the big 4 and understanding difficult concepts

by Dina Hammam (Senior Advancement Coordinator) & Kate Murphy (ECC ELD Coordinator and Teacher)

If you ask a 3-8-year-old what “social justice” means, they'll probably look at you oddly, maybe try to mimic the words you just said, or run off to play with their friends. More than likely, they’ll have no idea as to what those words actually mean...maybe “grown-ups” don't always know either.

The thing is, our little learners in the ECC are already on the path to understanding this vast concept. They begin to unintentionally and organically become aware of this greater notion the first day they walk through the doors of the ECC.

The ECC is based on a foundation of students learning to treat each other and themselves with the Big 4 in mind. The Big 4 asks them to question if something is fair, respectful, kind, safe? They are questions that are manageable and accessible to their developing and curious minds. Kate Murphy, an ISB Early Childhood ELD Coordinator and Teacher, came up with a way to take this a little further. Here is her teacher story in her own words.

"Nonfiction and the human experience have always been a passion of mine. In graduate school, I learned about critical pedagogy (not dissimilar to Critical Race Theory) where students take a look at systems and how they impact groups of people differently."

“During my reading groups, I often chose texts that would lend themselves to these conversations. I found that young students were quite capable of having respectful and thoughtful conversations about challenging topics such as "How Filipinos feel about the depiction of the characters in Moana" to "Why is the US women's soccer team paid less than the men's?" I wanted to really dive into these topics, but time and scheduling constraints made it challenging. This year, the Grade 2 team arranged our reading groups a little differently and I found myself with three consistent groups of readers whom I met with three times a week. In November, my guided reading groups read a NewsELA article on the Algonquin tribes in North America. In the article, it mentioned how the English had taken the Algonquin’s land. The students were perplexed - How could this happen? Why didn’t they call the police? Why didn’t they just fight them? How could I possibly explain colonization to eager second graders before recess? Then I realized I didn't have to. We could take our time to explore this topic together. The next week we read a text I wrote on colonization: who does it, why do it, and does it still happen? Not only were they able to grasp the concept, they wanted to learn more and especially after they learned that Belgium had been a colonial power. What unfolded over the next several months was a student-led deep exploration into topics such as the history of the Congo, migration/immigration, diasporas, and the lasting impacts of history in present-day life. And yes, a 7-year-old can tell you what a diaspora is. Children can learn about difficult concepts if they're given the opportunity to talk about them and learn about them in a developmentally appropriate way. Moving forward, the Grade 2 team is looking for opportunities for students to explore topics such as these in our math, reading, writing, science, and social studies units. We're looking to diversify our resources and learning experiences. If we let the students' innate curiosity lead us, it will take us farther than we could ever plan or expect. We hope this experience for our students has developed a genuine curiosity and a critical eye of their world, relationships, and the systems they operate in.”

Has the topic of migration taught you something about other people?

“Yeah, lots. My mom and dad have good work, and they have a job and it’s ok for our family. But for other people, it’s not.”

- Eline

After reading these books, what did you learn you want to be like?

“Nice, because if we’re not nice people won’t like us.”

- Louise

What’s the most important thing you learned about the History of the Congo?

“It was that every person has to be treated equally. That everyone has to be treated the same way.”

- Leone

What is the most important thing you learned from the reading group?

“Different people migrate and there are different reasons why, and there are good reasons and also bad reasons.”

- Leonor

What did you learn from the books?

“In the Dominican Republic, if you came from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, they would say like you have the same skin color as us, you can come in. But if they had dark hair, they had to check their passports and they couldn’t come in.”

How did that make you feel?

“Really sad, because it’s just their skin colour.”

- Stella

What has migration taught you about how you should treat other people?

““That we should treat them the same way, because it doesn’t really matter how they are, because people should be treated the same way.”

- Aristotelis

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