Possibilities in Practice

Social Justice Teaching in the Disciplines

by Summer Melody Pennell (Volume editor) Ashley S. Boyd (Volume editor) Hillary Parkhouse (Volume editor) Alison LaGarry (Volume editor)
©2017 Textbook XIV, 260 Pages


This edited collection illustrates different possibilities for social justice practice in various grade levels, disciplines, and interdisciplinary spaces in P–12 education. Chapters in this unique volume demonstrate teaching with a critical lens, helping students develop critical dispositions, encouraging civic action with students, and teaching about topics inclusive of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Based on empirical research, each contribution is rooted in a critical theoretical framework and characterizes findings from sustained study of pedagogic practice, spanning subject matter from social studies, English Language Arts, music, mathematics, and science. Through this work, both pre- and in-service teachers as well as teacher educators will be inspired to practice social justice in their own classrooms.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Possibilities in Practice
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Reference
  • Part One: Contexts of Social Justice Teaching
  • Chapter One: Possibilities in Practice: Introduction and Contextual Background (Summer Melody Pennell / Ashley S. Boyd)
  • Defining Social Justice Education
  • Current Practices
  • Social Justice Education and Student Outcomes
  • Classroom-Based Skills
  • Skills Beyond the Classroom
  • Challenges to Social Justice Education in Pk–12 Schools
  • Possibilities in Practice
  • References
  • Chapter Two: Theoretical and Historical Foundations of Social Justice Teaching (Hillary Parkhouse / Ashley S. Boyd / Summer Melody Pennell)
  • History: Rapid Growth, Setbacks, and the Buzzword Problem
  • Renewing Commitment to Social Justice Through Illustrating Possibilities in Practice
  • Theoretical Foundations
  • Participatory Democracy and Human Rights
  • Equity and Diversity
  • Fields Influencing and Influenced by Social Justice Teaching
  • Afrocentric Education, Ethnic Studies, and Multicultural Education
  • Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogies
  • Critical Pedagogy
  • Anti-Colonial Education
  • Feminism
  • Queer Theory and Pedagogy
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Part Two: Pre-K–Elementary: Social Justice and Primary Students: How Early Is Too Early?
  • References
  • Chapter Three: Re-drawing the Line: Queering Our Pedagogy in the Early Childhood Classroom Pre-Kindergarten (Laura Bower-Phipps / Jessica S. Powell / Marissa Bivona / Rebecca Harmon / Anne Olcott)
  • Developing A Queer Eye
  • Research Methodology
  • Context
  • Data Sources and Analysis
  • Queering Our Teaching
  • Anne: Queering Literacy Practices
  • Marissa: Queering Dramatic Play
  • Rebecca: Queering Teaching in Plain Sight
  • Reflecting on Our Actions
  • Gender Is Open for Discussion
  • Some Pieces Feel Harder
  • The Importance of Taking a Stance
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix: Children’s Books Used in Our Classrooms
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter Four: We Are: Exploring an Anti-Racist Summer Program for Elementary Students Kindergarten–3rd Grade (Ronda Taylor Bullock / Cherish Williams / Daniel Kelvin Bullock / Stef Bernal-Martinez)
  • Theoretical Frame For The We Are Summer Camp
  • Overview of Camp
  • Social Justice Teaching in Practice
  • Colorism
  • Racism and Prejudice
  • In-vivo Practice
  • Implications
  • Students Can Develop Deeper Understandings of Race Through Anti-Racist Discussions
  • Literature Can Be Utilized to Analyze Issues of Race and Racism with Students
  • Questions
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Five: Immigration Today: Perspectives from Primary Classrooms 2nd Grade (Sunghee Shin / Beverly Milner (Lee) Bisland)
  • Inquiry Unit on Immigration Today
  • Data and Assessment
  • Implementation of the Unit
  • Phase 1: Identifying Immigrants in Our Community
