Class III Students Use "Windows and Mirrors" To Deepen Their Learning of Ancient Civilizations
In Class III, students examine ancient civilizations as the focal study for history. However, a few years ago, Class III teacher Ms. Thompson noticed that “students were struggling to understand the different aspects of a civilization and culture. They were not able to talk about what made each civilization unique from the next one studied. When they can see themselves, and know how to talk about their cultural identities, they can find similarities and learning opportunities within other cultures.” And thus began a unit studying “culture” at the beginning of the year, including a “Who I Am” poster, a writing assignment about their unique first names, and a study of Windows and Mirrors.
These projects, included in Class III curriculum since 2016, lead into the study of Ancient Egyptians and empower third graders to be more effective historians. Windows and Mirrors not only enables students to view history and civilizations with a more critical lens, but also allows for connecting with and learning from their peers. At a practical level it introduces students, in a developmentally appropriate way, to what culture is and how to see different perspectives.
The phrase “mirrors and windows” was initially introduced by Emily Style for the National SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Project. Emily Style was the founding co-founder (1987-2016) of The National SEED Project which partners with schools, organizations, and communities to develop leaders who guide their peers in conversational communities to drive personal, organizational, and societal change toward social justice.
A mirror is a story that reflects your own culture and helps you build your identity. A window is a resource that offers you a view into someone else’s experience, a new perspective. It is critical to understand that students cannot truly learn about themselves unless they learn about others as well.
As students are introduced to Windows and Mirrors, they begin by thinking about who they are and five important characteristics to their identities. And then the Class III students begin to look more closely—Did you and a classmate have the same words? Maybe one of your words was the same? That’s a mirror! A mirror is a story, tradition, word, etc. that reflects your own culture and helps you build your identity. A mirror is something that you can relate to! Did you and a classmate have different words? That’s a window! A window is a story, tradition, word, or idea that offers you a different view into someone else’s experience or interests. Looking through a window offers a new perspective!
Students take these identifiers and design their own physical window and mirror which they can hold up in class to note their interest in or similarity with something that is being shared.
Each child brings unique perspectives and deep roots that are valuable to learning. As we connect in agreement and disagreement, we find ways to understand one another on a deeper level. We understand that differing perspectives can help grow our own understanding of material.
Ms. Lechner noted that “Windows and Mirrors also allows us to discuss kindness and caring. To help get to know each other better, we are able to talk about new ideas by asking questions and avoiding judgement.”