Many of our adolescent students are searching for an identity; students in middle school start forming groups comprised of people with similar tastes, appearances, interests, and ideas. The action of students searching for their self will ultimately affect their classroom behavior, attention, and willingness to complete tasks. Some teachers and schools may stifle the natural occurence of searching for an identity, but I suggest social studies teachers embrace it and give students time to explore their strengths, ideas, and interests.
Students better understanding themselves will help in the social studies classroom because they will have a greater grasp of their opinions to issues which are bound to come up in class. Social studies teachers should welcome this and push students to record their findings as they complete activities to help them find out who they are.
During the first weeks of school, one of my favorite activities is the 16 Personalities Online Test. Students take a questionnaire that gives them their Myer-Briggs personality. The website has many great resources that come with the personality, such as strengths, weaknesses, habits, and fictional and real life examples of the habits. The website also contains relationship advice, some of the information can be mature, but overall the information is beneficial in helping students discover who they are.
It is really fun to show students what type of personality you are; I am a protagonist.
In class students take the Myers-Briggs result one step further and select a historical figure from the Identity Locker Plaques. Each personality type has a few figures to choose from; students choose and then place the plaque on their locker for all to see. I believe students should have the results of their work displayed as often as possible. Students take pride in their personality traits and the historical figures that correlate to those personalities, therefore they should be allowed to display them.
Along with the locker plaques, students can spend part of a class recording their findings about themselves into a journal or adding reflections to a portfolio. This portfolio can contain all of a students reflections over the beginning weeks and will help them make decisions on future projects and assignments. Even better, work with other teachers to increase the amount of reflections that go into the portfolio. For example, educators of the same students can spend the first weeks doing activities that will contribute to students’ identity.
Another personality discovering activity can be done through Xello. This online platform looks similar to a lot of social media and allows students to learn more about their personalities, learning types, and career potentials. Students can reflect on their results and add to their portfolio. Students could use something as simple as a Character Log and add to it each time they reflect, or they could create separate reflections.
Connection to Modern Social Issues
Students should be given time to reflect on the meaning of the activities’ results. This can be paired with social studies assignments, like the Issues with The World Discussion, or a Civics Interest Survey. Surveys are easy to make using a Google Form; a teacher can create questions based on topics they think are relevant to the students, for example, see List of Topics and Primary Sources for 2019-2020 School Year Students will be able to see the results of the Google Form while remaining anonymous. If time allows, have students create pie charts to show the entire school what the class thinks about certain issues.
Students should be given the time to understand themselves, and have their ideas expressed. Students could make pie charts and show the entire school, and/or they can make their own questions about issues and topics that concern them and have students answer their questions. Allowing students to survey themselves can be taken a step further, and the entire school or district could be asked for survey results. One year that I taught 8th grade U.S. History, 400 students were surveyed using student generated questions. Many of the questions focused on complex topics, such as arming teachers during school hours, the equality of sexes in work, and Native American racial identity, while others were more light hearted, like should the president of the United States be allowed to have a pet. Students came up with the questions they wanted answers to, and they were given them.
All of the activities and ideas work best when students are being prepared for something meaningful, something like National History Day (NHD) or another type of Project Based Learning (PBL). Students work best when they know how their effort is going to benefit them in the immediate future. This can be done by allowing them to use their reflections to select how they will present information for their project. For example, teachers can give students the NHD Categories Lecture and help them figure out which type of big project they should do; NHD has project categories in documentaries, essays, exhibits, performances, and websites.
Regardless of what big plan the teacher has, ensure students see why discovering themselves will help them succeed in a social studies classroom. If you would like to see how I map these lessons and others, feel free to look at the Research Part I: How to “Do History”; Finding Student Strengths, Interests, and Desires; Understanding Historical Themes and Concepts. This curriculum map covers my first weeks and sets the stage for the big National History Day project and skill based learning that I teach.