Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Gift of Affirmation

Image Created at Quozio.com
A couple of weeks before Winter Break some of my high school ELLs asked about having a Christmas gift exchange.  This particular bunch is a pretty close-knit group, but they are also culturally heterogeneous and some of them don't celebrate Christmas. Interestingly enough, the most vocal proponent of the gift exchange idea was a non-Christian student who wholeheartedly embraces the festive and gift-giving aspect of Christmas.  While everyone agreed on the exchange, I had some concerns that this may present a burden to some students and simply told the class that I needed to give it some thought.  A few days later, I brought it up again for class discussion and the idea evolved into a class project that positively launched us into our break.

First, I gave them the quote pictured here and asked them to think about good, intangible things. As they brainstormed, words like love, feelings, help, smile, friendliness and life came up. Next, I asked them to write their names on a small sticky note and toss it into a small bucket.  They drew names for the person they were to exchange a gift with.  Finally, I asked them to create a gift that would require neither an expenditure nor a shopping trip.  Although they were free to use the tool of their choice to create their gift, I introduced them to Buncee and all them chose to go with this tool. And so they created online holiday cards containing words of affirmation.

Buncee is an interesting presentation tool that allows users to create anything from digital stories to slide shows to greeting cards. It is cloud-based and projects are shareable.  Students drafted their messages on a Google doc, which was to contain at least five positive attributes of the recipient.  Before creating the digital card, they shared the doc with me in order to have the messages checked for syntax error and content.  A few of my students use a translator and it's important that messages read well in English so they translate well into their native language.  Afterward, students used Buncee's holiday greeting card templates to share the affirming words.  They personalized the cards by adding clipart, animations, photos and more. When finished they emailed them to one another and copied me in.  The activity went so well, I took the idea to my middle schoolers and they also enjoyed it very much.

My high schoolers topped off the celebration with a food party. From homemade dishes to store bought items, each brought something to share with their classmates.  We had so much food that many of my colleagues were able to join in the festivity.  Because my schedule is not as consistent at the middle school, I bought some red velvet cake bits, so the feasting continued.

As expected, it was heartwarming to see students' reactions when they opened up their digital cards and read those edifying messages. However, I believe the most impactful part of this project was in composing those messages.  Although this is a close group, some relationships are tighter than others. For a few of them, it was not easy to compose a list of five good things.  I found it very gratifying to help students see each other in a positive light and discover good things in those whose virtues tend to be rather disguised.  It really brought the group closer together and I believe will help them start 2016 on a favorable note.

My middle schoolers had an alternate schedule on the last day, so they didn't have a chance to open their cards in class.  Most of them don't check their school email when class is not in session and
therefore, I will make it a point to go through these with them during the first week of school.

At the end of the activity, students learned about a new tech tool, they learned about one another and they were affirmed.  It was a wonderful gift exchange although they did not spend a dime. Echoing the words of Art Buchwald, "the best things in life aren't things".

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, let's take the time to give the gift that keeps on giving - the gift of love, kindness, and affirmation - a gift that knows no race, ethnicity or religious affiliation - nor does it need an occasion or reason.  Affirmation is eagerly accepted and appreciated by all people, all year long.

I also encourage you to check out Buncee and let me know what you think.  Please share how your learners have used it, especially if you use it to uplift and affirm one another.

Wishing everyone the happiest of holidays!


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