January 19, 2016

Do Your Students See Themselves In Your Classroom?

Quick! 
 Grab a pencil and a piece of paper.  Look at the cover of this book.  
What do you see?



Don't think about it.  Just write what you see.


Did you write:

  • happiness?
  • peace?
  • pride?
  • Joy?
OR....

Did you write:
  • a rainbow?
  • sunshine?
  • clouds?
  • the ocean?
  • a smiling boy?

Look at your responses.  Did you literally write what you see on the cover of the book, or did you write what feelings the illustration invoked?  Hhhhmmmmmm...  (Big cheesy grin).


This activity could be two-fold.  I did this writing response activity with my students. The activity was meant to get students to focus on the details and to follow directions.  The responses for writing what you see would include the rainbow, birds, sunshine, clouds, the ocean, and a smiling boy.  We were studying about the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr at the time.  So... of course, as you can imagine, I had about 16 out of 22 students say that they saw Dr. King in the illustration. Finally, I began to get the "I see...." responses that I was actually looking for when I asked the question.

However, and this is a big, "However"!  When I asked the last student for a response.  I experienced one of the greatest moments of my teaching career.  Yes, I tried my best not to cry in this moment, but I sure felt it coming on.  I saved this student for last on purpose.  He is one of my 4 African-American boys and he hasn't quite found himself yet.  He is smart and eloquent and handsome.  But, he doesn't know it... YET!  In any case, he also actually looks like (no exaggeration) the young man that is painted on this cover.

His answer will go down in history for me.  His response was:

                                  I see me and my dad.
                                  I see me and my dad and my siblings.
                                  We are playing in the soccer game.
                                  We had so much fun!

That is what he saw.  He saw himself and it invoked positive feelings, positive memories, and self-awareness.  You should have seen how proud he was.  This was so much more than I had ever anticipated!  I was so touched that I took to Periscope to share my experience with all of my sweet teacher friends.  Be sure to click the ("Periscope") link below to share this moment with me.


So, if you have any opportunities to do this activity with your students, (1) it is a great way to get students to focus in on details and on what they are actually being asked to do, but (2) find ways to allow your students to see reflections of themselves in some way every day in your classroom.  This can be done via books, poetry, dolls, pictures, music, conversations, and in a variety of other ways. You might be surprised at the huge difference that it can make.  It was for me, I have been ever impacted by this moment.





The artist that created the cover of the book that is featured is Kadir Nelson.  He is an author-illustrator and a painter.  His has authored several beautifully written and masterfully illustrated children's books.  I will write a post about his work shortly.  In the interim, I hope that you will search your libraries or bookshelves for more of his work.



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7 comments

  1. I love this activity. I'm going to try this in my class. Thanks for the idea!

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  2. This is such a great idea and I love the last student response you shared....how wonderful!

    Laura
    www.discoveringhiddenpotential.com

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  3. Lovely open-ended assignment, and a great vignette about how you are successfully drawing out the best from your students by giving them opportunities to express themselves! Great work!

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  4. Love this post! I will definitely try this with my students. I want them to notice more details and create that text-to-self connection!

    mirandalarayne.com

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  5. Kadir is hands down my favorite illustrator. I own so many of his books! Thanks for sharing your ideas!!
    Kristen

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  6. Thank you all for your comments! This was a great experience for both the students and myself! I hope that you do have the opportunity to share this activity with your class. I would love to hear how about your experiences! Kadir Nelson's books are amazing!! I'm sure that you can tell that I am a big fan of his work.

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  7. I am going to add this activity to my Mirrors & Windows workshop for teachers!

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