As LA area schools go back to school, we want to feature the new "Back to School Toolkit" from Facing History. Each day this week, we will showcase one part of the toolkit.
One of my favorite things about the beginning of school year as a teacher was community- building. For me, it went so much farther than learning all my students’ names—it also became about their identities. Who were these people in my classroom? Where did they come from? What experiences have they had? What experiences do they bring into my classroom?
Each year, the answers to those questions would slowly reveal themselves as we worked together and I learned about them through conversations and from reading their written work. Students’ identities as newcomers to the U.S., English Language Learners, monolinguals, American born, foreign born, and community members combined with national identity, religion, age, and character to form unique combinations of people in each of my classrooms.
The second lesson in Facing History's Back to School Toolkit explores individual identity.
Identity Charts are a great tool with which to get to know my students, but also to start the dialogue between everyone in the classroom about identity. It is important for us to acknowledge and value each other in a learning community. In the Toolkit, you'll see a specialized "Don't Misunderstand Me" Exit Card that builds on the identity discussion within class.
Not only did I share my identity charts with students, I also made sure we spent time in the beginning week of school for students to craft their identity pieces and share what they were comfortable with. Many students started to see themselves as more complex than they did initially, and the more they talked with other students, the more items they began to include on their identity charts.
As students’ awareness of their own complexities grow, so does their understanding and connection to the people that they learn about. Doing work on identity can also have an important impact on the rest of the school year.
When examining literary and historical figures in humanities classes, it is possible to create identity charts for them. It is easier to show the complexity of a figure in literature or history by seeing them through this lens. We can begin to ask more in-depth questions about these people: What pressures or social forces are at play in that person’s life? Why did they make the choices they made?
In order to connect their learning with present-day, we can reflect these questions back to students: what pressures or social forces are at play in your life? Why do you make the choices you do?
Examining the identities of literary and historical figures has an unexpected effect: it humanizes them.
See all of our Back to School posts here. Subscribe to the blog to receive this week's posts in your inbox!