Giving Students New Identities

Last year I made my goal “to love my students.” I think focus point is probably a better term than goal because it is not really something that you measure or accomplish. This year I will be looping with the same students (along with a few new students to our school). So we are not starting from scratch but already know each other. I think this year will be so powerful because my students already understand the PBL process, my style, and most importantly I already have relationships with all of them.

So my focus for this year comes from Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. Not word for word but based on the ideas in chapter 3 about identity. Gee goes into great detail about the different identities a player takes on in a role playing video game and then compares those identities to learning in any context. So every student who comes into the classroom already has an identity in relationship to school or maybe even a separate one for your class. Students see themselves as successful, bored, a failure, a clown, or able to get by. These identities are based on their past experiences, culture, and beliefs.

by Esellee

I am primarily concerned with struggling students. Gee says, “To repair damaged learners in any domain, there must be some such story (i.e. a level of success to motivate continued effort), though the stories will be as various as the learners.” So basically as a teacher I need to motivate students by helping them create an identity of success in my class. Gee does not see motivation as external such as points or badges in the gamification movement but rather as intrinsic as a student creating an identity of success as a learner. He sees the real motivation in video games as pride in identifying with your character as something that you created.   The trick to students having an identity of success in school is that it works differently for every single student.

Gee goes on to give examples in the science classroom of students seeing themselves as scientists. I got to thinking what identity would I ideally like students to have in my class. The obvious answer is historian. I should want students to think, research, analyze, and write like historians with primary documents and from multiple perspectives. Of course I do want students to learn these skills in the domain of history, but very few of my students will be historians or even work in a historical field. So I don’t think this will be an intrinsic motivation for most of my students.

I have decided that a better identity for most students is an active, engaged citizen of the world. A citizen who cares about people, human rights, justice, and making earth better for all. This is an identity that is appealing to students and is unique because each student can personalize what citizenship means and what issues are most important in their life. With this focus they can then study both history and current events to become a critical thinking citizen of the world.

So my focus for this year is to build upon my existing relationships to push every one of my students to be a critical thinking citizen. I also want to connect with each students passions to motivate them to have an identity of success in my classroom. For some students this will be natural and easy, but for others it will take a consistent effort to grow relationships and re-build negative school identities that they have of themselves.

So just like last year I ask you what are your goals for this year?

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