  • Phase 2: The Immigrant Experience in Our Community and Beyond
  • Phase 3: Immigration in the Past
  • Discussion
  • Significance
  • References
  • Chapter Six: “Act Like a Girl!”: Preservice Elementary Teacher Perspectives of Gender Identity Development 4th–5th Grade (Elizabeth E. Saylor)
  • Critical Feminist Theory
  • Research Design and Methods
  • Context and Participants
  • Perspectives About Gender Identity Development
  • How They Came to These Understandings
  • School Messages
  • How Gid Understandings Influenced Their Teaching
  • Sam’s Economics Lesson
  • Sunny’s American Revolution Lesson
  • Summary
  • Limitations
  • Implications: Expand Access by Implementing Feminist Theorizing in Social Studies
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter Seven: One Social Justice Music Educator: Working Within and Beyond Disciplinary Expectations Kindergarten–5th Grade (Alison Lagarry)
  • Considering Teacher Identity as Necessary for Social Justice Music Education
  • Methodology
  • Data Collection
  • Data Analysis
  • Researcher Positionality
  • Navigating Within and Beyond the Boundaries of Music Education
  • Context
  • The Desire To Do Well by the Discipline
  • Seeing Systems Within Music Education
  • Letting Go to Engage—From How to Who
  • Implications and Conclusions
  • Notes
  • References
  • Part Three: Middle Grades: Investigating Equity with Middle Grades Youth: Personalizing Justice for Students and Teachers
  • References
  • Chapter Eight: Reading the Math on Marriage Equality: Social Justice Lessons in Middle School 5th–7th Grade (Summer Melody Pennell / Bryan Fede)
  • Social Justice Pedagogy in Context
  • Research Methods
  • Theoretical Frameworks
  • Course Context
  • Queered Mathematics Instruction for Social Justice
  • Marriage Equality Mathematics From Math for a Cause
  • Student Outcomes
  • Implications for Teachers
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter Nine: Cultivating Communities of Care: Story Circles as Social Justice Practice 6th–7th Grade (Courtney B. Cook / Celina Martínez Nichols)
  • Critical Pedagogy as Social Justice
  • Story Circles and Cultivating Communities of Care
  • Research Methods: Story Circles At Vision Academy
  • Analysis
  • The Relief of Sharing
  • Listening, Trusting, and Discovering Relation
  • Acceptance Across, and Because of, Differences
  • Implications: Cultivating a Culture of Feeling
  • Appendix
  • Teacher Toolkit: Story Circles in Your Classroom
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Ten: Fixing the World: Social Justice in World History 7th Grade (Jeff A. Greiner)
  • Framework for Critical Concepts
  • Globalization and Human Rights: Learning to Make the World A Better Place
  • Supporting Question One: In What Ways Has the World Become More Globally Connected?
  • Supporting Question Two: What Do Global Human Rights Issues Look Like in the Modern World?
  • Project
  • Reflections
  • Implications
  • References
  • Chapter Eleven: Technology Integration in Urban Middle School Classrooms: How Does Culturally Relevant Pedagogy Support 1:1 Technology Implementation? 6th–8th Grade (Lana M. Minshew / Martinette Horner / Janice L. Anderson)
  • Background
  • School, Student and Teacher Context
  • Findings
  • Implications and Considerations For Future Practice
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter Twelve: What’s Science Got to Do with It?: Possibilities for Social Justice in Science Classroom Teaching and Learning 8th–9th Grade (Alexis Patterson / Deb Morrison / Alexandra Schindel)
  • Conceptual Framing: Social Justice Science Education
  • Science Disciplinary Context
  • Research Contexts
  • Social Justice Science Teaching Examples
  • Reading Science
  • Reading the World with Science
  • Recommendations for Future Practice
  • Notes
  • References
  • Part Four: High School Grades: Justice and Teens: Curricular Approaches to Equity in High School
  • References
  • Chapter Thirteen: “Project Read Freely”: Using Young Adult Literature to Engender Student Choice in an English Language Arts Classroom 9th Grade (Ashley S. Boyd / Alyssa Bauermeister / Holly Matteson)
