When people are true to themselves, they are found to be happier and better-adjusted. This is, of course, as true for students as it is for anyone.
Building Outside the Blocks benefits teachers and students. When I first started creating these projects, I was trying to pack more learning into the school experience and build outside of learning blocks: periods of time and units. There is so much value in how these projects help teachers assess students for learning and give them clear next steps to build skills, autonomy and community, as well as many other residual effects. What I also see, which may be the most enduring value, is that BOBs help students learn about themselves and take pride in who they are. Building Outside the Blocks projects can build many things, and there is a lot of evidence that a sense of self is one of them.
David Shannon writes wonderful books, and one of my all-time favourites is his A Bad Case of Stripes. I have purposed this read-out in many different teaching contexts. The gist of the story is that the protagonist, Camilla Cream, loves lima beans, but she denies them to herself because she worries so much about what others may think of her. This manifests into a series of physical ailments, but neither the reader nor Camilla know that being true to oneself is the ultimate message. As the story unfolds, Camilla’s parents seek a variety of experts’ advice, yet the best advice comes from an innocuous old woman who diagnoses the ailment as a bad case of stripes. Her remedy is to feed Camilla what she has been denying herself the entire time: lima beans. As soon as Camilla gives into this, she is immediately cured. If Camilla had tapped into her truest self, she may have come up with the solution on her own.
Today, so many children are struggling with so much. In a classroom scenario, most students are icebergs. Most of the time, a teacher gets to see only a small portion of the totality of their students’ true selves. If students had ways to tap into who they are, their interests and their lives as a component of a school assignment, we could be teaching them more than learning skills and content. We could be teaching them about themselves, which is an essential ingredient for deep learning.
Three years ago, my then MYP (Middle Years Program) coordinator asked me to make a video about the PS Series that I use in Grade 7 Language and Literature. She intended to share it with the International Baccalaureate Open Doors, a collection of classroom practice videos. While that option closed before the video was ready, editing the video taught me a lot about the power of these projects.
Several of my students were taken into the classroom next door and asked about the PS2, a Personal Soundtrack. The process of considering which songs to select for their nostalgia, identity and theme songs was really about connecting with their truest selves. One of the students candidly remarked, “They weren’t questions I didn’t know how to answer, it was just about me.” This project is where the The Personal Playlist Podcast originated. This project, like all Building Outside the Blocks projects, has a personalized component. Through the video, the students showed me that BOBs are avenues for a personal inquiry.
I was privileged to be asked to consult on a “social network powered by women”, called Women’s Work? Institute. Originally, the founders wanted me to help workshop leaders develop their presentations to be both informative and engaging. It was the question mark that compelled me to investigate this opportunity further and, while gearing up for our first meeting, they checked out my website. The group parked their original plans for me and, instead, asked me to create a workshop for women that used the BOB approach.
I asked myself a lot of questions including, “What can I offer women through my projects?” The answer helped me develop the What Lights You Up? workshop because the questions my projects raise are things that ignite the workshop participants to ask themselves questions that aren’t directly about their needs or desires, but they help with the personal inquiry. It’s a moratorium to pontificate questions that drive entire projects for my students for women whom I’ve never met. I don’t have to know them because the questions that may be answered throughout the evening come from them. They can answer and share what they choose. It is up to them to make or take from it what they want, and it has already shown to be extremely empowering for the participants. Now, that is what I do for a living. I find ways to help light and build people up.
BOBs spark amazing things in learners. Each project connects to a different part of the individual and provides new ways for students to highlight elements that reflect who they are and what interests them. Being able to tap into yourself through a school project becomes an invitation for students to show up as themselves and share what they choose with their safe and cohesive class community that is built through the sharing portion of the approach. What learners end up conveying allows everyone in the room to really get to know and respect each others’ similarities and unique differences.
If teachers give students a chance to be themselves at school and see themselves through assignments, they can develop their sense of self. By questioning, articulating and reflecting on these pieces of themselves, students can develop self awareness and maybe even improve their self esteem. Knowing who you are is a journey of discovery. Wouldn’t it be great if school experiences could help put you on your map?
BOBs help students share and celebrate their stripes. If Camilla Cream had seen herself as a lover of lima beans, she wouldn’t have gotten so sick. If she was given the chance to explore her interests, make choices and be her truest self, she may have avoided all of the problems that she experienced. When Camilla bit into those lima beans, she was instantly cured. The old woman responded, “I knew the real you was in there somewhere." Teachers have the power to help make that kind of difference.
Source: Noa Daniel