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The ALA Youth Media Awards are a week away so I could write this post about why I think Watercress by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin will be an award winner. Instead, I am going to write about how Watercress can be used in the classroom to support social emotional learning.

We have all felt ashamed of our thoughts and actions, yet we rarely talk about our mistakes for so many reasons such as low self-esteem, perfectionism, lack of self-awareness and so on. In the classroom, we can add other obstacles to discussing emotions as well. We might feel pressure to meet the standards or be under a time crunch or it could be that we’re just not sure how to start talking about our emotions.

For me, books are one of the best ways to talk about emotions because talking about a character’s emotions is much less threatening than talking about my emotions. Plus, leading with talking about a fictional character’s emotions somehow naturally turns into us talking about our own emotions.

Big Red Lollipop

After reading Watercress and The Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan, I used our grafitti board (our converted COVID screen) and asked kids to write about a time they felt ashamed. The students’ honesty blew me away. They wrote about being ashamed of wrong answers, about their parents’ catching them lying, losing items, not knowing what to do, and animals almost being hurt because of their actions. One student said they couldn’t remember and another student said she remembered feeling ashamed but not a specific time it happened. My students’ frankness made me realize how much my students want to talk about their emotions and how much more I need to provide opportunities for them to do so.

For the remainder of the year, I’m going to put aside ten minutes at the end of each day to close with the “Thorns and Roses” social emotional learning activity. We’ll each identify a highlight of the day (the rose) and two emotional words that describe how we felt during the highlight, and a low point in our day (the thorn) and two emotional words that describe how we felt when we were down. Although we’ll all do the activity each day, 3-4 individual students will have the opportunity to share out each day. I’ll make sure to assign each student a specific day to ensure no one is left out.

With gratitude to Andrea Wang and Jason Chin for helping me do what I did not do on my own.

Happy New Year Everyone!

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