In a climate where teachers, particularly middle and high school ELA teachers are evaluated by their standardized literacy test results and weighted student written rubrics responses, is it even credible, much less desirable to spend extensive class time on project based learning? Is a desired teaching goal to use Chromebooks as a tool to realize emotional, real world community, and social outcomes that bring joy to students’ faces and make our immediate neighborhoods and the world a better place? Does spending time online finding out a battered dog’s back story and getting her attacker legally punished make sense for ELA teachers supposed to be focused on test scores? Nationally recognized educator Amanda Xavier who teaches at IS 62 in Brooklyn has spent over 15 years fostering socially responsible humane students and finds that that their engagement in saving dogs’ lives and protecting wildlife has also made literacy lessons authentic for them.
She explains: “I feel very strongly that if children are to make a difference as adults, they must first learn about these issues as children. Many species my students study as part of their requisite informational literacy research topics today will not be extant for study when they have their own children. I feel that my students need to experience how their use of literacy skills and real life fundraising and advocacy can translate into their taking an active part in rescuing and helping animals locally and saving animals around the globe.”
That sounds very much like what Wilhelm (2011) advocates in the aptly titled Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom. He suggests through his work with secondary teachers and his own work with secondary students that teaching needs to have a content mission with its goal, a conversation the participant classroom students hold with the world. This conversation yields or includes necessary action (156). Using chromebooks in the classroom immediately accesses students to the world and to the dire straits of some animals in need. Precisely what happens as Ms. Xavier’s students develop and present posters advocating for animal rights and chimp preservation plus collect dog treats for Brooklyn rescues to literally chew, “bitingly” necessary and real action in the real local Brooklyn rescue center Xavier partners- Sean Casey Animal Rescue.
Becoming Humanely Literate- and Literately Humane
- Online animal in need websites
But how does Ms. Xavier combine students in sixth grade studying about specific local Brooklyn rescue animals and actually meeting some of them at a center with the requisite informational reading/writing. persuasive writing, and learning on graphic display skills that she is required to teach so her students attain literacy skills? First, she engages them by sharing her personal involvement with rescue cats and stories of how she contributes time and treats to various centers. Next, she vivifies her experiences for them by getting them as a Chrome community on websites where she personally knows the coordinator or personnel so they will have a direct virtual or on site person to contact and interact with (i.e. http://www.unwantedpets.org). Students are involved in going through electronic informational texts where various dogs in need of rescue are featured and detailed. As the students interpret these informational documents, they become familiar with the special domain vocabulary nuances of these docs including words like: forever home, anxious, territorial, better with older children, would prefer to be an only pet, aggressive, shy, coach potato, busy bee socialize, needs extensive exercise, territorial, would do better in a suburban household, incontinent, has issues with getting along with others, mellow, needs ongoing attention. fearful of strangers, anxiety issues, victim of abuse, cat friendly, neutered, has shots. and needs to be muzzled. Students learn to use and evaluate these categories and are then challenged to come up with posters and advertisements that communicate the factual information about these pets that will promote their adoption into forever human homes and families. They work in groups and upload their posters to the Save a Life Chromebook community portfolio. The students learn how to develop informational posters and slogans that communicate the truth- a pet needs to be a one and only and needs loads of food and attention- but yet alert those who want to adopt that this senior deserving animal who needs attention that the animal will offer loyalty, joy and devotion in return. Invited members of animal rescue groups directly comment on the usefulness of the posters for their purpose to Ms. Xavier and send audio and even video of animals being supported by the students work to motivate the students.
Chromebook Access to Project Based Learning results
Students ‘posters are not only displayed in class but are posted at local shelters and on their websites. Certain shelters allow Ms. Xavier and her colleagues to actually learn when a particular dog in need for which the class has created a poster is actually adopted. Students go online to see if the caption on the pet they have been advocating through the poster has changed to “adopted.” Occasionally students themselves joyously rush to tell Xavier or her teaching partners that one of their dogs has made it—been adopted!!! At school events such as expos and dances, students also practice their speaking and communicating and working collaboratively /collegially skills as they inform others about the needs of these shelter animals (they have actually met a few at a local shelter Sean Casey Animal Rescue Shelter) – and heighten awareness to get donations for treats, food cans and subsidies for adoption fees. Many students even want to volunteer and at 11 are too young to do so but encourage family members to help. Charged chromebooks are set up at these events to allow parents and community guided by the students to see the animal rescue shelters and to examine the student’s online videos and poster portfolio designs. Online video of onsite student visits to the shelters is also available for parents and community.
Beyond producing persuasive posters, learning special animal shelter vocabulary and using speaking skills to engage public support- authentic persuasive arguments and rhetoric, students use their voices as letter writers- citizenship 101- by writing to their local councilman in Bklyn- in this case Brad Lander to argue against the horrors of dog fighting for their neighborhood dogs (Kensington Brooklyn), but also as promoting violence among the spectators and in the area. One of the team teachers- Ms. Xavier works with Special Educator Ms Schiro and ESL specialist Ms. Celebi as well as Literacy Specialist Dr. Reissman – noted that these dog fights and cock fights also take place in Inwood Manhattan plus promote violence there. Students produced persuasive letters with arguments for and against dog fighting as some urged for a crackdown on it. Charlotte an abused Maltese-Shih Tzu 3 months old puppy, thrown away in a garbage bag, became the worthy subject of posters students designed to be held up at rallies outside the Staten Island Courthouse where her attacker was being tried. Students began to absorb through persuasive poster making and community class discussion how they as citizens in there IS 62 classrooms could begin to express their humane animal protection viewpoints and make a difference for the good in at least one immediate NYC animal abuse case.
