Person-First Language in the Library

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How do you best prepare your students for discussions about race, ability, and other human differences in your classroom?

The conversations in the library since our community Black History Month discussion have really been remarkable. I’ve been so impressed with the way that students have opened up and asked questions out loud that they’ve previously whispered in the hallways. I know that this is because of the incredible talent of my coworker and friend, Miss Smith, and the powerful words that she used when addressing the audience. As she spoke, Miss Smith cried openly, sharing with the audience that her tears were happy, scared, and sad all at once. This bravery and vulnerability floored our students. While they might have connected with our conversation anyway, it was Miss Smith’s willingness to share her honest emotions with the group that captivated them and made the experience so special. (If you haven’t read the piece yet, I hope you’ll consider heading over to read it. We’re proud of our work, and we want to share it with other educators.)

The conversations continued into the library this week. I’m planning to share our activities in more detail later, but one of the most interesting things for me was watching how the term person-first language naturally came up. While person-first language is usually talked about in terms of discussing people with disabilities, I use it with my students in a variety of contexts because it naturally helps them to speak thoughtfully. Kids are impulsive and are still learning to think before they speak; meanwhile, they are also impressionable and sensitive, and hurtful or thoughtless comments can have a long-lasting impact. It’s a tricky combination, especially when working to understand identity. Person-first language forces the speaker to remember that they are discussing a human being, which in my experience, is never a bad thing. I model person-first language with all of my classes, but had no plans to directly teach it until a student asked. After our discussion, my fourth graders really wanted to create an anchor chart for other students. The above image is what they created. The bottom line – “We are all people first. Everything else comes second!” is their definition.

Did we forget anything? Do you see anything that needs clarity or editing? I’m learning as I go here, so thank you for being an extended part of my classroom.


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