Recently, Grade 6 students in Sonia Chintha’s English classes finished their first unit of the year, “Humans of WIS,” and learned what it feels like to publish their own writing and receive comments on it from the greater WIS community.

Modeled after “Humans of New York,” “Humans of WIS” was a nice introduction to the year-long throughline of Grade 6 English: “Who Am I?” Sonia explains, “This entire year is really about answering the questions: ‘What is it that makes me who I am? What are my beliefs? What are my choices? What are my freedoms?’ With Humans of WIS, we wanted them to start looking at where they came from. The unit is centered around the questions: ‘Who am I? How can I show this to the world using a single photograph and a short text?’ We read a bunch of different HONY pieces, and looked at the content of these pieces and what types of stories are being told. I did lessons on different types. There are some where someone shares a statement or belief and that’s it. There are some where they share a whole story. And there are some where it’s more of a dialogue or interview between Brandon (the author) and the subject.” The Grade 6 students had the option to decide which type of story they wanted to tell.

Sonia adds, “I think it's a perfect way for our sixth graders to enter Middle School. It’s a short piece of writing, and it’s a fast, quick assessment for me, too, to see what they know, and what they do not know, in terms of writing. It’s also a nice way for the students to introduce themselves to me, to each other, and to the students in Grades 7 and 8. They’re going to be reading and commenting in the upcoming weeks.”

This was the first year that Sonia taught this unit. She had been working on it for a few years with fellow English teachers Emma Strauss and Marissa McCauley, but they had not found the right time to use it in their classes. This year, Sonia realized, was “the perfect time; it makes absolute sense with everything that’s happening.” She started the unit during distance learning, and the students published their pieces right as hybrid learning began.

Sonia notes that many of the pieces are not as polished as they might have been in a different year, but “I chose to publish them anyway. I think that, because of what we’re going through this year, it’s really important to be okay with a product not being perfect, and accepting that. Do they still accurately represent our times? Yes, they do, and that’s important. One of the main purposes of this unit was for the students just to get the feel of publishing. How does it feel to be published? How does it feel to read your writing online, and have other people read it, and see that you and your story connected with someone else?”

When talking about this unit and the pieces the students wrote, Sonia reflects, “I REALLY enjoyed it every step of the way: reading them, commenting on them, publishing them. They’re not perfect, like I said. But this has also been good practice for me, too. They really pushed me to break away from my own perfectionism and need to be product-centered as a teacher. It pushed me to focus on the process; I know what they got from the process, even though the product doesn’t always represent everything. It was a really fun unit. I can’t wait to tweak it and make it better.”

Please take a look at these Grade 6 Humans of WIS, and feel free to leave a comment on their work!