Can Kids Change? Inspiring Students to Embrace Positive Traits with books | Mentoring in the Middle

Can Kids Change? Inspiring Students to Embrace Positive Traits with books

Here are two phrases I don't like:  "It is what it is" and "That's just how I am."  Why don't I like them?  Mostly because they seem like an excuse to not do the work.  "It is what it is" feels like someone is saying, "sucks to be you, now let's talk about me."

And "that's just how I am" feels like the implication is "And I'm not going to do the work to change myself.  Even though changing might be just what I need to do."

Maybe this is a bit harsh, but I feel like people use these as a kind of "Get out of Jail" card for questionable behavior. 

But guess what? That's the way you used to be?  You can change. And maybe we can use books for teaching character traits to help us.

Use characters as role models for behavior?
Can we look at characters in books as models for the kind of behavior we'd like to see in our students?  Yes.  Identities are a mix of our opinions, memories, thoughts, and expectations - ones we hold for ourselves and ones that others hold about us.

Have you or your students ever read a book and you absolutely connected to a character?  Like they understood you - or you marveled at how confidently they reached conclusions, and wished you could be more like that?  

There is a lot of research to show that the more students read - and the greater variety they read - the more empathetic they become.  Who knew that reading about ninjas and refugees could turn us into emotional warriors?!

How to teach character traits

Back in February, I wrote about using books for teaching about character traits. That might be a good place to start.

Use picture books to teach about character traits.  

Or, better yet, use your read-aloud to explore the protagonist's character traits and how they lead the character to the decisions he or she made.  Discuss the character's actions, the consequences of those actions, and how those actions ultimately contributed to the resolution.

Have students reflect in writing about how their own actions can lead to consequences in real life.  They might connect to the character from the book or not.

Explore character traits and actions in small groups
Divide your class into small groups and give them a scenario from the book.  Have them:
  • role-play the scene with a focus on how their actions led to the resolution
  • In their groups, discuss alternative choices the characters could have made. How would those choices have changed the resolution?  
  • Share those ideas as a class.  Let students reflect on their own behaviors and how they make decisions.
Reflective journaling
Independently, let students pick one of the scenarios that resonated with them. Have them write first about the character's actions and the consequences. Then, let them make a Text to Self Connection and reflect on a time when their actions influenced the outcome of a situation.
If you're comfortable, students could discuss those in small groups or with the whole class.  

Reading lets us put ourselves in the character's skin and allows that to shape our actions!
This Character Traits bundle, including videos, text, and a color-by-code review, might be a good place to start!

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