A People’s History for the Classroom

By: Steve Bergman

Facilitator:Lindsey Ziglar

Our group has spent the semester reading “A People’s History for the Classroom by Bill Bigelow. The book incorporates excerpts from Howard Zinn’s seminal work, “A People’s History of the United States” intermingled with classroom activities intended to teach students about major historical events from perspectives other than the dominant narrative. The book provided an interesting insight into some of the many ways teachers have tried to teach alternate narratives to major U.S. and global events. Our group, however felt the book was lacking in one key area that has to be addressed, especially for new teachers.

The one negative aspect of Bigelow’s book that we kept citing was the lack of explanation of how to fit these alternative lessons into the school year or into the traditional lesson plans with their tight timelines. We agreed over and over again that we’d love to lead/see classrooms where multi-day activities such as a role-playing trial of Columbus, the King/Queen of Spain, and the Pope can take place, but none of us could think of a world in which an instructor has the luxury of teaching such engaging lessons. Instead, extra days that teachers get are spent in wrap-up sessions, preparing students for examinations or testing. This concern was repeated over and over again, throughout the semester as great ideas sounded good in theory but impractical or even unfeasible in reality.

Our critique is not all negative, however. Each of our group members felt the lessons provided were useful in ways Bigelow probably didn’t intend. We all saw possibilities for truncated lessons on Vietnam, the labor movement, and U.S.-Mexico relations both past and present that could be created using some of the ideas raised in the book. Another positive of the book was the content itself. Zinn’s original work was a damning indictment of America’s “holier than thou” approach to things such as rights and freedoms that it takes on the world stage. To have the author put a spotlight on those items provides teachers an interesting method of culturally relevant teaching.


In all, our feelings on this book were mixed. The lessons were great, the content was great, but the applicability left a lot to be desired. Instead, our group really focused and ran with the final piece on incorporating technology into the classroom in a way we never felt we could with the book.

Reading, Writing, and Rising Up

On the whole, we liked Reading, Writing, and Rising Up by Linda Christensen a lot. We weren’t expecting the amount of narrative that was present in the book, and the peer dynamics and student-teacher connections that the author described.

We liked the specific examples of social justice oriented lesson plans and how to incorporate social justice into our classrooms. However, it left us with a lot of questions about how to incorporate social justice into a classroom where students aren’t from the areas or situations Christensen was teaching in. We also were left questioning how to grade writing and narratives, especially those that Christensen encouraged were for the purpose of expression and discussion. If we ran our own classrooms completely, without anyone else to answer to, we could use all of the lesson plans and lead extremely social justice conscious classrooms just the way Christensen described (and it would be absolutely lovely), but the reality is the book doesn’t offer a lot of alternative assignments that aren’t so intensive.

But on the whole, we loved the book. Particular lesson ideas that we liked were the Tea Party (making students interact as if they were characters from the books they read at a Tea Party), the re-examining of cartoons with a critical consciousness, and the Forgiveness Poems (which can even be adapted to write from characters’ perspectives). The connections Christensen made with her students are narratives that we hadn’t experienced in our limited realms of education thus far, and it was truly enlightening to see how transformative teaching can be. We also felt like Christensen’s book provides a good starting point of how one can look at social justice pedagogy, and we would recommend the book particularly for teachers or future teachers trying to get acclimated with social justice issues and how to incorporate them in the classroom.

Book Review

This semester, we read Rethinking Elementary Education. Overall, we found the book to be very interesting and relevant to classroom situations today. The book had very creative ideas about how to deal with different situations in our classrooms and we found it to be very relatable in terms of teachers telling their own personal stories from their classrooms. We didn’t read the whole book, especially the parts that related to the subjects of Math and Science (everyone in my group has a focus in Language Arts, so we usually don’t enjoy math and science as much). However, the parts we did read left a lasting impact on us and what we expect our classrooms to be like when we start teaching.

After a while, we got a bit tired of the book and just assigning readings from it, so we moved on to watching video clips, particularly Ted Talks. We enjoyed these a bit more because it is more interesting listening to someone talk about their own experiences and seeing their faces as they describe their different situations. The Ted Talks seemed a bit easier to discuss in our groups too because we all seemed to have the same reactions to the messages.

Overall, we decided that Rethinking Elementary Education is a book we would want to hold on to and keep in our personal classroom library as a refresher on how to deal with certain social-justice issues in our classroom. In times of need, we can always flip back to it and reread articles that seem relevant to us.

A Reflection on Resources

During this week, we reflected on the lesson plans introduced in the book used by the author her classroom. .As a whole group, we liked the emphasis on dialogue and narrative works because it encapsulates the students’ home language and culture. Relating the book and its offered practices to other resources and standards gave us an interesting view on activity application in the classroom. Activities utilized in curriculum have to fit with the relatively new Common Core Standards.

