Envisioning Our Classroom Space | Facing History & Ourselves
Two students look at each other in conversation. One student is also taking notes.
Activity

Envisioning Our Classroom Space

Students analyze a poem in order to determine the qualities of a classroom community where members are seen, valued, and heard.

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At a Glance

Activity

Language

English — US

Subject

  • Advisory
  • Civics & Citizenship
  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies

Grade

6–12
  • Culture & Identity
  • Equity & Inclusion

Overview

About This Activity

In a Facing History classroom, members value and create space for different perspectives, and everyone takes responsibility for themselves, each other, and the group as a whole. This activity, in which students engage with a poem about the spaces we occupy, prompts them to think about how they can cultivate this kind of brave and reflective classroom community. You can use ideas generated in this activity as framing for creating a classroom contract in your next lesson.

Preparing to Teach

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Procedure

Steps for Implementation

  1. Invite students to think about a time when they were in a space where they felt seen, heard, and valued. This might have been a classroom space, a sports field or court, a club or activity, a religious space, their home, or some other space. Have them take a moment to visualize the space and remember how they felt there. 
  2. Then have students respond to the following prompts in their journals. Let them know that they will be sharing their ideas with a partner.

    Journal prompts

    • Briefly describe the space you were visualizing.

    • How do you know that you were seen, heard, and valued in this space?

    • What were other people saying or doing that made you feel seen, heard, and valued?

  3. Have volunteers share from their journal reflections. Point out patterns or connections that you notice.
  1. Distribute the reading Untitled Poem by Beth Strano and read the poem out loud two times, perhaps asking for a volunteer to read it the second time. 
  2. Then have students reread the poem to themselves and choose a line that resonates with them for one of the reasons listed below. Instruct them to write the line in their journals and then write two or three sentences that explain why they chose it.

    Journal Prompts

    The line that stands out to me is _______________ because . . .

    •  . . . of something about who I am. (What in particular?)
    • . . . it reflects human nature or how people are in the world. (What human characteristics or ways of being?)
    • . . . of how the poet expressed the idea. (What did they do that makes you feel this way?)
  3. In groups of three, have students share their lines and why they chose them before discussing the following questions. If students are struggling with the third question, you might prompt them with an idea, such as reflective space, courageous space, intentional space, etc.

    Discussion Questions

    • Do you agree or disagree with Beth Strano’s idea that there is no such thing as a “safe space”? What makes you say that? 
    • Think back to the space you wrote about in your journal. In what ways is that space “imperfect”? What are examples of people in that space working on it “side by side”? 
    • Reread the final five lines of the poem, starting with “This space will not be perfect.” Imagine that Strano is describing your classroom. If, as she argues, there is no such thing as a “safe space,” what word could describe your classroom as a space where everyone can feel seen, heard, and valued? 
    • Our classroom should be a _________ space.
  1. Facilitate a class discussion by first asking each group to share their ideas for the first question. Then have them share the words they chose to describe a classroom space where members feel seen, heard, and valued. Record their ideas on the board or flipchart paper to refer back to when creating their classroom contract. Debrief the activity by asking students to notice patterns. 
  2. Let students know that when they are meeting as a class, in smaller groups, or working on their own, it is important that the classroom environment is one they create and uphold together. In the next class, they will be using the ideas they generated to create a classroom contract that will establish the norms and expectations for this space.  

Extension Activities

Students review the poem and choose one line to illustrate with a drawing or represent with an image they find online or in a magazine, writing two or three sentences explaining the significance of their chosen line and image. Start the next class by displaying students’ creations on the wall and asking each student to present their contribution. Notice connections and patterns, such as favorite lines or common images, as well as original ideas that might only appear once or twice.

Materials and Downloads

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Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

Using the strategies from Facing History is almost like an awakening.
— Claudia Bautista, Santa Monica, Calif