Presentation Title

An Innovative Partnership: Teacher Education Candidates and Middle School Students Collaborate through "I am Malala"

Document Type


Presentation Date


Abstract or Description

Poster presentation at National Youth-at-Risk Conference


In order to design curriculum that is relevant, engaging, and meets the needs of accreditation agencies in our field (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation), faculty in the College of Education are examining how we can transform our current course of instruction to emphasize more real-world practices. This will allow us to better prepare our students for the demands of twenty-first century teaching. A professor serves as faculty advisor for the “Teens for Literacy” program at a local urban school and welcomes opportunities to involve undergraduate students in her work at the school. The collaboration described in this article addresses this need by providing Freshmen pre-service teacher education candidates enrolled in Education 2110: Critical and Contemporary Issues in Education with knowledge and practice directly related to authentic community-based literacy learning. Specifically, teacher candidates enrolled in this course wrote letters, met, dialogued, and exchanged journals with middle school students involved in the “Teens for Literacy” program at a high-needs school around the middle grades edition of "I am Malala," the university's Common Read text. Middle school students subsequently visited the college campus, where university students designed a meaningful learning experience and led the class session.

Brief Program Description

The purpose of this collaboration was to provide teacher education candidates enrolled in a "Critical and Contemporary Issues in Education" course with knowledge and practice related to authentic community-based literacy learning. By providing students with direct experience in working with middle school students around I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World- Young Reader’s Edition (2014) and the issues presented in the book, this project assisted the College of Education at Armstrong State University with its goal of providing transformative student learning experiences. College of Education students spent the semester exchanging pen pal letters with middle school student literacy leaders, sharing insights about school, reading, writing, college life and the Young Reader’s middle school edition of Armstrong's Common Read book I Am Malala. College students visited the middle school students in October. In November, middle school students visited the university, which provided an opportunity for College of Education students to lead a full course, with all activities designed by these future educators. Students in the “Living-Learning Community” were provided with a platform to apply their classroom discussion of theory into practice.


The College of Education students led an hour and fifteen minute course, with all activities designed by these future educators. We welcomed the middle school students to the “Critical and Contemporary Issues in Education” course. We began with an outside team-building, ice breaker activity entitled “Connections” led by the university students, in which each individual described an interesting fact or talent and linked with someone who shared that item.

In order to build upon the reading of the Malala text, students shared a video link from The Daily Show- This was followed by a discussion of the video clip, in which university students guided the middle school students to discuss Malala Yousafzai’s memories of the Taliban's rise to power in her Pakistani hometown. The college students also discussed Malala’s suggestions for Americans who would like to assist overseas and the importance of education.

An interactive chalk talk activity with post-it notes followed in order to reflect upon how students’ opinions on the value of education evolved since reading and listening to Malala’s story. Three large sheets of chart paper were introduced and displayed; students’ responses for each of the “chart talk” activities included the following:

How has your opinion on education changed?”

  • “My opinion on education has changed. I feel like kids should value education because some kids don’t get it, but it is so important in life.”
  • “I used to believe that education was important, but now I believe that it’s really important because some people don’t have access to it.”
  • “I think education is important. I used to think it was boring and just something we had to do. Now, I see how it can transform.”
  • “I feel as though education is power because without education, we will not be able to advance in our life such as being able to know how to use technology.”
  • “Education is fun. Learn more and be somebody.”

“I believe in……”

  • freedom of expression”
  • “treating everyone fairly and equally”
  • “changing things up and being myself”
  • “myself . . . showing good examples to small children”
  • “I believe that no matter what race or gender, everyone deserves a free education.”

“I would stand up for……….”

  • “anyone being bullied”
  • “for my family”
  • “all the kids that need education”
  • “education”
  • “myself and my dreams. I will let nothing get in my way of achieving greatness.”

The final activity centered on “I am From” poems, inspired by George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From” template (1999). Students were provided with sample sentence starters to spark their poetry writing:

I am from __________(an everyday item in your house)

I am from __________(detail about home-smell, taste, or feel)

I am from __________(plant or flower)

I am from __________(family tradition/family trait/family habit)

I am from __________(family members)

I am from __________ (things you were told as a child)

I am from __________(family foods)

I am from __________(family ancestry/nationality/place)

I am from __________(family mementos, pictures, treasures)

I am from __________(song or saying)

The college students and middle school students chatted as they drafted their poems. The class concluded with all parties sharing their poems at the front of the classroom; each middle school student departed with a campus map and brochure of university programs as well as distribution of a copy of the Young Reader’s edition of the Malala text to take home as a keepsake.


For faculty to be effective in supporting students’ learning, they must connect with Association of American College and University tenets that broaden students’ perspectives and engage them in problem-centered inquiry about pressing and perennial issues. By bringing students into communities where they learn from those whose experiences and views (may be) different from their own, it also builds important capacities we need to succeed as a diverse and collaborative democracy” (General Education Maps and Markers: Designing Meaningful Pathways to Student Achievement, 2015). The purpose of this collaboration was to provide teacher candidates with a meaningful opportunity to interact with local public school students in conjunction with the university’s Common Read text, I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban (Yousafzai, 2013). Candidates are not currently given the opportunity to interact with students in an authentic manner before they are expected to observe and teach in the field.

By providing students with direct experience in dialoguing with middle school students on I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World- Young Reader’s Edition (2014) and the issues presented in the book, this project will assist the College of Education with accomplishing their strategic goal of providing transformative student learning experiences and retaining students in the College of Education. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities text General Education Transformed: How We Can, How We Must (2015), “Too many students experience general education not as a conspicuously useful and meaningful component of a coherent baccalaureate education, but as a curricular impediment that they must “get out of the way” prior to study in a major. . . they may be unable to visualize a meaningful trajectory in their curriculum, with an attendant loss of motivation and commitment to persist” (p. 5).


National Youth-at-Risk Conference


Savannah, Georgia