Stephanie J. Sheehan
The purpose of this unit is to enable young students to identify themselves and others with regard to many complex factors, including race, ethnicity, physical appearance and ability, gender, and family structure. The students will understand themselves better, become better prepared to accept people who are different from themselves, and learn to refrain from making assumptions about people by way of external examination. The secondary goal is to create a tone of harmony among classmates and multicultural appreciation. This unit will meet the needs of our school's magnet theme: Celebrating Literacy through the Arts, Technology, and Multiculturalism.
I teach first grade at Davis Street Inter-District Magnet School in New Haven, Connecticut. Multiculturalism is a very important thread throughout our curriculum, including a school-wide initiative of international study. On the other hand, our school, and consequently, my classroom, is comprised of about 95 percent African American students. The school is a "free lunch" school with a majority of its student body comprised of families from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Since we are an inter-district magnet school, the students do have some opportunity to meet students from other towns, but for the most part, the students are from the same type of neighborhood, economic background, race, and even religion. The students do not have very many opportunities to learn about people different from themselves through peer interactions or community activities. I aim to provide these opportunities through engaging multicultural literature. Though many cultures will be studied within this unit, the most emphasis will be on African American people, with some emphasis on Latino, White, and Biracial people, in order to reflect the racial backgrounds of my students. In addition to teaching about people from other places and ethnicities, I will encourage open communication in class, in order to allow the students to discover differences among themselves, such as family structures, traditions, and hobbies.
At Davis School, there has been a great emphasis recently on reading and writing in order to address a need to improve scores on state-mandated tests. Much of our teaching time is spent working on literacy skills, especially responding to literature. Therefore, in order to maximize the time I have to teach social studies, I have utilized multicultural literature to integrate the social studies themes with the required literacy activities to form the basis of most of the lessons for this unit.
This curriculum unit is designed for first grade students, but the content could easily be extended to teach students from first to fifth grade. In order to adapt the curriculum for older children, the reading could be supplemented with longer and more challenging texts. The students could delve much deeper into terminology and history and they would be expected to write with much more depth.
The students I teach are usually between the ages 5 ½ and 7 ½, and have a wide range of abilities in verbal, written, and comprehension skills. Some of my students enter first grade able to write complete sentences and read fairly fluently. Others know only some of the sounds and letters of the alphabet. For this reason, I start the year by teaching and reviewing letters, sounds, and skills for looking at and reading books. During social studies, I reinforce basic literacy skills, sequencing, and story elements using choral question and answer format. This allows advanced students to participate proudly and help less advanced students to learn without feeling self-conscious.
I am fortunate to have an assistant teacher. This is an asset in terms of individualizing instruction and providing extra support for small groups or individual children that need it. This allows me to move more freely from student to student offering feedback specific to each based upon his or her abilities. For instance, more advanced students often need extra suggestions in order to extend their work to a higher level, and lower level students might need the work broken into steps, with immediate feedback as they work.
This year-long curriculum unit consists of four ten-week mini-units: one for each marking period. It is to be implemented at least two to three times a week, for approximately 30-60 minutes per lesson. Each section of the unit corresponds to one of four themes that build understanding of cultural identity and provide a natural avenue to teach interpersonal respect and communication. The four themes are: Family and Me, Community and Traditions, African American History, and Celebrating Diversity.