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Sixth Graders Demonstrate Insight in Creative Ways

Maya Nilsen-Baumwollz (left) and Grace Chalker making models.Writing rap songs, assembling playlists, creating poetry, making models … These are some of the ways that students in Lisa Duquette’s sixth grade English Language Arts class are showcasing their insight into books they read as part of a unit on Themes of Identity.
“We examine identity so that students can recognize all the parts of a person, and see that there’s much more to someone than meets the eye,” said Duquette. “The books engender discussion about labeling, stereotyping, and empathy. Hopefully, the students will also learn to value all the aspects of their own identities, as well.”
The students chose from a selection of books that deal with such aspects of identity as neurodiversity, character, ethnicity, and gender. Young adult favorites such as "Save Me a Seat," "From the Desk of Zoe Washington," "Out of My Mind," and "Loser" proved to be compelling reading for the middle school students.
Andrew DiLeo (right) and Dylan Kinkade working on their song lyrics“I really liked the book,” said Layal Ghaddar of “Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree” about a lovable oddball. Layal is now working on creating a playlist of songs that relate to the characters in the book.
Ella Tadmore is writing poems to represent the characters in the book she read, “Stargirl,” which has a message of nonconformity. It features a character she grew to admire. “She didn’t care what people said about her. She was purely herself,” Ella said.
Why poetry? “I like writing poems. There are no limits, no boundaries,” Ella said. “And there’s no one correct way or incorrect way to write poems.”
Andrew DiLeo and Dylan Kinkade paired up to work on their project after reading “Save Me a Seat,” which deals with race. They’re writing songs to illustrate the messages they got from the book. “I think it’s really fun,” said Andrew about the project. And he acknowledged that it required the students to pay close attention when reading. “We had to go back to get more details,” he said.
Before starting on their books, the class brainstormed what “identity” actually meant, and how it might feature in a novel. A class read aloud, "Totally Joe," by James Howe, served as a touchstone text. According to student Scarlet Stephens, the unit has helped her. “You don’t always know what’s going on with someone until you read about different situations,” she said.
(May 1, 2022)