Recently there has been a lot of public discussion worldwide about the importance of experiencing empathy. English Class fifth graders have been reading the book, Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. Wonder is a book that deals with the subject of bullying on multiple levels. It is also a book where the power of kindness, along with the values of friendship and tolerance, combine to allow readers to develop empathy for the characters in the book.
Before the winter break English Class fifth graders spent two days on the subject of bullying. On the first day pupils generated a list of things a bully might say or do. Unfortunately some of the things listed had been overheard in the classroom in the recent past.
The fifth graders wrote some of these negative bullying comments within the outline of a person. Then the class was instructed to crumple up the paper, stamp on it and get it as dirty as possible without tearing it. (Everyone appeared to enjoy this part.) Their teacher, Mr. Gregg, requested them all to smooth out this same paper again and apologise out loud to the piece of paper for what had been done to it. No matter how hard each pupil tried to smooth the paper out, the wrinkles and dirt still showed. Mr. Gregg pointed out that a real apology is not about saying, ‘I’m sorry’, but it’s more about taking responsibility for what was done or said. It requires showing a willingness to not do or say such things again. The paper was permanently changed/damaged regardless of a verbal apology.
Following that exercise the fifth graders then wrote a poem from the perspective of August or his sister, Via, characters from the book, Wonder. August had experienced bullying at school. For example, the ‘plague game’ was a particularly cruel game that the other kids played on him. The poem was entitled ‘I Am’ and each line of the poem began with two predetermined words: I am, I feel, I try, I see etc…
On the second day the fifth graders carried on a more in-depth discussion of the characteristics of a bully and those of a victim. The class was then assigned to be a bully or a victim randomly, and rewrite the poem from the previous day from a totally different perspective. Below are a sampling of the poems they wrote.