This I Believe Project
During Summer Institute one of my colleagues mentioned using NPR’s “This I Believe” pieces in her Language Arts class, so I decided to develop a project using this great resource within my own classroom. The past couple of years, I’ve used this with my eighth-grade students at the end of the school year, as we all know, a challenging time to keep students engaged. But because these projects were of personal importance, they became invested and worked tirelessly through several drafts to complete finished products that they could be proud of and hopefully cherish for a lifetime.
First, I immersed my students in samples from This I Believe II that we annotated and discussed. Since these essays were very different from the more familiar content-area essays, we spent a lot of time discussing the structures, the craft of the authors, and how they were able to weave their themes throughout the pieces. As we looked to these mentor texts, I encouraged the students to start thinking of their own guiding philosophies, beliefs, pet peeves, passions, interests, etc. They also had to decide on the tones of their pieces, humorous, light-hearted, cynical, or serious.
We spent time brainstorming in small groups about potential ideas. Once the students narrowed down their topics, we worked on incorporating autobiographical anecdotes to portray their themes. The students posted the pieces to their blogs and received feedback from their peers on how to strength their writing and they frequently looked back to the published samples for guidance.
After finalizing the written pieces, the students shared their works to the student body as words of wisdom during our daily school assemblies. This was a great opportunity for the eighth-graders to showcase their work and to serve as leaders to our younger students.
To add richness to these projects, the art teacher and I have collaborated. The first year, the students created dioramas of buildings or spaces in their future communities using their writing pieces as anchors. This past year, the students were given disposable cameras to take self-portraits and other pictures that represented themselves. Many of them also took pictures of family and friends or important objects. Then, we took the cameras to Laumeier Sculpture Park and the students looked for sculptures or objects in nature that characterized aspects of themselves.
One student knew that she wanted her piece to be about writing being her outlet, so she wanted to reflect this in her self-portrait.
Once the pictures were developed, the students created collages with their writing pieces in the center. We used large frames with plenty of white space on the edges. This way the students could select from their photos and other mixed-media to create pieces of art.
Finally, we displayed the final products at their graduation dinner so that the students and the families could celebrate the creativity and uniqueness of the students and their pieces.
Below is a sample from Lauren:
This I Believe
I believe in fairytales.
When most people are children, they hear magical stories of princesses and wizards and talking animals. We learn about a jolly old man who brings us presents on a cold December night, a fairy who leaves rewards when our teeth fall out and we hide them under our pillows, or a human-size bunny that leaves eggs filled with treats in the spring. And we believe in these stories, because why shouldn’t we? A child wants to believe that there can be more, that there is more. They want to be the knight in shining armor that saves the day. They want to be the regal queen who rules her kingdom fairly. So as a child, we strive for this more.
But as we grow older, this “more” dies within us. We look back at these stories we read as a child and say, “I believed in that?” Looking back at the tales of magical beings, we call them childish and stupid and not real. Why is that, though? When did we lose touch with what was important to us, what we made every effort for? When Reality set in. As we grew older, we were told to believe what was factual and what could be proven. Who cared what we wanted to believe, it was all about what they wanted us to believe.
When I was little, I had a strong adoration of mermaids. I loved the idea of just being able to swim and swim and swim and not worry about anything at all. But as I grew older, that idea seemed unrealistic to me. My views changed, and I thought, ‘That’s never going to happen; I was so silly to ever believe that.’ Then my outlooks changed again when I first learned about Eric Ducharme. For a living, he made mermaid tails that people could swim in. He’s said that people always thought what he did was weird because most people thought of mermaids and never mermen. But he said he did it because it was something he loved to do, and he could have fun doing it. He helped me to start thinking, ‘Maybe being a mermaid is possible after all.’ He helped me to get my beliefs back
Maybe if more people had someone to tell them, “Yes, this can happen! Believe it can happen!” they would still hold on to these visions of magic and love that always works out and a near perfect story. Or maybe just the possibility that their dreams can come true. Because of society, we’ve been told that the fairytales we heard when we were younger was a bunch of bull. We need to begin to encourage ourselves and others to never stop believing, whatever we want can happen, including our dreams and our goals.
I believe my letter to Hogwarts was lost in the mail, and that it is on its way. That if I travel to the second star on the right, I will find Peter Pan and Neverland. I believe in princesses and knights and dragons and animals with human characteristics. I believe that anything and everything is possible. And because of these beliefs, I want to push for that more so that I can end up with the fairytale ending God wants for me.
“Every man's life is a fairy tale written by God's fingers.” –Hans Christian Andersen