A new campus-wide group activity was implemented at Oliver Elementary this year as students participate in group-led character studies of different individuals, such as Michael Ohr, Gabby Douglas and Bethany Hamilton. In the activity, held every two weeks and focusing on a select individual, students watch a short video about the individual and then answer three questions that ask why the group is inspired by the individual and if the person reminds them of someone they know. One of the questions specifically focuses on students selecting two character traits out of a list of 16 that defines the individual studied. By doing this, students are allowed to learn about the traits in a different fashion along with traditional face-to-face instruction. While not replacing traditional teaching methods, the studies will help students build on the traditional methods they are being taught in conjunction with the group activity. Oliver Principal Greg London was able to sit down and explain the process behind the new activity, stating how students have been able to grasp the concepts given to them as well as seeing an enjoyment from the students as they learn about each individual. While not a “revolutionary” new way of teaching, London states that the process of teaching students the different character traits in this fashion came about in the spring of last year.
“We have a Positive Behavior Team…four of us…that did some research last spring. We went and looked at Abilene schools. We knew we wanted to do something different. It was a group effort by our teachers,” London said. The group developed the activity and began to look for inspiring individuals that exemplified the 16 character traits chosen. For 40 minutes every two weeks, the students in their homerooms break into four or five groups and learn about the individual and then are allowed to explain to their peers why the group chose the character traits for the individual being studied. Their teachers provide additional support for students if there are any questions, but the discussions are primarily student-led. At the end of the discussion, one member of each group will travel to the cafeteria where they will write the decided-upon traits on a poster that features the studied individual. By allowing students to learn on their own with little teacher involvement, students are able to learn more on their own in the activity. London believes that it will help the process, but it is not a replacement for the good teaching at Oliver from the faculty. London says that students are able to “learn on their own and [the teachers] are there to add questions.” The study is given as it is to grades two through five while Kindergarten and 1st are given a different form of teacher-led instruction.
In addition to the studies, London related how once every six weeks parents are invited to attend a “character celebration” ceremony in the cafeteria where one student from each grade is selected to be the best representation of a studied individual’s character traits, resulting in the first ceremony having 16 recipients of the character awards. According to London, the ceremony almost did not happen.
“That was something we nearly said no to and did a character award for every homeroom, but the kids are learning about these people so much that we decided to go ahead. And so, I think maybe it’s a little more special than being a generic award.” London said. London also emphasized how the awards given were the students that were chosen by their peers based on how well they embraced the character traits expressed by the individual, such as honesty, loyalty, discipline, etc., rather than how well they “fit” the individual.
London hopes to continue the activity in future school years, possibly altering the format to feature the same group breakups and words, but to give the students four traits to study and find an individual that exemplifies those traits. He also stated possibly doing the same activity with less recent individuals, but will allow the activity right now to be relatable to the students. However, no future plan will be decided upon until the end of the year and teachers are allowed to give feedback on the project as a whole. Until then, students will continue to learn these traits in a different manner in cooperation with the traditional interactions with their teachers. No matter how the content is given, however, it can be certain that the students of Oliver Elementary are received a quality education as well as learning positive, inspiring values that will stay with them long after they leave.