As I might have mentioned before, my eighth graders are working toward writing their own “This I Believe” essays. As part of the pre-writing process, some of my lessons have been inspired by the first chapter of Kelly Gallagher’s book Write Like This. I like the way that he differentiates between “express” (describing details) and “reflect” (looking back to make meaning) and the activities he suggests work well toward my objectives.
We’ve written Six Word Memoirs. We’ve written about what our childhoods tasted like. We’ve written (and drawn!) the places that we call home. We’ve exchanged personal artifacts and created song titles that reflect about the significance of the artifact in the other person’s life.
Now that students are getting the hang of expressing and reflecting, we are moving toward the discussion of values. One of my objectives for this “Values” lesson was for students to be able to define the values and the second objective for this lesson was for students to be able to rank the values and explain their choices.
As I racked my brain (and teacher books and old notebooks) for vocab strategies, I was reminded of Frayer models. For our Frayer models, we put the word in a circle in the middle, and divided the four quadrants surrounding the circle into “Definition (in own words),” “Examples,” “Non-Examples,” and for my visual learners “Images.” My students sit in groups of four, so it was natural to turn this into a cooperative activity where each student was responsible for one of the four tasks.
This strategy worked better - and was more eye-opening – than I could have imagined. Seeing their thinking about the values (honesty, wisdom, creativity, hope, confidence, cooperation, and success) confirmed yet again the importance of students sharing their ideas and understanding rather than steam-rolling them with the “right” definition or answer.
For example, the “Success” group defined their word: “To be good at something of your personal goal; to win in life.” Their examples included “winning a game, graduating school, and winning the lottery.” Their non-examples were “losing in a sports game, staying back a grade, and losing the lottery.” Finally, for their image (as you can see below), they drew and man and woman aboard a boat named “Success” decorated with the Nike swish. The man has spiky hair, sunglasses, club-ready attire, and is throwing dollar bills while the woman has ro“bust” features and is holding a cocktail. This group’s dichotomous association of success with winning, rather than losing, reflects the idea that life is a competition. They seem to idealize money, possessions, and appearance as symbols of success. Considering their frequent conversations about Jersey Shore and rappers like Lil Wayne and Wiz Khalifa, I am not too surprised by their creation and I am curious about how they will rank success among the other values when we finish the lesson next week.
Another group that stuck out to me was “Cooperation.” Though they weren’t able to complete all of their work, they did list non-examples of “not following rules and not listening” and drew an image (as you can see below) of a teacher saying “Blah blah blah,” and a student responding “Ok” with a smiley face. To them, cooperation is complying with an adult’s requests. When I pressed them for more, they offered another example of a child listening to a parent. Still curious, I asked about cooperation with peers and they said something to the effect of, “Well you don’t have to listen to peers because they don’t have any power over you.” I was pretty surprised (and a bit disturbed) by their response because it is so different from mine; I think of two or more people working collaboratively toward a common goal. What is important, though, is that neither of us is “right” or “wrong.” Based on our own experiences, we have different perspectives. However, as a teacher who believes that power results from cooperation (rather than power being the cause of cooperation), over the next three weeks I hope to design lessons and facilitate conversations that complicate their understanding of the concept.
This I believe: teaching is not about steam-rolling students with facts and definitions. Instead, teaching is an act of hope, carefully designed to provide space for people to share their ideas and develop more complex understandings of themselves and the world.