Posts Tagged ‘This I Believe’

This I Believe Classroom Poster

So, I’ve been thinking about our recent “This I Believe” unit. I tried to develop it into a collaborative projectand a few other classes signed up, but it didn’t get as much traction as I had hoped. There’s always next year.

Anyway, I forged ahead myself. I teach in a classroom that is usually self-contained. However, for 3 weeks at the end of January and beginning of February we do a little mini unit that involves all 3 sections rotating for science, social studies, and this year a writing unit. In the past I have done various math units, but I was ready for a change and felt that the “This I Believe” unit I tried out last year was worth expanding.

Once again, we listened to several podcasts from the “This I Believe” website, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and several songs. We discussed not only what ideas were being shared but the various strategies that were used to make the ideas powerful. After a plan, a draft, a peer review, and another draft students recorded themselves reading their statement and embedded the recording on a glog. Here are a few. There should be a play button somewhere on each glog.

Jacob believes in reading.

Cayman believes in soccer.

Chloe believes in skiing.

Ruby believes in acting.

Marshall believes in baseball.

Aly believes in pitching.

There are a couple of things I really like about this unit. First, I like that the students write something personal and creative that has some guidelines. So while it was creative, it was not formless. I also like that the students record themselves reading their statements. It is so great to listen to their voices. I mean I listen to them all day, but in any class there isn’t time to listen to a student talk, uninterrupted for minutes at a time. In addition because glogster plays so well with Edmodo, the glogs could go right into the Edmodo groups for others to see and hear. The students got to comment on each other’s work.

And, parents LOVE it. I played most of the recordings at spring parent conferences. There were a lot of big smiles. In addition I think some parents heard their children’s voices in a new way. They heard their children speaking about their beliefs in a way they probably don’t hear very often.

At the end of the day, I like to think that my classroom represents an academic community, even if it is only 5th grade. What I hope to be able to provide at a conference, and as a parent what I hope to get, is an idea of what a child is like as a member of that community. I think these pieces did that for me and for parents.

So, I’ve been thinking about how my students learn things–things that I’ve been trying to teach them, repeatedly.

The other day we were doing some writing connected to our “This I Believe” study. (See here and here for more details.) As usual, we had talked about the assignment. Students had worked on a planning sheet. I had read and commented on each plan. And, I had made a few additional comments and specified my directions, again.

And so we began. People were writing. I was writing. (My essay is called “I Believe in Lists”, FYI) It was pretty quiet for a group of 10 and 11 year olds. At some point I mentioned that this was best set of planning sheet I had seen this year. Then all of a sudden, a student says, “You know this really easy to write. I feel like I can just write. It’s much easier when you have a good plan.”

And another says, “I have so much to write. I’m not even using all my ideas on my plan because I’m thinking of new ones.”

Agreement all around.

Now, I am fairly confident that I have said something to this effect at least 100 times so far this year. But, it wasn’t until my students “discovered” it for themselves that it registered.

Ok, I can accept that. In fact, I can celebrate that.

So, I’ve been thinking about how impressive 5th graders are sometimes.

I wrote about my new unit plan the day before yesterday; I know 2 posts in 3 days?! You can read about the whole thing here. But, the point of this post is that yesterday my students were writing “This I Believe” type pieces, based on the NPR show, as if they were a book character. We have read a number of books so far this year and students could choose any main character.

Usually I make very specific planning sheets and graphic organizers and structure the writing quite a bit. And, I did make a planning sheet for students. We also listened to a couple of podcasts of “real” essays too. But, really because the topics that students were writing about varied, it was hard to be as specific as I like to be.

We shared ideas. We started writing. I picked a character no one else was using so I could start an example piece as well. I wrote a little and then read what I had. It was ok and probably helped some folks.

But then, a student brought me her writing to look over. WOW! To say that it was good does not even begin to do it justice. It was crazy, super-duper good. I read it out loud and everyone just got quiet and listened with their mouths open.

She was writing as Philip in The Cay by Theodore Taylor. Her piece is below. (Note: the summary in the beginning of the 2nd paragraph is what happens in the book, the rest is all her added ideas and inferences about what the character would say.)


I believe that war is not the answer. This is my story. I used to think that war was a game. I played it with my friends. It didn’t matter who won because everything would turn out okay in the end. No one really got hurt or anything. Sure there were scrapes on the knee but that could be fixed with a band-aid. But I found out war wasn’t play, but affects lives. One of those lives was mine. 

One day war came to my island where I live. I was really excited to see the game I’ve always played in real live action and I thought  it would be so cool.  My mother disagreed. She hardly liked that my friends and I played war. She decided that we would take boat to Virginia, where I was born, and we would be safe. My dad had to stay and help with repairing boats for the army. It was already mad that I had to leave my dad. It got worse though. On the way there, we were hit by an enemy torpedo. Everything went black. I was blind. I sailed to an island with a man I didn’t know, only to have him die. That left me alone. War isolates people,not only physically, but mentally too.  I didn’t see half the terrors that a soldier sees. It scars people forever, like it did to me. This kind of scar can’t be fixed with a band-aid. This is how my life changed.

Now this may make you think that there is no hope. But there is. All of the things I just described could vanish completely. It’s not just that war is bad, but that peace is good. If we all advocate peace, not war, then we could have a better world. War is not the only option you know. Even the generals in the army say they don’t fight just to win, but so that there can be peace. I think that if we all work together, war will stop. I don’t just think-I believe.


Anyone else impressed?

So, I’ve been thinking about our class climate. In the beginning of the year I had what I called “5E Day” with my class, which was loosely based on George Couros’ Identity day. (Read about it here and about its impact here.)

One of the comments to my description of the resulting class tone wondered if we would need “booster shots” or any sort of redo. So far, I have to say that I think my class this year is a very supportive and cohesive group. Yet, I felt like this idea of a periodic booster might be worth remembering. And now I think I have a booster activity.

We are switching the book we read before winter break this year and it turns out that my new plan is in many ways a 5E Day booster. So here’s the plan:

  • We have listened to, read, and discussed in some detail both Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and President Kennedy’s “Inaugural Address” (ask not what your country can do for you).
  • We have been reading and listening to a selection of “This I Believe” podcasts from NPR (chosen by me with a wide variety of themes that are not too heavy).
  • We have been collecting “I believe. . .” statements in a jar in the room.
  • We are about to write a “This I Believe” essay as a book character.
  • I will collect, write-up, and the put into wordle our 5E beliefs.
  • I will make a podcast or Animoto video of our beliefs before winter break, no promises on this one, but it would be super.
  • Everyone, me included, will write a “This I Believe” essay (or poem or song) and create a podcast.
  • We will all listen to or read each other’s essays.
  • And, we’ve also read some short pieces that are somewhat related and totally entertaining.

I have to say I did not set out to create a 5E Day booster unit. I set out to plan a new unit that had some good pieces of what I have done in the past (King and Kennedy’s speeches) and some things I have been meaning to do (“This I Believe” essays). But, oh happy day, I have a feeling it’s going to be both a decent unit and act as a 5E Day refresher.

How many days are there until break?