Well, this is it. The start of a new year. My students come on Wednesday and I cannot wait to meet them all and start the hard work of getting to know them and building our classroom community.
This year, I want to make sure to carve out time at the start of the year to do the important work of thinking about our own identities, getting to know the identities of each other and beginning to form our identity as a class. This is always work that I have done with my students in subtle ways, but as I learn more, I realize how important it is to start our focus on identity from day one in the classroom. And I realize that there are small shifts that I can make in the first few days in order to bring that work to the forefront of our learning.
So here is how I hope to begin our work:
This year, the first book that we will read together will be the beautiful picture book The Day You Begin by the ever-brilliant Jacqueline Woodson. Again, this is a book that I used last year as well, but this year, we will use it to help us to think about our own identities. To start, I will be using the lessons on identity webs that are so brilliantly written by Sara Ahmed in her book, Being The Change by Sara Ahmed (seriously, if you have not read this book, you must).
I will begin by using this form to guide a discussion about identity. I want to give a space for students to think and write on their own before I ask them to share with each other out loud because I want to honor that we are just getting to know each other and that not everyone will feel ready to share their thinking on day one in front of the entire class.
So I will begin by asking kids to think and write about what they understand about the word identity. After giving them time to think, we will share and come up with a definition we all feel good about. Then, after modeling, I will ask them to brainstorm a list of the things that might make up a person’s identity. Again, I will give them time to think and write and then to share and we will build a chart of the kinds of things that might be a part of a person’s identity.
After that, I will introduce the book and explain to the kids that this book talks about several kids and that we will be looking at the way the author describes two of these kids in order to start to think about what we know about their identities. As I read, I will stop to model what I notice and then give them time and space to add their own ideas. When we are done reading, we will share what we noticed about the character’s identities.
I will then explain that while we might be able to know some things about a person’s identity, we are each in charge of defining who we are and there are many parts of a person’s identity that we might not know just from looking at them. I will also talk about how we share our identities with people in ways that feel comfortable to us and that as we get to know each other better, we might become more comfortable sharing more of our identities with others. But for today, we are going to do some work thinking about our own identities and sharing the parts of our identities that we want others to know about.
This will transition us into our work with identity webs. Again, this work is brilliantly explained in Being the Change and I will be following Sara’s wisdom. I will begin by modeling the creation of my own identity web. This will give me a chance to share some of who I am with the kids and also to model the vulnerability that it requires to share our identities with others. After doing some modeling, I will then invite the kids to begin to create their own identity webs. As they work, I will take time to confer with students so that I can get to know them through their identity webs and also to look for those who might just not be ready for this work yet.
After the kids have had time to work on their webs, I will give them a chance to share with each other the parts of their identity webs that they feel comfortable sharing. I will ask them to be on the look out for connections that they can make it others through their identity webs. This work, again, is so wonderfully explained by Sara in her book and I highly recommend reading it there.
From here, I will introduce the kids’ first homework assignment of the year: to create an IDENTITY BAG. In the past, I have had kids create an “All About Me” bag and asked them to bring in items that help us to get to know them. This year, I wanted to make a small change in order to have this assignment build on our work with identity. So instead of creating “All About Me” bags this year, my students will be creating “Identity Bags.” The idea will be that they will fill their bags with items that help them to share their identities with the class in a way that they feel comfortable.
I thought about the parts of my own identity that I want to share with my students that might not be captured in a traditional “All About Me” bag. For example, I want my students to know that I am gay. it is important to me that they are aware of this from the start because it is a big part of who I am. In the past, I was able to do this by sharing a picture of my family. My wife and I and my daughter. As I shared at the end of the last school year, my wife and I are now separated. This makes it harder to share this piece of myself with my students in a concrete way. But, still, it is an important part of my identity as a human, as a mom and as a teacher. So, by shifting the focus to an identity bag, I will be able to include a rainbow flag that will still give me a chance to share this part of who I am with my students. And that is what I want for my kids as well. I want to give them space to share all parts of who they are, to let them know that all parts of their identity will be celebrated here in this space. And I am hoping this assignment will lay that foundation.
If you are at all interested, this is the write up that I will hand out to explain the assignment.
After explaining the assignment, I will then share my own identity bag with my students. Again, I believe it is imperative to allow myself to be vulnerable in sharing my identity with my students if I am going to ask them to do the same. So I will allow my students to share in my identity in the same way I hope they will allow me to share in theirs.
Over the first few days of school, we will learn about our own identities and we will learn about the identities of our classmates. This will set their groundwork for our learning which will help us to see how our identities impact how we see the world around us and how we experience the world around us. It will put into place a language that we will refer back to as we start to think about how reading and writing can help us to share our identities with others and can also help us to learn about the identities of the wide variety of humans that we share this world with. Our work as readers and writers will be wrapped in our identities and how they affect us and gaining a more solid understanding of who we all are will allow us to do that work more effectively.
So these plans, they are not perfect. There will certainly be changes that will need to occur, but I am so excited to get into this work, to dig in deeply right from the start and to begin to create the classroom community that will sustain us throughout the course of this school year.