I love “Ish” (Reynolds, P. (2004). Ish. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.) for so many reasons. The main reason being it is simple and easily applied to lots of situations. For the beginning of the year, I use it to teach kids to be confident in themselves and in their uniqueness. It is easy to be discouraged by the comments of others or feel inferior when comparing ourselves to those “better” than us. I want students to understand that we all have value and something to contribute to the community.
Rather than give much introduction to the book, I simply ask students to come to the meeting area and begin reading aloud. When finished, I have them complete an activity that begins our first conversation about community. I ask students if there were anything they’ve ever really wanted to be good at or master, but no matter how hard they tried they simply weren’t as good as someone else. After some thinking time, I have them raise their hands if they’ve thought of something and ask a few to share. I tell them that today we will draw self-portraits of our “-ish self” doing that thing at which we’ve always wanted to be great.
I typically give students a personal example. When I was younger, I had the opportunity to take golf lessons for free and didn’t take it. All of my siblings did, though and they actually became pretty good at the game. Well a couple of years ago, I worked up the courage to take golf lessons myself. I was horrible at first! Couldn’t even hit the ball off of the tee. I tried and tried, but ended up hitting more turf than balls. So for my portrait, I draw myself as “golf-ish”, which the kids think is pretty hilarious!
I created a portrait-looking page for students to complete their work. In this document, I used graphics from Kevin and Amanda’s Fonts, Teaching in a Small Town, and Creekside Teacher Tales. I hand the sheets out to students and ask them to get started while I sit down to begin my own.
After most students have finished, I ask everyone to return to the meeting area to share. Some are hesitant at first, but once they see others sharing, it typically opens the floodgates! I allow plenty of time for everyone to share.
Everyone deep down wants to be better at something. One way to be a great community is by supporting each other in becoming better in those things! After sharing their portraits, I ask them to sit quietly for a moment and think about who they could partner with in some way. Either because they feel they are an “expert” in an area that someone else wants to be better in –or– because someone else wants to be better in the same way they do. These become my class partners for the first few weeks of school. Depending on how well students choose their partners, I allow them to sit together and collaborate on our first assignments together.