I wanted to share with you one of my new lessons that had a greater impact than I expected. I called it the Personal Declaration of Independence.We have been studying the events leading up to the American Revolution, and we arrived at the part where the students learned about the document that announced that the colonies were going to become independent – The Declaration of Independence.
I was wanting to create a new lesson this year that connected the students to this important moment in history, so as I was thinking about it, I remembered something that one of my former student teachers had told me before she left my class to start her teaching fellowship at another school. She had planned on teaching the Declaration of Independence to my students in July, but she never got to it. She had mentioned to me that she was going to ask the students to write their own personal Declaration of Independence as one of the assignments. We never got to talk about any details of the lesson, but I do remember her mentioning it to me, and that short discussion came back to me when I was thinking of a lesson to present to my kids.
What I did was create a short worksheet that the kids had to fill out. Then they were to take that worksheet and create a final draft Declaration of Independence. I told the students that the American Colonies had big plans for the future, but that their connection with England was keeping them from fulfilling those plans. Then I connected it to their lives. I told them that we all have goals in life. Some of us have a goal of getting straight A’s or a goal of meeting more friends or a goal of becoming a better soccer player. “Sometimes,” I said, ” we have big plans or goals in life that we never reach because of some kind of obstacle that gets in the way. Sometimes it’s fear of failing or it’s laziness or it’s peer pressure.” That’s when I passed out the worksheet. I told them that it’s time to declare our independence from whatever it is that is keeping us from our goal. The worksheet asked them to answer basic questions like 1. What is your current goal in life? 2.What is keeping you from that goal? 3. What is an obvious truth about you? 4.What is a talent or gift that you have? 5. What does that talent or gift allow you to do?
I gave them about 15 minutes to fill this out, and I assigned a final draft of the declaration for homework. Today, they came back with their declarations. I offered extra credit to those who wanted to present their declaration in front of the class. Many presented.
There were many great declarations, but I want to mention two of them. One was written by a boy who obviously does not like school. He hardly turns in any work. He’s failing all his classes, but I’ve made promise to myself that this will be his best year ever – even if it kills me. Here is his Personal Declaration of Independence:
Today I declare my independence from not doing my work. It is self-evident that I’m smart enough to do homework. I have been endowed with the gift of a good brain. This gift gives me the ability to do homework, and to do smart things, and to impress my family. In the past, not doing my homework has kept me from reaching my goal of getting better grades, but today I declare my independence.
What’s more amazing is that he presented his declaration in front of the class. It was probably his first time ever.
Another student who presented today that had me shaking my head in amazement was a girl who has a physical disability. Here is her Personal Declaration of Independence:
Today I declare my independence from worrying about my own needs and health. It is self-evident that I’m an inspiration to others. I have been endowed with the gift of making others feel special. This gift gives me the ability to understand and advise kids and to love them. In the past, worrying about my own needs and health has kept me from reaching my goal of helping other handicapped kids, but today I declare my independence!!
These are the days I love being a teacher.
To my former student teacher, Kim, thanks for the inspiration. You’re going to be an amazing teacher.
Today’s Tip for New Teacher – Using Peer Pressure in the Classroom. Use competition between classes to increase your volunteer participation. Today, I had allocated a certain amount of time for presentations. I found, however, that I wasn’t getting enough volunteers to present. I started thinking that I may have too much time left over, and with 8th graders, that is asking for trouble. I began counting out loud how many students had volunteered. I told them that the other class might have more volunteers, but I also told them that it wasn’t a competition. They didn’t believe me. All of a sudden, students began to pressure other students to raise their hand to present. I ended up having too many presenters, and I had to cut one of the activities from the agenda. Sometimes peer pressure can be a teacher’s friend.
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