“Now this is a ‘top secret’ project,” we tell them. Each student breaks out into a huge grin, slyly looking around the room. Their hands slip onto their computers eager to open them up. “Don't tell anyone what you are writing or collaborate in anyway. It will be a surprise for everyone when you are done.” They become agitated, their legs are swinging beneath the table in anticipation, “Can we get started?”
As part of the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) our 6th grade students finished off a unit called “Balance” this past week. Their exit point task was to create a classroom “web” identifying how each student in the grade (there are only 12 of them) brings balance to the learning experience at school. They will be placing their name at the center of the web and then extending individual lines to each classmate notating what strengths that student contributes to the school setting.
Before turning them loose, however, we brainstorm positive characteristics that could be included in providing balance to a learning environment. The students put together a massive list including descriptors such as hard working, focused, helpful, collaborative, and energetic, etc. Then, students eagerly begin recording their ideas. The ideas are transferred to a “web” that they know will be shared with the class. They construct all sorts of interesting walls to hide their masterpieces as they glue and draw.
Finally, the day has arrived, and the students sit at tables arranged in a semicircle. The webs are upside down in front of them, remaining a mystery. After a brief introduction the students are instructed to turn over their webs. They all stand and have the opportunity to walk around the ordered tables reading the webs. A hush blankets the room. I feel like I’m observing a group at a major art exhibit. They are thoroughly studying the documentation before them. Following their time with the posters, they are given a set of reflective questions in which they immediately immerse themselves in response. They exude satisfaction and confirmation.
What began as an exercise to help them see how each person contributes to the class turned into a huge appreciation fest where everyone was handed a confidence boost. It’s human nature, isn’t it? A desire for appreciation. A hope for recognition. Opportunity to focus on the strengths and good in others is probably essential in just about every organization out there. How can we foster a more appreciative environment wherever we are but particularly in schools?