One example of practicing this presented itself in art class. I had the students work on simple paper and marker ‘mandalas’ after watching a great youtube video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g16B64myG-E&feature=related We watched the video without the music and I read the subtitles. I told the students that this was a silent activity so I was turning the class period into SSD (sustained silent drawing). I explained that we are usually listening and looking at things around us but that great artists have to turn their focus inward, listen, and look at what was inside them, inside their imagination. Since, I had personally tried this exercise and knew that it was harder than it looked, I directed them to do two mandalas each, the first to get use to it and the second to expand their practice. They took it seriously, worked in silence for two 45 minute periods on two consecutive days and produced some beautiful patterns.
As for dealing with academic life, how are my students doing so far? If I look at my students through the Tools of Maturity prism I see my intellectual students, of course, are the most comfortable with the emphasis on academics. My physical students need lots of breaks and time out of their seats in order to survive. My feeling students can handle the academics as long as their feelings are engaged. As for my will students, they get impatient if things are too easy or slow. They thrive on the extra credit activities. I also have to keep in mind that 6th grade and middle school is that transition between an individual's feeling years and the entrance of the will years - they are all headed in that direction.
To keep up with their changing views I read the journals that they have been keeping all quarter and I started to see a pattern to what the students were thinking. In the midst of all this academic activity, I continue to ask them to write about “personal excellence” qualities (a minimum of three) that they want to work on this school year. I have two blocks of students that I work with (not including my art class). It was interesting to see that in my morning class a majority of the students elected to work on “patience” and in my afternoon block most are working on “courage or bravery” as their overall quality. Note to self: I need to incorporate this into future activities. For now, I find it very appropriate to keep going back to this personal excellence theme even while we work in our typical school literature book, an anthology of stories and poems, complete with standardized benchmark tests, two tests per unit. I am able to change the stories I use as long as the students learn all the reading concepts and do well on the computerized benchmark tests. I change the program when I can. For example, while we tackled the last of our fiction/nonfiction unit, one of our key reading concepts was “symbolism”. Instead of using our literature book, I found a great symbolism story in the book, Keepers of the Animals, Native American Stories and Wildlife Activities for Children by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac. The story I picked was about Grandmother Spider who helped the God of the Sky name all the animals in the world. First, we stopped and named as many animals as we could in preparation for our next experience. We read a story about a chief going to look for the animal symbol for his clan. He was intent on tracking a deer so that his clan could become the “deer clan”. However, while looking down at the deer tracks he got caught in a spider web and realized after talking to Grandma Spider that it was the spider symbol that he was meant to find for his clan. One of the great qualities of the spider is patience and his clan could become the “spider clan” and learn patience from their symbol. One of the activities suggested after this story in the book was a visualization for finding one’s own personal animal symbol. Here’s a very brief description: I had the students close their eyes and picture the world as a giant web where they are at the center and all things in creation are connected. They were to ask for help in taking care of this world from their own individual animal symbol, then they were to picture that animal. All the students were able to do this. It came naturally to them. The only problem for a couple of the students was having seen more than one animal. For homework, they had to print out or draw a picture of that animal, write the quality it symbolized, and explain why that animal symbolized that quality. We keep these pictures on our bulletin board to remind us of the qualities that we want to work on in order to help ourselves and the world around us.