Break the System, my project to prevent bullying, began as a seven-day experiment with ten of my students. I set out with only a vague plan in mind: students would design a toolkit to prevent bullying, and maybe present it to elementary students. After only one week, that group of students had launched a movement -- complete with a short film, a toolkit of anti-bullying learning materials, and a series of moving presentations.
Teacher: The students decided that they wanted to have this campaign against bullying and they created a logo and a slogan, and the slogan was "Break the System." So their idea was that bullying is this system of bad things that kind of happen between victims and perpetrators, between bullies and the people that they bully. So the idea was, if they could get control of this thing by teaching people to break the system, then things would start to get a little bit better for people. In order to make this belong to the kids, I started off by starting with how they were feeling, and things started coming out, like, "I experienced bullying at this time," or "I saw a kid get bullied and it made me feel like this," or even, "I feel like a really bad person right now, because I've seen what things that I've done could have done to somebody else." I think one of the most important things for making something belong to the kids is letting them talk.
Reflecting on Break the System that following summer, I realized all the learning opportunities that project provided for students. Not only is it deeply engaging (addressing an ever-present dilemma for middle school students), but it also creates a natural context for learning ELA concepts. Students can:
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