Human Rights lesson done right…


So way back, in the dim mist of time (before winter break), I finished a unit on human rights loosely based on an idea from a really poorly executed unit that I first heard about here. The unit had students reading the novel Esperanza Rising, while looking at her life through the lens of a legal document, the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child. On the whole, the unit worked very well, and the students enjoyed it a lot. Some observations:

The materials: I started by deciding to use the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and to use the plain-text English version. This was to make it more accessible both in terms of reading ability and to more directly connect the rights to the character (who is a child) and to themselves. This worked well as the class was easily able to analyze Esperanza’s life and how it changes in terms of this legal document. I don’t think this would work as well with the Declaration of Human Rights. We did look at the legalese version at the end, and compared it to the plain language version. I asked students what they preferred. Some students expressed a preference for the original legal version, but they were a handful of advanced students. I think I learned that for those students, they enjoy the challenge of the harder text, and should have access to it, but for the rest of the students, the plain-language worked better.

The presentation: I weaved readings from the Declaration through our readings from the novel. We also re-read where it was appropriate. The plan is here, but I’m sure it misses a lot of the dynamics of what happened. At the end of each week, we do a short response writing on what has been covered during the week. I gave them two or more questions to choose from. I included questions about rights. Below is an example:

  1. What privileges does Esperanza lose as the story progresses? Has she lost any rights? If so, which ones, if not, why not?
  2. Look at the names of the chapters in Esperanza Rising that we’ve read so far. What is the pattern in the names, and what do they mean? Why would the author make that choice?

One week, I had them come up with questions. This is a good way to have student input (in addition to giving them question choices). The reflection on Week 12 talks about that.

In conclusion, this novel was new to me, but it is rather uniquely suited to a lesson of this type because of the change in circumstances that Esperanza experiences, both in terms of her financial status and legal status, which led to some really interesting discussions. I’d love to hear about what others are doing with this. Below are some links that go along with this:

Week in Class: Week Twelve 2013 – What’s the Question? This shows the work in progress on the unit

Reflecting on Common Core RL Standard 5 This has a specific task from the unit

How to teach students to hate human rights (and other subjects)… My post that got the ball rolling on the unit

The Burkins and Yaris blog post that started it all The post from another blog that got it started

One Comment to

“Human Rights lesson done right…”

  1. March 15th, 2014 at 3:27 am      Reply Kim Yaris Says:

    So glad to hear that the unit was a success overall! I think when smart teachers like yourself look at pre-published units of study as a guide rather than the gospel, the teaching and learning feels better for everybody!

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