Sunday, August 28, 2016

Student Animal Advocacy Online: Humane Education, Literacy Learning, and More

 by Dr. Rose Reissman

The author’s  sample animal advocacy project as it appears on the Jane Goodall website: It is hoped that teachers and students will become part of the site’s projectmap and develop online resources highlighting their local, national orinternational animal advocacy projects.  The site offers mini grants.

Middle School Humane Literacy

Humane education and citizenship learning can be made to happen jointly as a single classroom participatory action. This, without the class needing time or permissions for a school trip.

As they enter a classroom door embellished with downloads of animal advocacy graphics and student posters protesting animal abuse, students can immediately act as animal advocates while learning grade literacy skills.  How better to further the goals of  middle school language arts learning, including text engagement, spoken and written persuasive arguments, and short research, plus range of print and digital texts for reading and writing,  than through integrating deep content study as students work to save animals. 
Two middle school language arts professionals, who have integrated student advocacy around the needs of abused animals into their teaching, do so based on their personal involvement with dog and cat rescue animals as well as their interest and concern about endangered chimps. 
Each was originally inspired by their personal experience in adoption and volunteering at an animal rescue site. They now make Human Literacy a favored part of their curriculum and define it as using humane content study, which can included:  viewing of videos, reading of texts, review of websites, interacting with rescue workers at local animal shelters, writing advocacy letters on animal rights issues, creating persuasive posters on behalf of abused animals, and unwanted pets needing adoption, as well as developing a website to link animals with adopting families in forever homes- a slew of literacy skills embedded real world actions.   
What is truly magnificent about humane literacy is that through focus on these deserving animals who obviously lack spoken and written literacy skills to communicate their needs and plight to government and public, students in middle school classes become their authentic voice and advocates as they validate literacy skills learning. 

Students address persuasive skills writing and reading, read across a range of print and digital texts and demonstrate speaking and listening skills as they fundraise for dog treats and medical care costs plus chimp sanctuaries at school . 
One of these colleagues' classes uploaded an animal advocacy project to Jane Goodall's website
( ), sharing their learning about the plight of animals and illustrating at the same time how this approach represents a door to literacy and humane learning in a real world context.
Copies of letters students sent their New York Council representative asking that he vote for legislation against dog fighting.  This complex issue deeply engaged students in online news texts like the emotionally gripping story of Oogy the pit bull, whose ear was torn off as a result of his having been deliberately bred for dogfights, the picture of a dog with half a face and one ear, the extensive medical support he received, and then his eventual adoption into a loving “forever” family, touched the students emotionally; far beyond the boundaries of   mandated ELA text engagement. 
Through such emotionally charged digital storytelling, middle school students were able to proudly and passionately voice their arguments against dog fighting in a set of letters. Katherine, a sixth grader noted:  “Dog fighting is bad because the owners make their dogs suffer so very much.  Dogs are sentient animals who can love and be loved.  They should not be used by owners as weapons against their own species. “   Nyla, another sixth grader, noted that dogs “deserve like children to be treated with respect and care.”  Nyla also advises the Council Member she wrote to, that he will gain votes if he “stands against animal abuse.”  Daysy wrote about Oogy (the dog) who had inspired her ELA teachers to coin the term “humane literacy” by saying that the story of this “dog with one ear teaches people that dog fighting is bad.” 

In their persuasive letters to their Council Person about dog fighting, students accomplished immediate citizen participation through a required literacy skill of letter writing. Through their involvement with the websites of the Unwanted Pets shelter in Brooklyn, students at Intermediate School 62 in that part of NYC, and of the ASPCA and Animal Shelter in Manhattan, two District 4 schools, there, actually contributed to saving specific dog’s lives or improving them immeasurably through helping them find “forever homes.”

In the case of the District 4 schools, I took a junior high class to the local Animal Shelter that was located a few blocks from the school.  A volunteer worker showed the students the stalls for dogs in which they were almost no chew toys, blankets, or other necessary items and explained to them how many of the dogs at the shelter were found abused or abandoned on the streets.  The students saw how alone the dogs were and how desperate for a petting or a walk in a small walled in courtyard.  Students learned how being anxious or territorial or unable to get along with other dogs or young children or being older than 4 often spelled doom for a dog, or at best made the dog less likely to be adopted.  The odds of adoption also went down if the dog was labeled or looked like a pit bull, even if that dog was gentle.

The students created posters for the dogs with the greatest odds against being adopted to persuade potential shelter visitors to adopt these deserving furry friends.  One of the dogs—Pluto- a large German Shepherd mix, aged 5, who was unable to live with any other dog and very territorial- was adopted and the class felt they had saved a life!!!  Due perhaps to the student posters online the students had a strong sense their actions were effectively saving a specific dog’s life....

To read the full article follow this link:

Dr. Rose Reissman is the founder of the Writing Institute, now replicated in 145 schools including the Manchester Charter Middle School in Pittsburgh. She is a featured author in New York State Union Teachers Educators Voice 2016 and was filmed discussing ESL student leadership literary strategies developed at Ditmas IS 62, a Brooklyn public intermediate school.