reviewed our literacy curriculum and came to this antibias standard: “1.2. Support students utilizing collaborative processes with diverse people in knowledge construction to produce new understanding or knowledge that would exceed something that anyone alone could not achieve” (Oksanen, 2017).
My colleagues asked, “Are your first graders working in heterogeneous groups?” My answer was no, and COVID social distancing was not the reason. I know heterogeneous groups matter. Heterogeneous groupings enable children to meet different mentors and models in the classroom and let their varied strengths shine. When kids work in varied heterogeneous groups, they aren’t pigeonholed into teacher-created categories. Groups formed based on common interests rather than skill level give students chances to shine in new ways. Most importantly, kids need to feel that they have thinking to contribute no matter what text level they read.
I had some work to do. My big question was how I could build on what was already happening, rather than dismantling the routines already in place.
I decided that interactive read-aloud partner reading was the natural place to begin. Students love partner reading, even though they sit six feet apart or read on Google Meet. When we miss partner reading, kids notice: “Mrs. Mulligan, we missed partner reading today. I love partner reading.”
Each week, during interactive read-aloud, students have whole-class conversations about texts. They know how to share a “talk-worthy” idea and listen to each other. They even know some conversation starters. It was time for heterogeneous book clubs to begin.
My first step was to figure out which texts to choose. Before COVID-19, I would have given each group a choice of wordless picture books and let them pore over the pictures and read and talk. However, touching a book together isn’t COVID-friendly, and I didn’t have multiple copies of any wordless books.
Instead, we began with picture books that I read aloud. I chose high-interest books that connected to our AIDE work around the Social Justice Standards: The Learning for Justice Antibias Framework. The three books I selected have a common theme about appreciating and valuing your own uniqueness, and an engaging story line that would resonate with first graders.
I created this recording form and read aloud one of these picture books each day.
After I read, students thought about an idea that they wanted to discuss with peers. To scaffold their thinking, I said, “If you are trying to think of an idea, you might think about what the book teaches us about diversity or about a life lesson the author wants you to learn.” Students sketched or wrote their idea and then placed their paper in a clear pocket sleeve for safekeeping.
After three days, we had read all of the books and were ready for book clubs. When students entered in the morning, they saw these words on the Good Morning Board—
Kids put their names on a sticky note to create a bar graph, and the groupings became clear from the graph.
Instead of reading a book as a whole class that day, we started book clubs. I put video recordings of each of the texts being read aloud on SeeSaw and modeled the directions.
After the students acted out the directions with me, they set off. I crossed my fingers, because I was worried that there were too many directions for the children to follow.
At first, the groups were silent because they were all re-listening to the story they had selected, but as they finished, one by one, they put their iPads behind them and conversations began.
Some kids were shy at first, but in each group, someone started. “I think,” one student began. Then another student built upon the conversation, saying, “I heard you say…” or “I agree, and I’d like to say…”
I was surprised when students didn’t read aloud their notetaking sheet or take turns holding up the picture they had created. Instead, they shared their ideas and responded to each other naturally. After 10 minutes, the groups wrapped up and students transitioned to independent reading. Later, I asked the kids what they thought.
- “It was fun to listen to the book on SeeSaw.”
- “I liked getting to talk to my partner and other kids.”
- “I didn’t know what to say at first, but then I figured it out.”
As I watched, I noticed some next steps for the groups:
- Learning to ask questions about what someone else said
- Encouraging classmates who haven’t spoken to share their thinking
- Building on each other’s ideas rather than taking turns saying their ideas
Those skills will come as these first graders keep trying. As a teacher, I am so thankful for the conversations with my team about antibias teaching. I have lots more to learn as I examine what is happening in my classroom.