The theme for 8th grade is simply: identity. Students explore identity through forgiveness and justice, immigration, and making a difference. Each novel, poem, short story, and writing piece is carefully chosen with identity in mind. The assignments were designed to make them question who they are and what they stand for. This year, I had my students create an identity portfolio from all of their writing pieces. Why? Because later in life they will be able to look back and reflect on who they were in 8th grade…because sometimes we forget…
The following pieces were included in their identity portfolios:
- Bio Poem: A fun reflection in prose.
- Forgiveness Personal Narrative: After reading The Sunflower by Simon Weisenthal, students question their ability to forgive. They reflect on a time when they had to forgive someone or someone had to forgive them in a personal narrative.
- I’m From Poem: This poem is based on George Ella Lyon’s piece. Students create their own poems, a collective poem, and a digital story based on it found here.
- What’s Your Story?: A creative writing project in which students designed a 3 dimensional object reflecting all of their heritages along with a story of how it came to be.
- This I Believe: A personal belief statement essay in 350-500 words. Click here to view the entire project.
- Six Words: Students were challenged to create a story in six words using a visual and words.
- Make a Difference Project Personal Reflective Paper: A reflection piece about their year long project.
- One Thing Photo Essay: In a photo essay, students were asked to be photographed with the one thing they value most.
- Bucket List: Students created a list of 50 things they would like to accomplish before their time is up.
- Memory Letter: Students wrote a heart felt letter to someone that is important to them with specific memories tied to it.
- Graduation Speech: Each student wrote a graduation speech to reflect on their years at Montgomery.
Students had the option of presenting their portfolio any way that they wanted in order to reflect their own personal identity and personalities. I had scrapbooks, boxes, handmade books, binders, suitcases, and even an entire bookshelf of work created and written over the past three years with me. These projects overwhelmed me. When you see all that a student has accomplished within a year, how they have progressed, and what they have discovered about themselves is a humbling experience. Many tears were shed as I flipped through each page. I thought I knew these kids, but I learned something new about each and every student. This was the first year that I did this portfolio project, and I honestly think it is one of the most important things that they have done for me all year. I hope that they will dig into their closets years from now and discover who they were in 2010, what their hopes and dreams for the future were, and are reminded of that amazing time in life when they asked themselves on a daily basis: Who am I?
Each year, my 8th graders write a graduation speech. It is not optional. Everyone does it. Why? Because it gives them a chance to reflect back on their time at school. Some of them have been at Montgomery since they were three, and some of them have spent just one year with us. Each one of them has memories that they have created regardless of the time spent here. It is a time for my students to say what they need to say, thank who they need to thank, and, in some cases, make amends and honor each other. This year, the speeches varied from a symbolic school bus ride, steps to writing a graduation speech, lessons learned, and a heartfelt story about a young man realizing what he had gained and what he was losing. The students are ready to move on. They have chosen their graduation speaker. All that is left is to say goodbye. But, I’ll save that for Friday….
I’ve chosen a quote from each graduate’s speech to create the video above and the slideshow below. Grab your tissues…
I introduced an immigration unit to my 8th graders with Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. My instructions were to “read” the book. Now, if you’ve never read The Arrival, it is a graphic novel with absolutely no words. It was fascinating to see my more traditional students really struggle over how to “read” this book, and amazing to see those visual learners and outside of the box thinkers plow right through it. While reading, they had to keep track of characters, setting, problem(s), solution(s), and symbols. This generated a great discussion about using symbols in writing. From that, they were to create a “found poem” with words or phrases from the book. The problem? There are no words or phrases in the book…now that was a challenge! Click the book (double click to read each poem) that we created above to view my 8th grader’s interpretation of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival through found poetry. Enjoy!
I continued with my activities to prepare my 8th graders to write their “This I Believe” personal statement. The first day was spent identifying and defining values along with ranking those values to what was most important to them.
The second day was what I was not prepared for in doing this assignment with my students. I asked students to freewrite about the following questions:
- When did you first realize your family loves you?
- When did you learn that it is better to tell the truth?
- Who was the first person to make you feel invincible?
- When did you realize you could be anything you want to be?
- When did you learn that life isn’t always fair?
- Who taught you that sometimes things don’t work out the way you want them to?
- When did you learn that you can’t always get what you want?
- How did you learn about the Tooth Fairy, or other characters?
- Has anyone ever tested your faith?
- Have you ever done something that you regret? What did you learn from that moment?
I read the questions, that I got from the This I Believe curriculum, and when I was finished, the room was silent. Dead silent. Then, a few hands went up. The question that struck me most was, “What if you just realized someone loves you? Can it be recent or does it have to be from when you were a little kid?” With that, I answered by telling them a story about my gram. I always knew that she loved me, but I could remember a specific time when I was a young adult that I truly realized that she loved me. I got teary just telling the story….but what happened next, I was completely unprepared for…
I told the students to answer the questions as best they could on a separate piece of paper, and that they could skip around. Some students sat at the table, some sat on the floor, and others asked to go in the hallway. Once they started writing, I heard sniffling, people getting up for tissues, and some outright sobbing. I was amazed at the power that a question could stir up such emotion. These kids were writing like I’ve never seen…totally focused and engaged. I was overwhelmed by emotion myself as I saw my students “go there” emotionally…and that they were doing it through writing. It dawned on me that they felt safe and secure enough in my class to be that emotionally open. This is what I was completely unprepared for. I never imagined that a little writing exercise could be so powerful to them, and to me, but…I will remember to never underestimate the power of words and the emotional connection that we have to them.
I am beginning a project with my 8th graders based on NPR’s This I Believe. My students are writing about what they believe in 350-500 words. I plan on having them podcast their pieces as well as create an “ipod” ad of themselves that is hosted on our wiki as the final project.
As I introduced the project, some of the students were struggling to define values and choose what five values are the most important to them…certainly a daunting task for 8th graders! I found this amazing podcast on the website that was written by a kindergarten student.
When Tarak McLain’s kindergarten group celebrated their 100th day of class, some kids brought 100 nuts or cotton balls. Tarak brought a list of 100 things he believes. Now a first-grader, Tarak shares his top beliefs about God, life, nature and war.
Click here to listen to his “This I Believe” podcast.
I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my own students’ pieces!