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Herstory: Addressing the Omissions in Women’s Contributions to their Families, Country & World

By Lynne R. Dorfman

            Women’s roles are constantly changing!  As you are reading this blog post, there are women making history and baby girls being born who will be future history-makers. It is important to deliver more than half of the story as we discuss leaders, activists, agents of change, and everyday heroes with our students. While some might think that stereotypes and prejudices have vanished into thin air, they haven’t. Consider the Kappan article published this month,” Deconstructing the Pyramid of Prejudice” where author David Light Shields claims that stereotypical behavior in schools about the sexes are “…as common as pencils.”

            One of the easiest ways to promote an understanding of women’s roles and choices is to read aloud to your students. In fourth grades at Upper Moreland, teachers read Alex and the Amazing Lemonade Stand by Liz & Jay Scott and Polacco’s The Lemonade Club.  The school always holds a family fair in spring, and these fourth graders suggested a “Lemonade Stand” that they would promote and run to raise money for kids with cancer.  Fourth graders divided up various jobs: designing flyers about the lemonade stand for the community, creating an “infomercial” for the reading incentive assembly to get their classmates in other grades excited about this worthwhile project,  writing letters to their parents to encourage them to come to the fair and bring friends and other relatives, writing a letter to the principal and superintendent of schools to keep them informed of their various endeavors, and contacting the local newspapers and radio stations such as WHYY and KYW.  They raised several thousand dollars  –  inspired to make a difference  by an everyday hero – a child…a girl.

            After sharing Several Brave Women by Betsy Hearne, one fourth grade class interviewed three female family members and turned their findings into family histories for their mothers or grandmothers as a Mother’s Day gift. First, the students discussed how to conduct an interview and worked in small groups to create possible interview questions.  They used these questions to gather interesting small moments that their mom, grandma, great grandma, aunt, godmother, big sister, or cousin wanted to “pass on” as part of their family heritage.  The students tried to capture glimpses of what it was like to live at a certain time and what these women, family members or important females in their lives,  were proud of and wanted to share.  (For further reading, see Nonfiction Mentor Texts by Dorfman & Cappelli). This group was also exposed to many picture book biographies including:

            Phillis’s Big Test by Catherine Clinton,

            Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by

                   Carole Boston Weatherford,

            Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews,

            Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by

                    Laurie Halse Anderson,

            Madam President: The Extraordinary, True (and Evolving) Story

                    of Women in Politics by Catherine Thimmesh,

            Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the

                    Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull.

            Today we continue to see many wonderful books about women published for elementary and middle schoolers. Don’t miss Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone, Annie and Helen by Deborah Hopkinson, Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers by Sarah E. Warren, and Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue (Women of Action) by Kathryn J. Atwood. The theme for National Women’s History Month 2014 is “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment.”   Let’s celebrate by writing everyday hero essays, thank you notes, poems, and stories that celebrate the women in our lives: our moms and grandmoms, our teachers and coaches, our colleagues and friends. Introduce your students to “herstory” today.

Lynne R. Dorfman profileLynne R. Dorfman is a teacher consultant and Co-director for PAWLP. She enjoys spending time with her twin goddaughters, cuddling with her three Welsh Corgis, reading YA novels, and relaxing to the rhythm of the ocean waves under a warm sun at LBI with her husband and friends.

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