Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Civil Rights: The Native American Perspective

Over the course of the past month, 7th grade ELA classes have focused on reading fiction and nonfiction accounts of the Civil Rights Movement. While this is an extremely significant and important time in American history for students to study and understand, what many students do not realize is that Native Americans continue to face problems with cultural understanding and acceptance, especially with the way Native American mascots are depicted. To provide a better understanding of the controversy surrounding this issue, a select group of advanced 7th graders spent a week working with me, Beth Calaway, Gifted and Talented Teacher, and Peggy Rohan, Literacy Coach, to create presentations that would explain both the pros and cons associated with the issue.

To begin this special project, called a STRETCH, students attended a presentation by local Native American speakers, Richie Plass and Weeya Smith. Their presentations highlighted some of the negative stereotypes others still hold in the community today, their journeys growing up in and out of the state of Wisconsin, and how the stereotypical depictions of mascots have affected how others perceive their cultures. Students also went away with a better understanding of the diversities within each unique Native American tribe and why society needs to reconsider its use of Native American mascots in school, collegiate, and professional sports.

Upon conclusion, students reacted in awe and appreciation for their new understanding of Native American culture. During our follow-up discussion, students expressed how they were now going to look at Native American mascots differently and why it is important to educate the rest of society on the importance of this issue.

This led to the second part of our STRETCH- reading various articles that covered both sides of the Native American mascot controversy and creating a presentation to educate others about the issue. In small groups, students read 10 articles and completed a triple-entry journal documenting important ideas, their thoughts, and further questions. Following their reading, students shared notes with one another and began organizing their digital stories.

Digital stories were created using Voicethread. Students were taught how to find and cite copyright-free images as well as their research resources. Few hard guidelines for presentation format were given to students. All that was required was that they presented both sides of the mascot issue in a non-persuasive way.  Complete freedom was given to them as to how they chose to present the issue and how much information they conveyed. There were no minimum amount of slides, comments, or images required. Students could also find creative ways to share what they learned. One group chose to use a question/answer format while another chose to use the webcam option instead of images for the main slides. We felt that giving students room to make as many of their own choices as possible would empower them to take ownership for their learning.

The final results not only turned out to be significantly informational, but also truly impressive. It was obvious how passionate students became about this topic while engaging intensely in the learning process. We hope that you enjoy learning more about this issue as you view a sampling of the students' completed Voicethread presentations below. To see all of the completed presentations, click here and follow the links listed under each group.

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