PC alumna, Cassie Kemmerlin, and education professor, Dr. Julia Wilkins, recently co-authored an article, “Promoting Elementary Students’ Awareness of Diversity and Social Justice Through Interactive Read-Alouds,” published in the peer-reviewed journal, The International Journal of Learner Diversity and Identities.
The article is based on research Kemmerlin conducted while completing her capstone research in 2017. Kemmerlin aimed to introduce second-grade students to diverse literature and social justice issues by reading books that addressed issues of diverse families.
Each week for two months, Kemmerlin read books to small groups of second-grade students and had conversations about their reactions and thoughts. Wilkins observed and recorded the students’ discussions.
The findings from their research indicated that young children were not only able to understand social injustice issues, but were also able to identify with many of the issues that characters in the books experienced.
For example, during the reading of “Visiting Day” by Jacqueline Woodson, four students shared their experiences of visiting a parent in jail. Through these discussions, students learned about experiences their classmates had that were very different from their own experiences.
Students were able to express empathy and acceptance of their peers through these conversations.
“It was amazing to watch the students open up about their families and their experiences when reading these stories,” Kemmerlin said.
“I was so proud of their willingness to share and listen to their classmates’ stories. They possessed an ease of acceptance of the different families that they all have. This experience made me realize that the beauty of a child is their ability to love and accept their peers regardless of circumstance.”
According to Wilkins, many people assume that young children are not capable of understanding complex issues of social justice, but this research indicates that this is not the case.
Teachers can make social justice issues relatable to young children by reading children’s books and asking questions that help students make connections to personal experiences, other stories, and situations in the world, according to the professor.
Kemmerlin is currently a 4K teacher at M.S. Bailey Child Development Center in Clinton. She is also a graduate student at the University of South Carolina pursuing a master’s degree in Library and Information Science.