  • Young Adult Literature in Classroom Contexts: Uses and Abuses
  • Theoretical Framework: Liberating the Curriculum
  • The Process: Implementing Choice and Autonomy
  • Methods: Examining the Classroom Context
  • Patterns and Outcomes: Student Responses to Reading Freely
  • Effects on Reader Profiles: Opening Spaces for Reading for Pleasure
  • Prevalence of Organic Critical Conversations
  • Implications and Conclusions
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Fourteen: Geography Matters: Face-to-Face Contact Pedagogies to Humanize Unfamiliar Ethnocultural Differences 9th Grade (Joanne M. Pattison-Meek)
  • Multicultural Citizenship Education
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Context and Participants
  • Talking to Strangers: Rural-Urban Intercultural Connections in Action
  • Implications and Ideas for Further Research and Practice
  • References
  • Chapter Fifteen: “I, Too, Sing America”: Operationalizing #WeAreNotThis and #BlackLivesMatter in an English Classroom 9th Grade (Jeanne Dyches)
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Methodology
  • Research Design
  • Data Collection and Analysis
  • Teaching Canonical Literature in Tandem with Resistance Movements
  • Teaching “I, Too”
  • Intertexual Connections: Melding “I, Too,” #BlackLivesMatter, and #WeAreNotThis
  • Intertextuality, Multimodal Art and Sociopolitical Consciousness Development
  • Factors Promoting Lainey’s Social Justice Instruction
  • Sociocultural Awareness
  • Inhibiting Factors
  • First-Year Teacher
  • Dissenting Students and Parents
  • Discussion and Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter Sixteen: Teaching Columbus to Newcomer Students: Social Justice in the Classroom and Across the Urban Landscape 9th–10th Grade (Jay M. Shuttleworth / Josef Donnelly)
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Social Justice
  • Problem-posing, Issues-centered Education
  • Research Methods: Casestudy Approach
  • Social Justice Teaching on Columbus
  • Mr. Donnelly’s Columbus Unit
  • Significance
  • References
  • Chapter Seventeen: “Couch the Oppression in Resistance”: Teaching Strategies for Social Change Through U.S. History 11th grade (Hillary Parkhouse)
  • Toward a Grounded Theory of Critical Pedagogy in Social Studies Classrooms
  • Research Methods
  • Context: Ms. Ray’s Classroom
  • Data Collection and Analysis
  • Researcher Positionality
  • Teaching Practices
  • Oppression as Always Met with Resistance
  • The Power of Ordinary People
  • Misconceptions about Social Movements
  • The Necessity of Multiple Organizations and Strategies
  • Student Responses: Critical Hope, Not Cynicism
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter Eighteen: “It’s Like We Were Slow-Roasted … but in a Really Good Way”: Embedded Y-PAR in a U.S. History Course 11th Grade (Brian Gibbs)
  • Theoretical Framework
  • A Note On Method and Positionality
  • Teaching Vietnam
  • Youth Participation Action Research (Y-Par) and Social Justice Education
  • The Anti-War Movement
  • Heading Towards the Final Y-Par Project
  • Discussion and Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Nineteen: Students as Researchers: A Co-teaching Narrative from a Social Justice-Oriented U.S. Government Class 12th Grade (Linsay Demartino / Sara Rusk)
  • José’s Triumph
  • Introduction
  • Research Focus
  • Funds of Knowledge
  • Cultural Responsiveness
  • Racism and Education
  • Freire’s Levels of Consciousness and Models for Education
  • Critical Race Theory as a Methodology
  • Site Description
  • Our Narrative
  • Preparation and Course Focus
  • Mexican American/Raza Studies Principles
  • Community Building
  • Levels of Consciousness
  • Student Voice and Autonomy
  • Tezcatlipoca (Reflection) Through Journals
  • Group Work
  • Guest Speakers
  • Field Trips
  • Students as Researchers
  • Implications for Practice
  • Notes
  • References
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

