Monday, 15 April 2013

An Inquiry into Citizenship


To begin our inquiry, we read a wide variety of books (picture books, chapter books and non-fiction) to get us thinking and to allow thoughtful conversations. I was very selective with the books that I found to help anchor our study. I wanted the message of the text to connect to citizenship; however, I also wanted the writing to be excellent. 

I decided to read aloud the picture book, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. The story is about a little girl, Chloe, who misses her opportunity to be kind to a new student. In fact, she chooses to be unkind. The new student moves away and Chloe misses her chance to repair her unkind actions. As a class, we found the ending to be very powerful because it wasn't your typical "happy ending". Instead, Jacqueline Woodson forces us to realize that people can be unkind to one another. There is a part in the book where Chloe's teacher says: "Each kindness makes the world a little bit better."

This was the perfect opportunity to invite students to write about a moment of kindness they received from a family member. I didn't want students to miss their opportunity to share their appreciation for a loved one.

To support students, I wrote a piece showing my appreciation for my mom's weekly visits when she volunteers in my classroom. Students were then asked to create their own written pieces, which were given as gifts at parent conferences. They also published this writing on their individual blogs and parents were able to comment on them as well. It was wonderful to see the reactions of parents and the students loved receiving their comments.

Here are some samples from student blogs:

Sample 1                                       

Sample 2                                        

Sample 3

We charted our thinking about the question - "What does it mean to be a good citizen?"

Students interviewed their parents to find out who they admired and why. We thought this would add another perspective to our study.

Then I asked students the question - "What Face Do You Want to Show the World?" We created silhouette portraits and students picked a character trait or attribute to explain their thinking.


Before too long, we started to realize that a good citizen is simply someone who wants to make the world a better place. Making the world a better place is being the best person you can be at home, at school and in the community. We created a diagram called, "THE RIPPLE EFFECT". It's to resemble the waves moving outward when you drop a pebble in the water. 

We connected this idea to a portion of a poem written by James W. Foley:

Drop a pebble in the water
just a splash, and it is gone;
But there's half-a-hundred ripples
circling on and on and on,
Spreading, spreading from the centre,
flowing on out to the sea.
And there is no way of telling
where the end is going to be.

After several discussions, students also wrote about what they think it means to be a good citizen. These became their most current understandings and we posted them on our "Wonder Wall".


Throughout this study we also read two important texts:

1. Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I have blogged about this text before. You can find it here

2. Ryan and Jimmy by Herb Shoveller
Both of these texts provided rich discussions and opportunities for deep thinking. We looked at them as readers. We analyzed them as writers. See below:

This is a passage from Wonder with student thinking all in the margins.
This is a passage from Ryan and Jimmy with student thinking in the margins.
You can see all of the reading and writing experiences that took place during this citizenship study. 

Finally, we were ready to start thinking about how we, as a class, could make the world a better place. We decided that we wanted to build a bench, to symbolize respectful conversation and friendship. This will sit by our main office in the school. When we first started discussing this idea, our plan was to find out how much it would cost. We'd also have to take a survey of our families to find out who could help us build it. That evening, I got a message from one of my students on Edmodo:

This week we are painting our bench. We have a couple of students helping us from one of the high schools in our division. Here is the "before" picture:


I will post the final product when we are finished. 

Students also worked on their own plans to make the world a better place. This writing was completed in collaboration with Mrs. Routman. This continues to be a work in progress with the end result being a  beautiful book. Right now, however, you can find our plans on our blogs




1 comment:

  1. Sherri’s careful selection of books to share with her students provoked their thinking about citizenship. Each Kindness and Wonder are two perfect examples. Having her students write letters to their parents about moments of kindness provided an audience and purpose to their writing. What parent would not want to receive such a beautiful gift? You can see how this gift touched the parents’ by reading their comments on the student blogs.

    How does Sherri manage to get her students to write such beautiful pieces? You can see on her blog the hard work that went into frontloading information with students. You can also tell Sherri has been conferencing with her students about strong leads, paragraphing, using powerful language and staying on topic.

    Sherri had two senior years students spend the day at the school assisting her students in painting the bench. We can hardly wait to place it at the front doors of our school!

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