By Electric Eggplant (valued at $2.99)
Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are is a graphic novel, written by Annie Fox, which takes a serious look at issues involving children aged between 8-14 years. Book 1, ‘Be Confident in Who You Are’, brings to light our appearance, others’ opinions of us, losing our temper, standing up for ourselves, making assumptions about people, being stressed, and liking ourselves. The scenarios in the book are the kinds of issues I see in school environments every day.
I was recently given the opportunity to use ‘Be Confident in Who You Are’ with some students with special needs aged between 9 and 13. These students had issues that come up almost every day about speaking unkindly to other people, being stressed and losing their temper (this happened on multiple occasions every day), putting themselves down and letting other people walk all over them. This is not uncommon with all children in this age group.
I placed the app up on the interactive whiteboard and it immediately aroused curiosity. This wasn’t the type of novel that they normally read. There weren’t a lot of words and one student said that he liked it but didn’t think he could learn anything with a comic book. How wrong he was! The book is designed so that there is only a limited amount of text, which is brilliant. This provides a framework for students to be able to read the visuals and make inferences.
Each chapter in the book provides a scenario about a particular issue. At the end of each chapter there is a quiz, comment, or solution that provokes deep thinking and challenges the reader to be more proactive and positive in their personal lives. I did not read the book as a whole; I decided to work around each chapter. For example, chapter 1 focuses on appearance and how others might make remarks about it. The characters discussed how they felt and I could see nods of agreement from my students. We discussed how important it was for our health and wellbeing to stay positive and try and be more active and healthy in our everyday lives. We also discussed how we feel when these things happen to us. As a class, we brainstormed for ideas about how to be healthier and happy.
‘Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are’ was a huge success in our classroom. I used it every day in order to address real issues that were happening with my students. Often they found it hard to express themselves out loud. In this context, students were given opportunities to express themselves and their opinions and explain why they felt the way they did. It helped to further develop speaking and listening skills, and empathy.
As part of our assessment for the English curriculum, the students were required to use visuals in order to create their own presentation. ‘Be Confident in Who You Are’ provides a rich source of visual imagery, and without these, the user would have difficulty understanding the text. As a group, students critically analyzed the layout and organization, stance and expression of the characters in the novel. This helped the students to develop their presentations using appropriate visual supports.
While I really like the format of ‘Be Confident in Who You Are’, I would like to see an option for non-readers to hear audio of the text (with different voices for the characters). Some of the students that I worked with, although in the correct age range for the book, had reading levels at grade one and would find it difficult to actually read the words.
‘Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are’ could be used in a Reader’s Theatre activity. Students become excited and enthusiastic about reading when they are presented with the opportunity to participate in Readers Theatre. Students could develop scripts, perform in groups, and practice using their voice to depict characters from the text. Through this activity, students would have the opportunity to develop fluency and further enhance comprehension of what they are reading.
Overall, ‘Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are’ was a great discussion starter and led to further engagement with values, and social and emotional health and wellbeing topics. I believe that this app helps educators and associated professionals to connect with their students in a meaningful and authentic way.