| ix →


This book would not exist without our chapter authors and the teachers and classrooms in which they studied to document and analyze social justice. We are ever-grateful to our contributors for sharing their insights and their work. To the teachers whose practices are reported within these pages, we also extend our gratitude. Allowing a researcher into your space can be disconcerting, and to open up what is essentially (for a teacher) your heart to them, is sometimes a challenge. We thank you and those like you for your passion and commitment to equity.

We are also indebted to Silvia Bettez, who, many years ago, put us on this path to social justice education and to examining the myriad ways justice can appear in classrooms. As our teacher, Silvia embodied what it meant to teach social justice with love and critical care and led us through a consideration of many of the texts and topics that appear here in our work. We are grateful to the professors who inspired us at UNC-Chapel Hill: Jocelyn Glazier, Lynda Stone, Cheryl Bolick, Xue Rong, and Jim Trier. Each of you were central to our development as scholars and we thank you for supporting us. We are especially grateful to George Noblit, not only for his encouragement in creating this collection, but for his unwavering dedication to each of us in our graduate studies, his commitment to justice-oriented education, and his example of researching and teaching with values intact. George, you have invigorated so many, and we are honored to be among them.

Many thanks also goes to each of our support systems—the families, friends, and furry companions who sacrifice so that we can pursue our research agendas, ← ix | x → write, and edit at all times of the day and night. The Critical Carpool, the four of us who are not only co-editors but friends, feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work together on this project.

I, Summer, thank Morgan and the students at The Anchor School for allowing me to collaborate with you in Math for a Cause. Many thanks are owed to Bryan Fede, my research partner. My parents, Dennis and Diana, taught me to be critical and always pointed out power structures, creating a future social justice educator. I am grateful for the support of my partner, Susan, my sister Tegan, and my many extended kin and chosen family members. Lastly, thank you to my wonderful colleagues and students at Truman State University.

I, Ashley, would like to thank my family—my parents, Michael and Christy, and Brian and Ginger—for keeping me grounded and supporting my work, even when it takes me far from home. Especially to my mom, thank you for your endless patience and encouragement. To Avery, Lillian, Ellis, Wren, and Ember, my nieces, I am so grateful for the joy you bring to my life and am so proud of the strong young women you are becoming. I hope for a future filled with possibilities and justice for each of you. To Keith, thank you for your love, encouragement, and fortitude over this past year. To my WSU colleagues, especially Todd Butler, Bill Condon, Victor Villanueva, Leeann Hunter, and Roger Whitson, many thanks for your support and mentorship as I have navigated academia.

I, Hillary, would like to thank my mother, Nancy, for being my earliest social justice teacher. You helped me understand how the playing field is not even, and you modeled how those with privilege can do their part for a better world. I thank my father, Keith, for being an example of unwavering belief that all youth, even (and especially) those in the criminal justice system, deserve support and second chances. I thank Thomas for listening to my rambling without ever tuning out, and Felix for bringing me constant joy. And finally, to Gabriel Reich, Kurt Stemhagen, Philip Gnilka, Christine Bae, Jason Chow, and my other new friends at VCU, thank you for making work feel like play and colleagues feel like family.

I, Alison would like to thank my former students who encouraged me to see past the traditional boundaries of music education. Specifically, my students at Westlake High School in Waldorf, Maryland helped me to see that there was more to learn about arts, equity, and justice. I am thankful for the ongoing support of my family, colleagues, and friends as I pursue this work. Special thanks to my parents—Mary and Phil, my brother—Tim, and my partner James. Also, to my colleagues in cultural studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—thanks for your mentoring and friendship in this first year of my academic career!