One of the more relevant activities the author used in her classroom includes analysis of perpetuated stereotyped in child-geared media. Disney movies took the focus in this activity. One example of a stereotype embedded in Disney movies is the idea that the female characters are actually damsels in distress. The author’s students really got into this activity because it allowed them to analyze things that they were exposed to from a young age.

Melissa really enjoyed reading about the tea party activity which consists of students coming up with descriptions of characters and then brainstorm how they would interact with them at a tea party. She made this activity a part of the lesson planning in our Curriculum bubble map assignment. The example the author included was for the idea Their Eyes Were Watching God. With the cultural differences, students would interact in distinct manners reflective of their own culture. 



Hannah wished that the author discussed more about how she graded her students. Although she focused on the activities and their implement in the class, she did not address how she evaluated the activities that they completed in class.

Reflecting on the author’s practices allowed me to predict what I may use in my future classroom. I love the idea of using real-world examples in my classroom, such as comparing Disney movies to characterization and stereotypes in media, because it provides a relatable instance for kids to learn. I don’t know if I necessarily would use all of these methods in my classroom, as I will be in an elementary classroom for my career. However, the students in middle and secondary grade levels will benefit from these practices.


Final Product

By: Iris Sun, Elizabeth Parry, Emily Wilder, Rumer Wilkinson, Carrie Barlow, Emma Moore

For our final product we decided to create a concordance for teachers on the text, Rethinking Elementary Education. We grouped sections in the text based on topic that teachers would teach (ex. immigration, death and loss, environmental issues). We hope that teachers can use this in their own PLC meetings in order to figure out quickly what resources they can use to teach a certain social justice oriented topic.




Book Review Group 14 11/16/15

Rethinking Early Childhood Education

Edited by Ann Pelo

What we read:

Part 1

“What Color is Beautiful?” (Alejandro Segura-Mora, 3-6)

“Why an Anti-Bias Curriculum” (Louise Derman-Sparks, 7-12)

“Developmental Themes, Tasks, and Goals in Anti-Bias Work” (Margie Carter and Deb Curtis, 13-16)

“Raising Issues of Race with Young Children” (Rita Tenorio, 17-22)

“Using Persona Dolls to Help Children Develop Anti-Bias Attitudes” (Trisha Whitney, 23-28)

“Where Are the Game Girls” (Ann Pelo, 35-40)

“Rethinking the Three Little Pigs” (Ellen Wolpert, 41-42)

“What if all the Kids are White?: Anti-Bias Themes for Teaching Young Children” (Louise Derman-Sparks and Patricia Ramsey, 43-48)

“Unwrapping the Holidays: Reflections on a Difficult First Year” (Dale Weiss, 49-54)

Part 2

Part 3

“Testing Lang” (Amy Gutowski, 113-114)

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

“Welcoming Kalenna: Making Our Students Feel at Home” (Laura Linda Negri-Pool, 161-170)

“Talking the Talk: Integrating Indigenous Languages into a Head Start Classroom” (Cathis DeWeese-Parkinson, 175-176)


(We chose to read stories that were based closely on what we were learning in class so we could relate the readings to the articles we read for class)



     In summary, the chapters that we read in the book were a collection of stories that taught about dealing with social justice and teaching young children. The majority of the stories we read were from Part One, which talked about anti-bias and culturally sensitive teaching and learning. The book shows us how, as early childhood educators, how to be activist for all different types of families and students in our classroom, while providing a nurturing and empathetic environment. The stories provide us an opportunity to rethink early childhood educational practices.

     We overall really enjoyed the book and all of the advice and emotional stories it had to offer. We liked the fact that the book gave us difficult situations and then offered solutions to these problems. The book gave us new ideas about ways of thinking. There are so many lesson plans and ideas that the book provided to further our effectiveness in the classroom. It is full of progressive stories that engaged us to want to read more. It allowed us to critically think about subjects and the hidden bias that we may not have thought about if we didn’t read the book. The book overall improved our understanding of touchy subjects in education. We think that the book is an excellent teaching guide for new and old teachers.We were not able to finish the book, but we will continue reading the book on our own because it is a great resource.


Rethinking Popular Culture and Media

Rethinking Popular Culture and Media should be required reading for educators in today’s society. Students are exposed to an increasing amount of popular culture and media and much of that is from corporations that promote ideas like consumption, competition, hierarchy, sexism, homophobia, and racism. It can be overwhelming to approach how to teach students that are so heavily influenced by things out of our control. However, this book provides helpful information, analysis, and insight into the best ways to help youth and adults reflect on what they see in pop culture. Teachers are required to make themselves aware and familiar with the many types of pop culture and media that their students read, view, and consume. Because this book was mostly written by teachers for teachers, it is very useful in offering real examples that examine pop culture and media in relation to education. We think this book has provided us with knowledge about the classroom that will be especially important as we enter the world of teaching.