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What Matters To Me

School: Duggan Middle School

City/State: Springfield, MA

Grade(s): 6

Format(s): Autobiography

Subject(s): English Language Arts, Visual Arts

Project Overview

6th grade students from Duggan Middle School in Springfield, Massachusetts, created this book of personal essays and self-portraits “on the minds and through the eyes of middle school students.”

In a collaboration between an English and visual arts teacher, this learning expedition encouraged students to think about what was important to them. Students read the book The Skin I’m In and they listened to National Public Radio segments called, “This I Believe” as means for generating interest and excitement about capturing what they believe. Choosing to engage students in this learning expedition was part of an intentional and concerted effort to build a new school culture.

Each student created a two-page entry which includes a self-portrait and a piece about what matters to him or her. The portrait style is not literal – more of an imaginative, expressive portrait using a grid – more of a means for expressing emotions than portraying oneself with accuracy. Shown here are a selection of the pages from this book.

The expedition also included reading poetry, creating art projects about skin color, and investigating brain structure with a brain expert, all of which were efforts to help each student understand her or himself better as a person. 

The school used federal magnet school funds to publish this book. The books were subsequently sold by the school as a means for generating funds for literacy projects.

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Highlights the exploration of a topic that is extremely interesting to middle school students – themselves
  • Provides a means for middle school students to understand themselves and their values more deeply
  • A project in which students can feel proud of who they are as individuals and as a collective group
  • A book with a nice balance of original student artwork and writing – engaging for the viewer
  • The glue-binding adds a professional touch that helps the feeling of importance and quality
  • Some of the artwork and writing are carefully done
  • Highlights a format in which the work of each student can be individually assessed

Common Core State Standards

Standard Long Term Learning Target
  • I can write informative/explanatory texts that convey ideas and concepts using relevant information that is carefully selected and organized.
  • I can produce clear and coherent writing that is appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • I can use correct grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
  • I can use correct capitalization, punctuation, and spelling to send a clear message to my reader.
  • I can maintain consistency in style and tone when writing and speaking.
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