In these uncertain times in which we find ourselves, teaching for social justice is more crucial than ever. We agree with Urrieta (2009) that, “activism needs to be rethought by viewing daily ‘moments’ of agency in practice as activism. Agency and activism … are tools embedded in the mundane details of daily interactions” ← x | xi → (p. 14). The work teachers do, on the ground and in schools, holds vast potential for justice and for making a difference. We must recognize and harness the potential in those small moments, as the teachers in this book illustrate.


Urrieta, L. (2009). Working from within: Chicana and Chicano activist educators in whitestream schools. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.

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Contexts of Social Justice Teaching

| 3 →

Possibilities IN Practice

Introduction and Contextual Background


Social justice evokes images of activism, of protests and marches advocating for marginalized peoples. Social justice in pedagogy and education also connotes working toward equity for all students, thus maintaining the focus on action for the betterment of society. Social justice pedagogy is, like all critical pedagogies, a way of thinking and framing an approach to teaching rather than a set of prescribed practices. It is versatile and differs depending upon contextual factors such as student background and experiences (Darder, Baltodano, & Torres, 2009). Social justice pedagogy does not have to mean leading students in a march or beginning a revolution; rather, it can be a part of everyday teaching practices (e.g., North, 2009). What, then, might these practices look like? How can classroom teachers—who are under local and societal pressures to increase test scores and meet varied standards and accountability measures—incorporate social justice teaching into their curriculum while meeting those expectations and mandates? This volume seeks to answer those questions by demonstrating examples of social justice teaching from actual PK–12 contexts.

As editors, we collectively felt the need for a book like this one as we worked through our individual research studies on social justice education in different school disciplines. We currently teach our pre-service teachers about injustices and equity at our respective universities and wanted a collection for our students. Pennell (2016) completed a study on a social justice-based interdisciplinary math ← 3 | 4 → and literacy course in a middle school and continues to research social justice practices in English Language Arts. Boyd (2014, 2016) studies the social justice practices of in-service secondary English Language Arts teachers and works with pre-service teachers to develop their critical literacies. Parkhouse (2016) investigates how high school social studies teachers develop students’ critical consciousness. And LaGarry (2016) researches social justice-oriented music educators as well as arts integration. The four of us presented on a panel together at the 2015 annual conference of the American Educational Studies Association, sharing the discipline-specific work we have done to document social justice practices. We were approached after our presentation by pre-service teachers who were eager for more material on incorporating equity-oriented teaching in the classroom. They, like many of our own teacher candidates, believe in social justice and seek to implement related pedagogies in their classrooms, but they felt they lacked real-world examples of methods and ideas for projects and materials. Since then, we have connected with teacher educators and in-service teachers who are also yearning for more models of justice-oriented teaching practices. They acknowledge that equity work sounds great in theory, but they wonder what it looks like on the ground, amidst lively children, bustling hallways, watchful administrators, and skeptical colleagues.

While we know that teachers and researchers are doing social justice work in the classroom, documentation of these efforts is sparse. It may be that practicing teachers are too busy to write about their lessons because—in addition to their regular teaching duties—such teachers are committed to connecting their students to the local, national, and global communities beyond their classrooms. With these multiple and complex pedagogical goals, it is not surprising that many lack the time to write about their teaching. It may also be that dissemination is not at the forefront of teachers’ minds who place their priorities of practice on their students. While the literature on social justice abounds with research on students in teacher education programs, there is a significant dearth of studies that focus on—or even merely include—PK–12 classroom and teaching practices. It is this gap which we aim to fill in the pages that follow.

This volume presents chapters from researchers and teachers on empirical studies of social justice-oriented teaching practices from a variety of subjects and grade levels. We hope that this can serve as a starting point for in-service teachers who need tangible take-aways and who seek methods they can adapt for their own spaces. We also aspire to demonstrate the effectiveness of social justice teaching to those who doubt that it is research-based, grounded in sound methodology, and present in findings that emerge from careful observation and study (Cochran-Smith, Barnatt, Lahann, Shakman, & Terrell, 2009). Additionally, we feel the work documented here can be a model for teacher educators to share with ← 4 | 5 → pre-service teachers, again to provide concrete examples of social justice in action, which is especially important both for students who have the desire to implement such practices as well as those who are doubtful that social justice has a place in the classroom.


