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I Can Places

By Chick Moorman

A long thin strip of paper stretches out for five feet along a portion of a classroom wall. Sally's name is on it with numbers written in order from zero to 49. Another thin strip is taped directly below the first and contains William's name. His numbers go from zero to 13. Other strips of paper fill the wall with names and numbers. Each is a different length. The caption on the top of all this reads, "I CAN WRITE MY NUMBERS."

A round table sits in them middle of the room. Two large pieces of cardboard, bonded together with masking tape, stand upright forming the display areas that sit on the table. File cards, special writing pens, and thumb tacks occupy containers that are placed on the table in positions that communicate easy access.

Two headings highlight the cardboard. They divide the message area in half and read, "I CAN," and "I'D LIKE TO."

Students use the materials to make written statements concerning their own abilities and post them under one heading or the other. A statement can be moved, removed, or modified as appropriate. No limit.

Missy Sarifin wears the cards on a clip on her belt. They each contain a word. Missy reads them to people who in turn sign the back of the last card. Missy's belt loop now holds the signatures of four teachers, a custodian, two cooks, one bus driver, two parents, one grandparent, a principal, and thirteen kids.

Children who use the places listed above have no special name for them. Neither do the teachers whose efforts produced them. Yet, the beauty of their existence and the commonality of their purpose demand an appropriate label. I call them I CAN PLACES.

I CAN PLACES are areas within a classroom where children can celebrate their strengths. They are places where kids put the things that they CAN DO on display. They give visibility to self worth.

Too often we point out to kids the things that they can't do. In our efforts to help them grow, we eagerly search out errors and mistakes, revealing skills that are yet unlearned, and areas that need improvement. And, while kids probably catch our excitement concerning their potential, another message comes through, "There are a lot of things I CAN'T DO."

I CAN PLACES help us to show kids the things that they CAN DO. They are positive, evolving areas that showcase success and diversity. Their existence alone communicates to children our belief in their uniqueness as individuals and their worth as people.

My feeling is that we need to plaster classrooms with areas that shout, "I CAN!" Here are some possible ways to begin.

  • Create a special place in your classroom library for the books that children or groups of children write. Hang a sign over it that reads, "I CAN WRITE MY OWN BOOKS!"
  • Develop a Proud Board. Ask students to add things to it from time to time. Share some of yourself there too. Keep it changing. Perhaps the class will wish to set limits in terms of time or numbers of things posted.
  • Create an I CAN CAN. A Pringle Potato Chip can is filled with statements. Children select one and write a response.
    • Things I can do on the playground . . .
    • Things I can do at home . . .
    • One great thing I can do with my mind . . .
    • One great thing I can do with my body . . .
    • Things I can do now, that I couldn't a year ago . . .
    • One way I can really use my hands is to . . .
    • etc.
  • Develop a Proud Chain. Students write statements about things they are proud of on a strip of paper. The first one is pasted together to form a circle and is hung from the ceiling. Links to the chain are added as children and teachers think of new things they're proud of.
  • Begin I CAN Journals. Have students develop a folder or booklet (some permanent record) of things they CAN DO. Encourage children to share entries during sharing time. Share some of yours.