As I note in Exploring Identity and Vulnerability, I changed things up for our introductions during the Morehead Writing Project’s Summer Institute this year. I gave the community a choice for creating an introduction – simply suggesting that they play with the introduction that they thought would be best for their particular teaching context in the coming year or simply a method they wanted to explore. At the time that I created the hyperdoc I used to support this process I fully intended to give my first-year writing students the same choice, but then I changed my mind.
One part of that decision was the result of the direction that I chose for my own introduction. I wanted to be creative and demonstrate who I am both superficially (my love of comics and superheroes) and beneath the surface (my flaws and hangups). As a teacher one of the things that I love about this introduction (the one that I shared with my first-year writing students), is that I make myself vulnerable by sharing pieces of myself – my fears, my worries, my burdens – with my students. Instructors who demand that their students expose themselves in class – their thoughts, their emotions, their failings – must be willing to do the same. I hope that baring a bit of my humanity will help students understand that I am not going to ask more from them than I ask from myself.
Another part of that decision was also inspired by my ever increasing love of hyperdocs (I really need to write a new blog post because my hyperdoc game is much improved). I have always believed in working smarter not harder (all evidence to the contrary) and try to make all my class activities serve double duty (or better). Transforming (translating?) more and more of my class activities into hyperdocs has made me really think long and hard about every activity and assignment so my classes are leaner and more focused. It was only after I crafted my own superhero story that I realized that having my students create their own superhero stories could provide a great jump-start to our later use of comics to have important conversations about life. An assignment that helps build community and supports later classwork? Done!
And so I asked my students to craft their own superhero stories. I shared my thought process and the varying approaches that I considered when crafting my superhero story (ie. exploring my childhood and past) before selecting my current approach (the four areas of my life causing the most stress). I also shared some superhero quizzes that I thought might be helpful to those not as deep into fandom as I am as well as some links to descriptions of the major universes. Then I challenged my students to use superheroes to tell us (the class community) more about themselves. I asked students to consider what they shared with the superhero(s) they chose: strengths and weaknesses, backgrounds, goals and aspirations, or simply role models.
What I got blew my socks off. Every single student stepped up and shared something really interesting and thoughtful. So many students shared details of their lives and opened themselves up to the community. I laughed. I cried. I learned things about superheroes and my students. It was truly an amazing beginning and I am so glad that I embraced superhero stories as a way to build our class community. And when we begin our comic themed work in earnest we have a tremendous resource to return to for inspiration. Now that is a win in my book.
I am sure that my #PLN has more great examples of ice breakers and community building activities that serve dual purposes and would love to share them here! How do you model open heart and open mind for your students?