To develop digital student citizenship (Barron, 2014) and humane advocacy (Faver ,2009) responsible humane thinking , Xavier challenges all her classes- which range from a principal honor class to an inclusionary ESL class and an average 6th grade class-to think about whether the government should step up protecting abused animals or step down from regulating the animal sales industry. Students learn about puppy mills and consider pro and con whether it is more desirable to adopt abandoned dogs in need or shop pedigree puppies from stores. Is an older dog’s life a throw away because he or she needs special support? Should he or she be euthanized so puppies and younger dogs luck out on forever homes? These are tough issues which the public grapples with and Xavier does not give her students her answer but has them develop citizenship powers to evaluate their options. Students begin reading a specialized electronic journal Kind News put out by the Humane Society. They also are introduced to as appropriate and interesting Do Something.org (www.dosomething.org) projects and/or Learning to Give (www.learningtogive.org).
Assessing Real World Issues and Impact Chromebooks Access Global Issues Right in the Classroom
Just as Ms. Xavier’s personal interest and advocacy for animal rights extends beyond her neighborhood to the global issues of wildlife preservation and chimp protection, she infused that passion into her students by again engaging them in a “furever homes” Jane Goodall Roots and Shoots project which included their detailing their fund raising, creating a website and a blogspot ( rootsandshoots.org/project/furever-homes, xclass62.blogspot.com ) and being part of a Jane Goodall International Video. They of course learned informational report writing and use of maps and facts about chimps. They use this data as Brooklyn based members in good standing of an internationally collaborate and collegial community of humane and environmentally protective citizens. The blog gives this a vehicle for their rhetoric and reflective voices as advocated by literacy writing standards and they are writing using electronic texts and sometimes referencing print or multimedia ones.
Ms. Xavier is luckily also expert at maintaining student literacy assessment data and her school and colleagues support her work. She has developed a rubric to assure that her students ‘persuasive arguments about animal rights issues and animal preservation needs are making argument skills authentic for her students. She finds that the facts that these arguments actually contribute to a shelter animal’s being adopted into a forever family or help raise awareness for chimp sanctuaries and research, motivate students to demonstrate and enhance their literacy skills given their humane purpose. Yet why does she infuse socially responsible human education instead of abstract text based literacy exercises in her middle school curriculum? She feels that infusing her “pet interest (pun intended) into her teaching engages students personally- text engagement because they care about the Charlottes and Peaches and chimps in need of their help. Through use of global sites such as the video, blog, map and funding rich Jane Goodall Roots and shoots and using print news and broadcast news to track actual animal abuse or rights issues (a rich range of print and text sources), students make a responsible citizen connection to civic cases. Through developing posters and letters and blog comments, they “voice” persuasively or no their perspectives as do citizens in adult life. Ms. Xavier feels that literacy teaching can and should translate to building humane education skills like empathy, responsibility, task completion, helping animals and other humans. Oh yes and reading, speaking, listening, researching and reaching out with knowledge to protect that makes for better humans as well as more humane ones. Her middle school project inspired Dewey High School Student leader Jannatul Yesmin to do a collaborative animal advocacy issue of Ditmas Bulldog Buzz newsletter in June 2016. Jannatul had never personally owned a pet or engaged in animal advocacy issues as a leader, but she was inspired by Xavier’s door and the writings of the sixth graders to consider doing a fundraising for local Brooklyn shelter dogs because of her editing. She notes: “By caring about animal needs, humans can become better more empathetic persons and learn how to care about each other as well as animals. “
Wilhelm believes that learning must lead to social action and sharing and that students must actually engage in this social action and sharing (177). Ms. Xavier’s animal advocates experience this in sixth grade. C. Faver (2009) notes that school based humane education raises scores on a measure developed for human directed empathy. But does that raise test scores? Or does involving students in reading and trying to help rescue for a forever home abused 2 pound three-month-old Charlotte using persuasive learning on display posters, not make all those test skills mean something more important than filling in a correct choice or presenting a paragraph that will score well on a rubric? Is helping sweet Charlotte or rescuing lovable Jon Nagie dog from certain death because he is over six years old and has been abandoned since his owner died or saving a current gorilla from being poached for sale, not more meaningful than the artificial joy of getting an uptake in test prep scores? Is that not educating for effective real world literacy power and activating literacy power for educating socially responsible humans? Humane studies teach students how to be better human beings and in doing so hone their literacy for life and lives for literacy living. That is what technology enabled literacy teaching is meant to achieve. Yes, that will also make students score higher on tests, but most importantly they will pass the test of being human by showing their humanity as empathy for animals and perhaps extent that to the other humans on the planet as well. Imagine educating for humane literacy and being literately humane!! Think of all the ways literately humane citizens can make our current and future world a better place for persons and animals. It all can and should start at the literacy classroom door.
Barron, Brigid. (2014). The Digital Youth Network. Mass: MIT Press.
Faver, C. (2009). School based humane education. Child and Youth Services Review 32 (2010), 365-370.
Wilhelm, Jeffrey D. and Bruce Novak. (2011). Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom. New York: Teachers College Press.
Dr. Rose Reissman,
Academic and Grant Funding Director for Sector 5
About Sector 5,
Sector 5, Inc. (OTCQB: SFIV), is a Proud American Corporation, that sells, manufactures and develops new innovative consumer electronics under Sector 5 and other brands. The Company markets its partnership with Google approved Chromebooks to educational organizations, other B2B and B2C sales channels, with retail sales on Amazon. It is in development of several new products to serve the educational, business and retail markets. Follow the company on http://www.twitter.com/sectorfiveinc and http://www.facebook.com/sect5 and find further information at http://www.sector-five.com. For Sector 5’s Forward Looking Statements, click here.