Book Review: Being the Change by Sara Ahmed
Written by Danielle Agan and Karen Friel
Sara K. Ahmed offers an equitable approach to fostering social comprehension in the classroom through her book, Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension. Ahmed offers a personal approach to teaching social comprehension through the lens of a Muslim American identity. The introduction of this text is not one to be skimmed over. Ahmed gets the reader ready to face their own social comprehension and the work ahead by providing essential questions and guiding principles to reflect upon. As she states, “we have an obligation to make kids feel visible” (2). Now, more than ever, we have an obligation to create a space that feels safe and accepting for all of our students, which is the focal point of this text. The text guides a teacher and class through an entire school year, offering the progression of teaching social comprehension, while providing detailed lesson plans and mentor texts as resources in chapters one through five. In chapter six, the text is concluded with thoughtful reflection and reminders with how to proceed into the future and the importance of celebrating identity.
Ahmed’s personal voice is strong and passionate about the topic in this easy to read book. She offers several mentor texts and resources to get a teacher started with incorporating lessons on identity into the classroom. This is a great tool for a beginning teacher, or a veteran teacher who is looking to incorporate social comprehension into their curriculum. Ahmed does not fall short in offering a plethora of resources including: picture books, poetry, short stories, short story anthologies, novels, nonfiction, and videos. All of these resources are equipped with appropriate lessons that are detailed and spelled out for the educator. The text is embedded with scripted dialog, or “teacher talk,” so if you are someone who would like this as an support, or are not yet comfortable with social comprehension, it is available to you. However, it is easy to skim over due to the different font and color, so if you prefer just to focus on the lesson itself, this can be easily done.
The versatility of the lessons and mentor texts makes this an appealing read for teachers K-12. As mentioned before, Ahmed leaves no stone unturned, and packs the book with mentor texts for all levels. In chapter one, Ahmed informs the reader how to “affirm our identities” through identity webs. This lesson begins with a mentor text in order to give the students a model of what an identity web is and how to create it. Then, the students are in charge of creating a definition of identity. Together they brainstorm and jot down words that come to mind on a giant piece of chart paper. From there, the work of social comprehension can begin. The goal of an identity web is to get to know your students while also starting to bridge connections between the kids and yourself. It is a way to initiate the process of learning about each other in a safe space. Ahmed thinks of just about everything with her lessons, including a “follow-up” section and an “addressing tensions” section to coach you, the teacher, through difficult situations that may arise in the classroom.
Overall, Being the Change would be a strong book to add to your collection of professional development books. Ahmed’s passion about social comprehension resonantes through each page and guides any reader through activities that are ready for the classroom. As reviewers, Karen and Danielle are in very different stages in their careers. Danielle is a first year teacher. She teaches 7th grade English Language Arts, and was able to try these activities in her own classroom. She started at chapter one and is now on chapter three, and plans to continue progressing through the lessons until the end of the school year. Her biggest takeaway is that even if you do not follow each lesson exactly, it is about making a safe space for identity and differences. Karen has been teaching for seven years, as a reading specialist. While she teaches small groups and does not have a classroom of her own, she realizes the importance of having ongoing conversations around social comprehension. Karen highly recommends Chapter 2 – Listening with Love. She agrees with Ahmed’s beliefs that by teaching active, empathic listening real communities are built which strengthen real learning.