Social Justice Teaching
When I was looking into master’s programs in 2010, I knew two things for certain: I wanted a program focused on curriculum and instruction, and I wanted coursework that would be meaningful and directly relevant to the work I was doing in my eighth grade ELA classroom at the time. Ideally, I wanted to find a program that would focus on practical strategies that I could implement in my classroom as soon as possible. After attending an information session for the Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice (CISJ)
program at Loyola and comparing it to the programs at other local universities, I knew that Loyola’s program was exactly what I was looking for.
Being a student in the CISJ program at Loyola was one of the most meaningful professional experiences of my teaching career thus far. Every week, in every course, I was critically examining the why of my curriculum: why were my students assigned certain novels and not others? Why was there a focus on certain skills and objectives while others were pushed to the side? Why was I designing and assigning certain assignments? The program also encouraged me to consider how I could design curriculum and assessments that would not only make my students better readers and writers but that would be more effective at engaging them as well.
My most transformative moment as a student came from an assignment in my Media Literacy course: a case study on a teenager’s media consumption that helped me gain a deeper understanding of the ways that adolescents engage in and interpret media. For the assignment, I interviewed a former student and had her discuss the ways she evaluated mainstream media, with a particular focus on how her religious and moral beliefs affected the media she chose to engage in and her ability to be critical of media without sacrificing her enjoyment. After our conversation, I had a completely new understanding of how much media my students interact with on a daily basis and how that not only affects their understanding of major social issues but also affects their ability to do more “traditional” reading assignments.
After completing this assignment, I decided to focus my master’s thesis research on how utilizing media in the classroom can affect students’ engagement with texts, particularly nonfiction texts. This case study and my later thesis research completely reshaped my approach to incorporating media in my classroom. I quickly realized that media does not need to be—and should not be—used as a babysitter or a time-filler; instead, I incorporated media thoughtfully and strategically, and as a result, I saw a dramatic increase in not only student engagement but comprehension of major course themes as well. For instance, during our “Freedom” unit, my students viewed and analyzed photographs from major events of the Civil Rights Movement in order to gain a greater understanding of the human struggle for freedom during that time period. After studying Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, my students listened to a podcast about modern de facto school segregation and analyzed whether King’s dream has been fully realized in American society. Later in the year, when we studied “Romeo and Juliet,” we watched clips from two different film versions of the play in order to analyze the changes different directors and actors made to Shakespeare’s original script and whether those changes enhanced or detracted from the original. My students enjoyed all of these activities, but they also gained valuable analytical and critical thinking skills in ways that “traditional” learning activities would not have developed as effectively. Seeing their engagement and its positive academic effects encouraged me to continue developing meaningful media-based curricular choices and also made me want to share my findings with my fellow educators at the school and county level.
Real-world application was important to me when I was choosing my graduate program, and I’m so thankful I found that in the curriculum and instruction for social justice program at Loyola. I was able to implement activities and concepts from every single course into my own classroom almost immediately, and I never felt like I was just going through the motions in order to get my degree; the coursework was engaging, practical, and challenging, and I am still applying the strategies I learned during my time as a student into my classroom today.
Hilary Frank is a 2013 graduate of the Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice
program. She is a curriculum and instruction for social justice advisory board member and is a middle school English language arts teacher at Glenwood middle school in Howard County.