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Citation: Bomer, Katherine & Bomer, Randy. (2001). For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Title: For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action
Year: 2001
Publisher: Heinemann
City: Portsmouth, NH
Medium: Book
Author(s): Bomer, Katherine
Bomer, Randy
Grades: Third Grade to Eighth Grade
Categories: Writing about Literature and Social Issues
Annotation: Randy and Katherine Bomer are passionate that “We need to recognize that being an educator consists not of installing skills, concepts, and information in kids’ heads but of building lasting conversations, new relationships among people, and a responsive and ethical social world” (p. 8). They propose that we do this not by just teaching social justice but by having students live and breathe social justice in all classroom interactions, including reading and writing workshops.

After presenting a vision for a model for democratic classrooms, the authors delve deeply into the one area that immediately launches the critical thinking necessary to think through social justice issues – having students engage in critical reading and thinking through issues about groups of people, power, taking things for granted, fairness, voice/silence of groups, different sides of stories, showing what people are like, gender, race, class, money, labor, language, intimate relationships and families, relationships to nature, violence and peace, and acting alone or with others. Intermediate teachers often are looking for worthwhile themes to explore with their students. This resource provides at least four insights for each of these themes that could be explored.

Once you have students engaged in reading and thinking about these themes, it is essential to get them involved in critical conversations to share their thinking with others. Randy and Katherine delve into the scaffolding that is necessary to make these conversations successful by providing guidelines for student discussions and strategies to help you model critical conversation moves. One resource they provide is a list of generic questions such as “Is this story fair?” which will help to deepen student talk. A few chapters also focus on how to support struggling readers. They also list of authentic venues where students can share their voices about social justice issues.

The proof of any instructional strategy is the resulting student learning. Katherine manages to eloquently describe a unit of study of writing about social justice that she has taught for two years in her classroom. She explains students can use their writer’s notebooks to reflect on issues they are reading about and witnessing in their everyday world. From there, students move into the actual unit of study in which they collect responses and identify topics from their writer’s notebooks. After students have written about those issues, they share their thoughts with their classmates and students begin to see commonalities and form groups around common topics. Each group then conducts more research about the topic and develops an action plan to address an issue. Katherine explains how the groups carry out their plans and reflect on what they have learned.

The book ends with such a strong message about the importance of having students write memoirs in a way that helps them reflect about social justice issues. Katherine provides generic questions that you can use to spur your students’ reflections. One such question, “What have you been silent about before that you have now written about in your memoir?” stirred emotions in one student as he shared his memoir and his reflections about his parents’ divorce. If we can get intermediate students to thinking deeply about both personal and world issues, we can help nurture critical thinkers who are empowered to take action “for a better world.”