Few renderings of social justice education include a focus on PK–12 students, as the enactment of social justice depends on the local context and thus any definition needs to be open to various applications. Social justice pedagogy comes from a variety of anti-oppressive movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement, as well as from a number of critical theories (e.g. Althusser, 1971; Delgado & Stefancic, 2012; Gramsci, 1971; Hall, 1980; Marx & Engels, 1848) that have in turn led to a host of critical pedagogies (e.g. Applebaum, 2010; Freire, 1968/1970; Janks, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1995; McLaren, 2003; Morrell, Dueñas, Garcia, & López, 2013). Given this background, social justice education is inclusive of areas of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, religion, and nationality. The next chapter highlights details of these influential movements and pedagogies.

Social justice pedagogy was largely informed by the work of Paulo Freire (1968/1970), particularly his concepts of “reading the word and the world” and “conscientization.” At the heart of these notions is the idea that oppression in society is pervasive on every level, in the materiality of our everyday lives. Practitioners want to instill in students a recognition of the presence of privilege and oppression and to cultivate their critical consciousness, which begins as “an awareness that our ideas come from a particular set of life experiences” and acknowledges that “others have equally valid, if different, life experiences and ideas” (Hinchey, 2004, p. 25). The hope is that students will go beyond recognizing and caring about injustices by actually taking action against them. Common approaches to help students become more discerning are incorporating culturally-relevant pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995, 2006) and acknowledging students’ funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992). These strategies emphasize utilizing students’ strengths and diverse cultural backgrounds in the classroom. In this way, students who differ from the majority are seen as having cultural assets, rather than deficits viewed from the dominant perspective. Social justice also involves reflexivity, both for the teacher and learner. When teaching is approached critically, teachers must reflect not only on their own responses but on how their teaching practices relate to their local context and community (Pennell & Cain, 2016), in turn considering how they can use these for personal growth and to drive their curriculum forward. ← 5 | 6 →


Overall, practices in social justice education hold the students at the center. As social justice is based on classroom and community contexts and can incorporate a host of different critical approaches or foci, there is no “one size fits all” approach. Thus, there is much variability in what this type of teaching might look like. Each teacher (or preferably teachers and students together) must decide what will work best for the students. In many cases, this includes explicitly teaching students of color and from working class backgrounds the culture of power (Delpit, 1995) so that they can appropriate these norms and codes in order to gain access to grades, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities that will give them a better chance at college admission (Bender-Slack, 2010; North, 2009). In other instances, teachers ask students to critically respond to written texts, including those on topics such as race in the United States (Camangian, 2009) or global labor issues (Bigelow, 1998). Other forms of social justice teaching include hip-hop based education (Hill & Petchauer, 2013; Stovall, 2006) and critical media literacy (Leard & Lashua, 2006). Another common thread in social justice teaching is using interdisciplinary units and co-teaching. Beyond these tangible methods, researchers who focus on what social justice pedagogy looks like in PK–12 classrooms suggest the following as pedagogic goals: (a) helping students gain critical consciousness and awareness (Cammarota & Romero, 2011; Greene, 1998; Hayden-Benn, 2011); (b) teaching students to navigate obstacles, oppressions, and injustices (Ayers, 1998; Cammarota & Romero, 2011; Swalwell, 2013); (c) giving students practical knowledge to accomplish these goals (North, 2009; Skerrett, 2010); and (d) enabling students to produce their own knowledge and texts (Cammarota & Romero, 2011; Yang, 2009).


