If you watch any of the popular television shows that depict life in public schools, you might get the impression that the hallways are filled with students singing and parading around with clear ideas of who they are. As any teacher knows, most students are far removed from the Glee model of student life and more entrenched in a maelstrom of emotions. Do not think that your young elementary students are immune from the confusion that comes from finding out who they are either.
In fact, according to Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, students become more self-aware and internalize the ideas of purpose and competence from late preschool through elementary school. For teachers, the question then becomes, how can children be encouraged to express who they are and what they believe. While there are no perfect answers for every child, the ideas below can help students express who they are in a variety of ways.
Learning to Be Themselves
Establishing Respect and Tolerance
Before students can feel comfortable expressing who they are in your classroom, there must be an environment of respect and tolerance. It is important to discuss with your students that the respect you expect them to show one another in your classroom also extends to their behavior outside of the class. When there is a safe environment, everyone feels more comfortable being who they are and expressing their ideas. This holds true not only for elementary classrooms, but through high school, college and into the corporate world. Respect and tolerance are key.
Drawing to Express Themselves
Ask any art teacher if there is value in students expressing themselves through drawing or creative art, and the answer is an emphatic yes. Artwork, in whatever medium, is one of the oldest ways that people communicated. While you will want to discourage your students from drawing pictographs on the school walls (unless they are covered in butcher paper for that purpose!), you can encourage them to express themselves through art. For some students, this form of expression will be ideal. They feel confident in their artistic ability and have the desire to express their feelings in ways that others do not. Incorporating this idea into your classroom is not as difficult as it may seem. If you have ever read Kevin Henkes’ book, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, you can relate to the idea of a Lightbulb Lab. It is an area in the classroom where students are given permission to go during their free time to express their ideas creatively. Start a Lightbulb Lab in your classroom today and witness how your artistic students blossom with the availability of an outlet for their creativity.
Writing to Express Themselves
Essays are not usually the way that children, or adults for that matter, feel comfortable expressing themselves. However, poetry and creative writing are often great outlets. Encourage your students to keep daily journals if you do not already. You can start them off with a writing prompt and then allow them to transition into free writing. Journals are also an excellent way to create a dialogue between the teacher or guidance counselor and the student. If your students are not yet able to express themselves through journal writing, allow them to dictate what they would like to write to you. Access-controlled student blogging is also a great way to encourage students to express themselves.
Performance to Express Themselves
Traditionally, performance expression was limited to plays and skits. With the advent of so many different types of accessible technology, students can now create videos or vlogs that express their thoughts and ideas. A vlog is video log that, much like a journal, is an outlet for students to randomly express themselves. Performance is no longer limited to plays and skits, but it can still include those mediums. Singing and musical performance are also options. Encourage your students to sing, dance and play music if that is the way they express themselves best.
Once you have opened the door for students to let the world know who they are and what they believe, something almost magical happens. In an encouraging environment where acceptance is given freely, students will blossom. The most challenging part is not encouraging students to express themselves. The most challenging part is creating an environment, a classroom and a school, where it is safe for students to do so.
How do you encourage your students? Leave a comment and share your ideas!