As part of creating a beloved community, students in lower school classes begin the year by creating sets of class agreements and sharing things about themselves with their peers. In the second grade, students participate in an identity project, reflecting on who they are and what is important to them before creating their own self-portraits.
“The first grade curriculum is a lot about identity, so this self-portraits activity is a nice welcome-to-second-grade for students,” said second grade lead teacher Izzy Mayer. “We want them to use what they know about the self and think about how that helps to build a community.”
Associate teacher Paloma Hernandez added, “Before students can respectfully explore and discuss the identities of their classmates, it is important to have a positive sense of who they themselves are, which align with the Teaching for Tolerance Social Justice Standards for Grades K–2.”
Paloma highlighted that this project aligns well with the articulated goals of two standards: “I know and like who I am and can talk about my family and myself, and name some of my group identities” and “I can feel good about myself without being mean or making other people feel bad.”
The class began their conversations about self-portraits by looking at examples by artists Frida Kahlo, Jacob Lawrence, and Yayoi Kusuma, exploring how each artist chose to showcase different things in their art.
Then, sitting among the redwood trees in the lower outdoor classroom, second graders brainstormed key parts of their identity that they’d want others to know about them. These parts included, “Some things you like to do” (answers included "I like to eat popsicles" and "I like to play.") and "Things you like to learn about" (to which students replied, "I like to think about algebra and chemistry" and "I like to learn about marine animals."). These answers helped students decide what they wanted to emphasize in their self-portraits, which they then sketched in graphite.
Students then worked in pairs to provide feedback on the portraits, an important part of the feedback process which they are introduced to in second grade this year.
“Giving and receiving feedback is so useful for students for two key reasons,” Izzy explained. “First, in a population that is gifted, where perfectionism is high, this process gives students a chance to make mistakes in a safe way because everyone has to do multiple drafts. Everyone is vulnerable about showing incomplete work. Second, this process also gives students a chance to see each other's work and be inspired to do even better.”
“By taking time to reflect on what makes them who they are, and then capturing that in a self-portrait,” Paloma said, “students are celebrating themselves and key aspects of their identity, like their unique skin tones, their interests, and places that bring them joy. From positive self-identity, students are then ready for all of the deep community identity work we do later in the year.”
Interdisciplinary learning was also woven in as the final step to complete their self-portraits was building paper frames in which the portraits would go. Students practiced measuring lengths and widths, two-digit adding on number lines, and cutting their frames.
Now completed, the self-portraits will hang on the wall of the classroom for the duration of the school year.