Across the existing scholarship on social justice education in classrooms, the main categories for research-supported student outcomes from social justice education are: (a) problem solving skills, (b) evaluation and analysis skills, (c) collaboration and community building, (d) critical literacy, and (e) social action. These outcomes are not discrete: many times they intersect.

Classroom-Based Skills

Problem solving is a necessary skill for students engaging in social justice. As Westheimer and Kahne (1998) asserted, “students must learn how to respond to social problems and also how certain problems come to the fore while others ← 6 | 7 → remain unnamed” (p. 18). An example with high school students comes from Bigelow’s (1998) classroom, in which students examined corporate policy and marketing materials from Nike for loopholes that allowed the company to exploit their workers and the environment. Students then contacted the company to encourage them to change these policies.

Evaluation and analysis skills go hand-in-hand with problem solving. When analyzing a social problem, students can investigate the complex roots of inequities (Swalwell, 2013). By increasing skills in analysis and evaluation, students deepen their critical thinking skills, learn to dissect complex texts, consider differing points of view, and recognize hidden curriculums.

Evaluation and analysis can lead to collaborations. Because of the types of group discussions and reflections many teachers use, students are able to bond as a class and create a collaborative community (Christensen, 1998; Hutchinson & Romano, 1998; Stern, 1998; Westheimer & Kahne, 1998). Johnson, Oppenheim, and Suh (2009) noted that one teacher in their study facilitated this community building and collaboration through her community circle activity, which she used for group discussions where students were encouraged to respectfully share and listen to each other.

Students in social justice classrooms gain and improve a wide variety of literacy skills: writing, creating films, researching, and learning to critically approach a variety of texts (Akom, 2009; Bigelow, 1998; Johnson et al., 2009; Pescatore, 2007). Some teachers enabled students to create their own knowledge through these literacy practices. For example, Yang (2009) worked with students to create public texts, such as films, research reports, and websites to report on social justice issues.

Skills Beyond the Classroom

Beyond these classroom-based skills, a more abstract outcome is gaining a critical mindset that students then take outside of their school walls. This can be traced directly from the teaching practices enabling students to critically reflect on their own experiences as well as on contemporary and historical events. Forging interpersonal connections, where students learn to see others in new light and to understand more fully our intimate human connections, is crucial to fostering critical and social justice mindsets. These relationships also help move students from seeing inequality as an individual issue to beginning to see the systemic connections between issues (Boyd, LaGarry, & Cain, 2016). Rather than perceiving, for example, discrimination solely as an act one person commits against another, they can begin to see how oppression operates on a broader level, such as in government policies (Barry, 2005). This relates to another skill needed for students’ critical mindsets: the recognition of social problems. While this may seem simple, awareness must include knowledge of systemic oppression (Christensen, 1998). ← 7 | 8 →


XIV, 260
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (November)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XIV, 260 pp., 1 table

Biographical notes

Summer Melody Pennell (Volume editor) Ashley S. Boyd (Volume editor) Hillary Parkhouse (Volume editor) Alison LaGarry (Volume editor)

Summer Melody Pennell is Assistant Professor of English Education at Truman State University. Her research interests include social justice pedagogy, English education, queer theory, Young Adult literature, and qualitative methods. Her publications include manuscripts on her theory of queer cultural capital and teacher education. Ashley S. Boyd is Assistant Professor of English Education at Washington State University where she teaches courses on critical theory, English methods, and young adult literature. She earned her BA in English, MAT in secondary English, and PhD in Education from UNC-Chapel Hill. Hillary Parkhouse is Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research interests include critical citizenship education, global education, youth civic empowerment, and critical pedagogy. She has published articles on undocumented immigrant youth activism and teaching culturally and linguistically diverse students. Alison LaGarry is Clinical Assistant Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research interests include social justice pedagogy, arts education, educational sociology, and qualitative methodology. Her publications include manuscripts on social justice teaching methods, and arts integration.


Title: Possibilities in Practice
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