Elementary grade students in my Center School District, situated in Kansas City, Missouri, rarely get a chance to interact with students in the various elementary schools. While our school days are rich with local experiences, I wanted to provide the opportunity for students to come together and learn from one another and our diverse learning communities in a unique way. I also wanted to help students see their peers in a new, appreciative light by focusing on one anothers positive traits and writing about them. I developed the idea of a district writing conference project for students in grades 3-6 with three goals in mind: (1) to bring our ethnically diverse student population together for an all district writing conference, (2) to provide an opportunity for students to analyze the attributes of peers who truly make a positive difference in the classroom or school, and (3) to publish the students work in a district journal. Teachers from each of the four Center District elementary schools, Red Bridge School, Center Elementary, Indian Creek Elementary, and Boone Elementary, volunteered to coordinate implementation of the project in each building.
Our project was based upon the theme Honorable Mention. Rather than forward the traditional definition associated with the term honorable mention, or being almost good enough, in this case it was meant to convey the notion of honoring a classmate who portrays outstanding attributes. Students interests were piqued by the question, Who in your classroom makes a positive difference in the classroom or school? In elementary schools around the district, teachers provide background knowledge for students by leading discussions about what it means to be outstanding, to be creative, to be different, to be positive. Finally, students decided that a person who should be honorably mentioned embodies some or all of the following attributes:
1. makes a positive difference by helping others
2. brings people together
3. follows rules
4. shows caring
5. values differences
6. uses humor to create a sense of community in the classroom
7. shows attitudes of friendship
8. finds ways to help the classroom or school function more smoothly
After much discussion, research, brainstorming, and learning from one another, students were challenged to write an essay about a peer whom they wanted to honor. Their essays were to convince their peers that this classmate was truly worth honorable mention. The writing began.
In addition to reflecting about one another as they wrote, students also began to think about themselves in extraordinarily positive manners. They complimented one another as they learned how to give and receive sincere compliments. Most important, they were particularly mindful of seeing the good in one another. When the essays were finished, they were collected and shared in each individual classroom and school.
Participating students were invited to attend a Saturday writing conference. They attended workshops presented by writers from the community, many of whom are local newspaper authors and who focus on minority issues in our city. The workshops offered students the opportunity to improve their writing skills for various purposes. They learned more about writing news articles, persuasive letters, biographies, and poetry. Appropriate construction of paragraphs, the editing process, and the work of writers were also topics considered by the group of students and adults. Additionally, parents were invited to work together by participating in workshops designed to introduce strategies to support their childrens learning and in adult writing.
After the workshop, student essays were collected for publication. Julie Rehm, a reporter for the Kansas City Star, proofread the essays and school secretaries prepared essays for school publication. A journal cover was created, and essays were published and distributed to elementary students. Eight essays and student photographs were also published in the Kansas City Star (Thursday, April 23, 1998, Neighborhood News, 18-19, 21).
Some of the positive remarks students made about one another are particularly thoughtful and sincere. Some are the kinds of remarks children and adults make to one another every day. Most important, our sensitivities were heightened about why Central District students deserve honorable mention. In our students words, they include being
About the Author
Debbie Lerner is a teacher at Red Bridge School in Kansas City, Missouri. She is a member of the Advisory Board for The American Promise and is a past NCSS Elementary Teacher of the Year.