Triggering transformation: College freshmen use children's literature to consider social justice perceptions

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Virginia Tech

This 3-month long, participatory-action research study with 19 college freshmen exposed students to children's literature selections hoping to initiate dialogue on social justice. The following questions guided the study: 1) How do students in a freshman writing course at a small, private liberal arts college initially perceive social justice? 2) How will critical reading of children's literature texts impact students' perceptions of social justice? 3) How do students self-identified as preservice teachers differ from the remainder of class members in relation to the first 2 questions? Data included 152 short narratives, 19 long narratives, field notes of the primary researcher and the student research assistant, and a group interview transcript.

Findings included the following themes: a) Students and teachers should interact dialogically on their own cultural backgrounds as they consider their social justice perceptions; b) It is possible to go beyond the "tunnel" vision of prejudice and see "difference" as a positive attribute; c) All students, but particularly preservice teachers, need to wrestle with how they "fit" into a larger world context and teacher education should provide this critical opportunity; d) Personal, critical reflection on texts and discussion within a caring, secure environment can foster change; and e) Students embrace change as they hope to avoid becoming "stagnant."

The findings serve to explicate the research theories on building caring classroom communities (Noddings, 2003), transformational learning opportunities (Hooks,1994; Villegas & Lucas, 2002), the use of text to drive change (Rosenblatt, 1995; Trites, 1997; Vandergrift, 1993; Zipes, 2001), and the value of dialogue on social justice topics to preservice teachers and others (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995; Lowery, 2002; Marshall & Oliva, 2006).

college composition, participatory action research, children's literature, Social justice