Hello, Families and Students!
As we enter into the holiday season, it’s important for us to reflect on our community here at East Side and inside our ELA classrooms. Holidays can be fun and festive, but for many the holidays are stressful and distracting. This can be true not only personally, but academically. It’s important for us all to work together within our community to keep students on track during this time. We must hone in on our shared values of respect and compassion when some days might simply feel hard.
Our shared values were explicitly mapped out during a conversation about safe space in our reading community. This was part of the preparation we did for Totally Joe, our first whole class novel. Totally Joe is the second story in The Misfits series by James Howe. It’s the story of a boy named Joe who while learning who he is, has to navigate how he fits into his middle school community and the larger world. Since The Misfits (told from Bobby’s perspective) was required reading over the summer, most sixth graders know Joe already but hearing his perspective makes this a unique experience for our community as his external and internal conflicts are different from Bobby’s. Joe’s conflict involve more sophisticated topics and some topics that might feel personal for some of our sixth graders as Joe explores issues of gender identity, sexual orientation and homophobia. Though the book is about so much more, it’s for these reasons that we need to secure a safe space to discuss these issues.
The “Safe Space Rules” are as follows:
Students have discussed these rules at length and created these together as a reading community. We taught students that this safe space is necessary in order to protect ourselves as individuals and the characters in Totally Joe to facilitate honest discussions and ideas that might come up from naturally inquiring minds.
On Wednesday, we will be viewing Wonder based on RJ Palacio’s novel about Auggie, a boy who is navigating a new school after being home-schooled because he was born with a facial difference. The reading units in sixth grade ELA are tied together through themes of difference, self-acceptance, and identity. Students began this work in the summer by reading Wonder by RJ Palacio and again with Totally Joe. Both books front-loaded societal issues and conflict in literature that we continue to build on. We are hoping seeing the film adaptation of Wonder will give students a lot to talk about both in terms of connecting our class text and the way a novel is adapted for film. In Wonder, a large focus is on RAKs (Random Acts of Kindness) and deeply thinking about our actions and how we accept others into our communities. This makes our community and safe space discussions in ELA even more significant.
We hope that students share some big takeaways from our conversations with you at home and that the lessons of emotional safety, kindness and compassion that are being taught through Wonder and Totally Joe can be practiced by each young person as we move into the holiday season and beyond.
As always, feel free to reach out anytime.
Erica, Sherry, & Dakota