Teaching Immigration and Migration in the Classroom: An Interview with Abeer Shinnawi of Re-Imagining Migration

In this blog post, we interviewed Abeer Shinnawi, Program Lead at Re-Imagining Migration, about exploring the topics of migration and immigration in the classroom, how children’s books can be used to guide these discussions, and how this new infographic offers guidance on curating text sets aligned to the Re-Imagining Migration Learning Arc framework. Let’s jump right in!

Why should children’s books be a part of a teacher’s toolkit in teaching about immigration and migration? Why not just use news articles and primary sources?

Abeer Shinnawi: Books should always be a part of a teacher’s toolkit in teaching about immigration and migration because they provide a window to another world that cannot be conveyed using news articles and primary sources. Books jog the imagination, touch the heart and are able to open worlds to students that sometimes are unattainable.  Most importantly, books provide an array of perspectives from authors and illustrators from diverse backgrounds.

Why do you think the classroom is an ideal setting for studying migration and immigration?

AS: Students spend 8 hours a day 5 days a week during the school year with their peers in a classroom. They share their own lives and lived experiences with their peers in and out of the classroom. Classrooms across the country reflect the changing demographics of our country as a whole. The classroom is ideal because the stories shared by the students themselves reflect stories of migration and immigration so what better place to learn about a shared experience than with each other in the classroom?

In many curricula, the only time immigration is explored is a unit on Ellis Island. How can an educator use the Re-Imagining Migration’s Learning Arc and text sets to explore this time period but also connect other immigration experiences and time periods in the U.S. and world history?

AS: Re-Imagining’s Learning Arc provides a gateway on how to approach this polarizing topic with the resources to help educators build empathy, understanding, and appreciation for the history of all those who came before us and those who are yet to come. Reading this blog post from our website, teachers can navigate how to teach our Learning Arc and text sets that we paired with resources from Lee and Low that can easily be incorporated in any class. Using the Learning Arc and text sets, educators are able to allow students to develop deeper student understanding that migration is both local and global, continual, and multi-faceted.

How does the Learning Arc equip elementary and secondary students with strong critical thinking and research skills?

AS: Our learning arc for understanding migration responds to the third question in our framework, “How should we teach about migration ?” and is centered on the belief that the goal of teaching about migration is not a matter of simply remembering information. Instead, it entails having the capacity to reason one’s way through and respond to a situation, a media report, a new refugee crisis, feeling-oriented enough to advance possible explanations, interpret or contextualize perspectives, and compare present developments with past ones. To engage migration in this way educators will need to deepen their own understanding and continuously explore key questions about migration and ways to treat this complex topic in accessible ways across disciplines and age groups. Our Learning Arc includes the last piece, “Turning Into Action”  which asks the question of “what actions can we take to build more inclusive and sustainable societies” that includes civic engagement activities, lessons and ideas that educators can use to help enhance student critical thinking and research skills.  We want students to understand that age is never a factor when it comes to making a change for a better future.

As of 2017-2018 school year (latest information), according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 76% of K-12 public school teachers are women and 79% of K-12 public school teachers are non-Hispanic white. What ways do you recommend educators learn about the communities they serve in, especially if they do not share similar backgrounds or cultures, as well as learn about their own privilege?

AS: When I was a teacher, most of the schools I taught at were not close to where I lived.  What I would do and always advise other educators is to get to know the community: Shop at the local stores, attend local events, eat at local restaurants and ask students what they do for fun in the area. Asking students about their neighborhoods can be a guide but once they see that you are investing in their neighborhoods without just teaching and leaving, then they will start believing you are an advocate for them. There is no better way to learn about the communities we serve except by being involved in those communities. No amount of reading can replace the human experience. Additionally, I recommend checking out our Educator Spotlight series to hear about the wonderful ways educators in the Re-Imagining community are welcoming new students, making classrooms inclusive, and deepening family engagement.

For more information about Re-Imagining Migration, reach out to  info@reimaginingmigration.org. To reach out to us for more information, reach out to educators@leeandlow.com.

Picture of Abeer ShinnawiAbeer Shinnawi supports a network of partner organizations and schools, leads professional development, and creates resources for K–12 educators and cultural institutions. Shinnawi is a veteran middle school social studies teacher who has used her own upbringing as a child of immigrants to help connect students, schools and communities. Throughout her career, she has worked with schools, cultural institutions, and publishers to provide curriculum, content, and activities that reflect BIPOC students and teachers. Before joining the team at Re-Imagining Migration, she worked as a resource teacher in the Baltimore County Public Schools Office of Social Studies, leading curriculum development and supporting teachers.