How a Bunch of 7th Graders Brightened My Day

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(Picture taken today at our “candy bomber” activity at the school, which was inspired by the famous Gail Halvorson)

It is hardly a secret that the age group I teach is often referred to as “difficult” or “awkward.” Whenever I tell someone that I teach 7th graders, I usually get a reaction like the following:

“Ugh, I’m sorry.”

“Wow, that’s brave of you.”

“Ha ha! I’m sorry!”

“I hated 7th grade.”

Etc. Etc.

However, what many people don’t realize is that 7th grade can be a fascinating age group to teach because their brains are just starting to really develop critical thinking skills, which makes them SO much fun to be with. At the beginning of the year, many of my students still have very childish ways of thinking, but as I teach them critical thinking and reasoning skills, it is pretty amazing to see those lightbulbs go off for the first time.

Remember how I mentioned that I’d been doing a “mini happiness project” with my kids? If you don’t remember (or didn’t know), during our Christmas Carol unit, I made them all set 2-3 goals based on the research that had been done on the “secrets” to happiness. Just so you know, some of the things proven to bring the greatest sense of wellbeing are: getting enough sleep, serving others, strengthening relationships with loved ones, and feeling in control of your time.

Today, on the last day of school before the long holiday, I had my students summarize what they had learned from doing this happiness project. I’m sharing below some of the responses that particularly brightened my day. (Hopefully they bring you a little bit of cheer too!)

*all errors are theirs, not mine 🙂

“The biggest goal that made a difference was spending time with my family because I wouldn’t spend a lot of time with my family before unless I had to. What surprised me about this project was that I didn’t think it would work as well as it did! But it worked better than anything else I had tried. I don’t know what I would’ve done without these goals! I am so happy that I set the goals I did.”

“[From doing this], I seem to have a lot of good days. Most of the time when I’m feeling down, I do my goals, and it makes me feel good again.”

“The project surprised me by how much of a difference it made for me. There was a noticeable difference before I started the project and when I did finish.”

“The [goal] that made the biggest difference to me was the smiling because I used to never smile. Now that I’ve set this goal it now seems like a habbit to me. It also made me feel better when I smiled. The thing that surprised me on this project was that smiling can make you feel happy when you’re sad. On some of the days when I was sad I just smiled and felt better.”

This one came from a kid who put “Bah humbug!” on his card when asked to write down the secret to happiness and who comes from a rougher home life:

“The thing that surprised me is how happy I was when I was done and how awake and refreshed I was. I agree that setting goals and doing them makes me happier. With my experience from it, I find I’m happier than usual.”

“The differences that I noticed about keeping my goals that changed my life is that I feel like a better person because of it. Also because it puts a smile on their face too. I think the smiling to a person every day was the best because I felt that I was being friendly and some people I didn’t know before, I am now friends with.”

“The thing that surprised me about this project is that I felt happier after doing my goals. I felt that I don’t want things because the things I need are right in front of me.”

“The goal that made the biggest difference in my life was practicing the piano for an hour and thirty minutes each day. It made a difference because when I would play my song over and over again, I heard it getting better and better. I felt more accomplished, and everyone at my piano recital thought I did the best.”

“The biggest difference was my brothers also acted different, and were happy when I came out of the black hole that I pretty much live in. Why that made a difference is I got to know my brothers more and they got to know me. My older brother was still in his black hole (as we call our rooms), but he began coming out too, so I was setting an example for my brothers.”

“When I keep my goals I realize that it makes me a lot happier and so is my family and when I started walking my whole family joined me. So not only did it make me happier but it made my family happy too.”

“My biggest goal was to tell my family two great things about them because every time I did, they said that you made my day or they said something else good back to me. I was surprised about how good I felt and how good I made everyone else feel.”

“The biggest difference that made me change is doing exercise. Because when I wasn’t doing exercise I felt lazy, and didn’t want to do anything. Now I do a lot of stuff. Doing exercise every day is fun, and healthy, so it is easy. These things make you happy, and being happy is so cool. Being happy for me it mean a lot. Because when I didn’t do these goals I was always with a serious face.”

And at least HALF of my students wrote a response like the following:

“What surprised me about this project is that I didn’t think it would work. I didn’t think it would make me a happier person, but it DID.”

I love it when I’m right 🙂

Here are a couple things that surprised me:

– I had a few students (only about 10 total out of 120) who didn’t take the project very seriously and set goals like “Play video games for 30 minutes” or “Eat sweets every day.” Because it was their happiness project and not mine, I let them go ahead with their goals. Almost every single one of those students admitted to me in their paper today that they really wished they’d chosen harder goals that were more in line with the research because everyone else seemed so much happier from doing theirs.

-About a third of the students responded that if they were to change anything, they would either have set more challenging goals to begin with or they wished they could keep doing the project and try to add onto their goals or try out the rest of the research. Considering that this group largely seemed to be of the attitude that they wanted to do the least amount of work possible most of the time, this was a big deal for me to hear.

– I thought that the “top” students in my class would be among the only ones to really take this seriously (so would therefore be the only ones really affected by it), but I was SHOCKED at how much some of my struggling students took this to heart. I had some students who have had a history of not doing work in my class or not participating or really struggling write some of the most astounding answers. And it seemed like this happiness project actually made the BIGGEST difference in their lives, rather than in some of my “top” students’ lives.

– I was nervous that the students wouldn’t get that into it, but the fact that I made them track their goals daily and report to their desk partner made most of them want to do them more so they could report they’d actually completed them. Greater Accountability = Greater Goal-Keeping!

– I can unequivocally say that this project—more than anything else I’ve ever done with my students–has easily made the most visible impact in my students’ behavior. Not only did my behavioral issues drastically decrease, but my students as a whole just seemed more cheerful, which made me respond more cheerfully to them, which made all of us grow closer. Thanks to this project, I can finally say I’m starting to genuinely enjoy this group of kids as much as I did last year’s.

And THATS something that’s made ME pretty happy.

I’ll definitely be doing this again next year 🙂

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