Alison's classroom, whether virtual or in-person, is an important bridge between Lower School and Middle School. While in 4th grade, students are prompted to use all the knowledge and skills they have gained during their tenure in Lower School and elevate them in anticipation of some of the challenges that await them in higher grade levels—challenges like writing essays, citing research, and participating in Model UN, to name only a few. If anyone's up for the job of preparing 4th graders for what lies ahead, it's Alison, who was featured earlier this year as one of six "Extraordinary Educators" in Bethesda Magazine. But she doesn't only focus on building academic skills—she focuses on making her students well-rounded, open-minded thinkers. By ensuring that the literature and thematic units in her class are centered on developing multicultural understandings of depth and meaning, Alison's 4th graders leave her class not just prepared for Middle School, but prepared to be global citizens in the truest sense of the word.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are some of the ways that multicultural understandings are woven into your curriculum?
Alison: Our first unit is world geography. So, when we're studying that, we're really working on an understanding of the world and the globe as a whole and beginning to look at some different countries. For example, I had the children look at an online resource where they could pick a country and read about the customs, the population, the food, and the flag, just to get a sense of the things that they were curious about. And they started reading about some countries around the world, even how to pronounce the country's name. So, the world geography unit really gives students a sense of the map and the globe as a whole. Now we're starting our world celebrations unit. We always start with familiar celebrations. This year, we have staff coming to (virtually) visit who are presenting both factual and historical information but also personal experiences with celebrations. What we'll move into in the new year is an exploration into less familiar, or even completely unfamiliar, celebrations that they'll study.
Is there an example of a project that you’ve found to be especially successful in terms of expanding students’ global horizons?
Typically—and I'm going to have to re-imagine it this year—we have the annual World's Fair, which usually culminates in February. Each child will study a different celebration, and the first thing I do is model some examples of celebrations and prepare some resources. We talk about how to read and understand the resources and interpret them in our own words. So, we go through the whole research process of finding resources, reading them, making sense of them, writing a report about a celebration, and creating some kind of presentation. This gives each child an opportunity to research something that is of interest to them. It's really about tapping into what the students are interested in and exploring something from another country or another culture through that passion.
What is the importance of integrating multicultural perspectives and literature into students’ work in the classroom?
As the students become older and more aware of the world and community around them, they realize that they're mixing and mingling with people from so many religions and cultures. It's really important in this current day and age that they realize that people are different and that these differences are a good thing. And, in order to really understand that, we need to explore information and listen to people from different backgrounds to learn about what their lives are like.
By the end of 4th grade, what is the takeaway that you want students to have when it comes to other cultures and ways of living?
I want them to have an open mind. It's really for them to be open minded to learning about, hearing about, and embracing other people's differences in a very positive way. ❖
Interview conducted by Talia Fishbine. Originally published in Lower School Quarterly Vol. II No. II in December 2020.