Monday, September 12, 2011
I provide my students with the outline and instruct them to create it in their likeness--wearing the same clothing, same hair, same eyes, etc. I let them know these will be one of the first pieces of their work to hang in our hallway, and I give them enough time to work on them for them to understand these are important and real work--not just a chance to color. When they are done, and the figures are cut out, we gather in a circle. I explain to them that when they begin the school year, they are a lot like the figures they've created--the best they can be. We then pass the figures 2 people to the right, and I ask the whole class to look at the image and tell it that it is stupid. As they do this, they crumple the figure. We pass it to the right again, tell it "I don't like you," and crumple it again. After 3-4 passes, it is returned to its owner, and I ask if it looks how it did when we started. Of course, the answer is no. Now, it is usually a little, crumpled ball. I ask them how they feel about what has happened to their hard work and let several students share.
We now pass it around again, the exact way we passed it before. At each stop, we apologize and flatten the figures out as gently and thoroughly as we are able. It is returned to its owner again, and I ask if it looks better than it did the last time it was returned. Yes, it does, but I also ask if it looks like it did when we started. No, it doesn’t. There are wrinkles and little rips in it that our attempts to fix just couldn’t do. I explain that when they start the school year, they are like the images—fresh and as perfect as possible. As we interact with one another, and negative things are said or done to us, it is like the paper being crumpled. We can apologize and try to make things right, but the damage is done and can never be totally undone. We can make it better, but the scars remain.
This is a powerful lesson. The kids are invested in their artwork and feel the shock and pain of watching it ruined, and for most, seeing the images is a reminder of how important their words and actions are to others.