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What happens when kids and teachers work together to address social injustices through reading, writing, and art-making?

The Addressing Injustices project explores that question.

Increasing literacy achievement for adolescents is one of the core priorities of the Ontario Ministry of Education (2008). As the Ministry’s Literacy Gains Taskforce (2012) has noted, literacy education is not merely a matter of teaching reading and writing, but involves engaging students with broader social issues. This process entails “all learning and teaching partners” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013)—teachers, students, community members, teacher educators, and researchers—working together, with the shared goal of motivating adolescents to “become critical and creative communicators and responsible and respectful participants in world communities” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013, p.4).

Addressing Injustices is a five-year research project that responds to this challenge through innovative collaboration involving adolescents and educators as partners in designing literacy curriculum that is social justice-oriented. Funded by The Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, the goal of this research project is to increase students’ literacy engagement, which has been directly linked to literacy achievement (Cummins, 2006, 2010; Ontario Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat, 2008, 2011). During the course of this project, Addressing Injustices will involve 80-100 teacher candidates from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE, University of Toronto, Canada), and 150 students from an intermediate Toronto public school, Delta Alternative Senior School, in co-creating curriculum to accompany five young adult novels that explore issues of identity, culture, and power. This research is guided by the question: What happens when students and teachers coauthor literacy curriculum for texts addressing social justice issues?

Essential to Addressing Injustices are the following criteria:
1. the project engages the principles of critical practitioner research and youth participatory action research, with the goal of improving the learning and life chances of students
2. the project draws equally on knowledge from students, teachers, and community members who are partners in the research process, and who collaborate to develop social-justice oriented critical literacy curriculum
3. the project is oriented towards change efforts in and beyond schools.

Echoing the Ontario Ministry of Education’s (2013) core priorities to increase literacy engagement through innovative curriculum and partnerships between educational stakeholders, this research project takes up Fraser and Bosanquet’s (2006) suggestion that curriculum be regarded as dynamic and emergent, rather than static, involving students and teachers as “co-constructors of knowledge” (p. 275). Addressing Injustices, therefore, works towards the dual goals of increasing student literacy engagement and increasing opportunities for students and teachers to understand curriculum as a vehicle for change.

 
 
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“If I don’t do risky work in my teaching, I’m not interested in teaching.” — Sarah Evis, research partner and teacher at Delta Alternative Senior School

We see risk as fundamentally intertwined with our pedagogical approach. When we take up challenging subjects, and do so without predetermined goals in mind, there is always the possibility of classrooms falling apart in some way. That sense of risk is what signals the value of the work, and that we trust the people in the room.” — Ben Gallagher, research team member and Phd candidate at OISE-University of Toronto