As I’m gearing up for next year, (my summer is practically over–I have PD for most of the month of August,–) I am preparing exercises to get to know my students. I am fortunate in some ways to know some of them already. Since I teach at a PK-12 school, about 40% of my students will come from our middle school. The rest will be a mixture of students from other charters or district schools. Regardless, building relationships with my students from Day One is extremely important to me, my success as their teacher, and most importantly, their success as students.
I don’t like to start my classes reading them my syllabus and going over policies. They get that the rest of the day. I’m sure that after a while we all sound like the adults in Charlie Brown.
Instead I start with art and symbols using a Personal Mandala assignment from Laying the Foundation (a pre-AP curriculum). I think it’s important to introduce symbols early in the year. We use them all the time. They’re in email addresses, on the walls of our classroom, on their lockers. I also want to get to know my students. Since many freshmen are scared to death to write anything the first day, I think this is challenging and fun enough to get them to do it.
Students begin by creating “sun” images. They must compare themselves to a predefined category. For example, a student must decide what animal he is like or what color he is most like. The student answers these questions and then creates sentences: I am most like ___________ because I ___________. (I am like the cat because I am graceful.)
After students have completed this part of the assignment, students will then create images opposite their sun images. These images are called shadow images. They’ll then write sentences based on these images.
After they have completed all of their sentences for both sun and shadow images, students will compose pictures of their images into a circle or mandala. They can divide the circle and place images in them or they can compose them all together into one image.
This project lends itself to differentiation easily. I get some of the best projects from my IEP students. I also get some incredibly sentences from my honors students. My honors students are required to compose a sentence using all of their images/or symbols in some way. It must be “poetic” and not simply a laundry list of symbols and what they’ve drawn.
Students present their mandalas to the class. It’s a great way to get to know each other in the classroom, and students have begun to think symbolically and in similes.
I display the work in my classroom. Parents enjoy looking at their students’ projects on curriculum night.
Here are some examples of student projects from the past:
I’ll be posting my lesson plan for this assignment soon.