(After "Meet the Teacher" night tomorrow, there will be names written on the puzzle pieces, with each student represented.)
Emphasizng the concept of "complementing" each other is important in elementary classrooms. This example of tessellation shows where one piece extends out, the other puzzle piece yields. In a colorful, construction paper way, each class member's strength/gift fits in with the next person's.
For example, last year we had a classroom court. Because we had quarterly parties to celebrate good behavior, and because the students are the ones who have to tolerate silliness and disruptions from their peers, we spent several sessions going through the judicial process. The students were allowed to "accuse" peers who they viewed as problematic as well as give their rationale why these students were obstacles to their learning (this was done on paper, and was only seen by the teacher). I tallied the names that kept coming up, and if there were more than five notations by their name, they were going to need a lawyer...
Next the class privately nominated judges. The three (or five) students who received the most votes---assuming they were responsible, clear-headed students---were now the judges. The other students were potential defense lawyers, and were chosen by the "accused" to defend them.
During another session, after consulting with their "client," each "attorney" would make a statement in front of the judges, telling why they should allow the student to participate in the celebration. The judicial panel asked questions of the lawyer, the "accused"student made a final statement, and the judges deliberated. They either decided to remove the student from the entire celebration, from part of the celebration, or they determined that the student did not deserve to lose any of the celebration. (I was the Supreme Court, and could have overturned their decision, but never had to...)
The interesting thing was this: the students were cognizant of contributing factors, and took those into account. For example, they considered that a peer had anger issues, and were lenient when they saw this student put forth real effort to control their temper. Some of the judges knew what their peer's family life was like, and factored that in during their decision-making. They seemed to view the transgressions more serious when students were accused of preying on weaker, meeker students.
I suppose this long account, in my mind, illustrates one way that my class works together as one cohesive unit. Things are not always smooth. We have disagreements and difficulties. However, when one student is a problem, it's a problem for the whole group to solve (through short daily class meetings). On an everyday basis, we see that each of us is different, each of us brings something different to the table as far as our talents and strengths. Some students come from single-parent families and, being the oldest child, take on a great deal of responsibility as far as chores. Instead of looking at their situation and seeing a deficiency (limited parental involvement when it comes to homework), appreciate the student's organizational skillsand their level of responsibility.
On Thursday the students return. I am excited. I am eager to unwrap the gifts my students bring to room 12...