This past week allowed me the opportunity to experiment with leading three groups of my students in a Craft Your Credo classroom activity, and I'd like to share that activity with you today. Two of the groups went quite well, and one didn't.
The credo classroom activity that went well
The super short explanation
Here's the credo classroom activity in a few dozen words.
- Students drafted “I believe” statements in response to writing prompts with minimal instruction from me and an encouragement to be creative and true (10 minutes).
- With their rough draft “I believe” statements out, students read selections from this free text set and modified their credos as desired (10 minutes).
- Students crafted “final draft” credos and turned them in (10 minutes).
- I will give credos back to students in one month to facilitate reflection and possible revision.
The more developed explanation
Context: This is the week before first semester exams. My students and I have strong relationships, and our culture is as developed as it's going to be this term. As a result, we are a people who strive to think not just about us today, but about us in twenty years, and we — teacher and students — try to practice the discipline of “doing hard things.”  Toward that end, right now in my 9th grade world history classes we're reading Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. This isn't part of the standard curriculum, but since we completed the regular curriculum with a week and a half to spare, I've sold (most of) them on the notion that reading this novel is a great way for us to set the stage for the first unit of Semester 2 and cultivate the discipline of curiosity. After all, if we can become curious about a book most adults wouldn't care to read (wait — a Nigerian novel!? C'mon now — this is ‘Merica!), we can become curious about anything and thereby cast off the contemporary
mindset mind-shackle of Some Things Are Inherently Boring for Me and Some Are Not and That's Just How I Learn.
Anyway, the point is that this week, each day has kind of gone like this: 40-50 minutes for discussing and reading the novel, and 10-20 minutes for Something Else. Something Else is usually exam review, but the past few days Something Else has been credo crafting.
Day One — the last 10 minutes of Wednesday
All right, folks — thanks for dominating some Thing Fall Apart today. If you haven't yet, write down at least one question that the reading raises for you, and make sure to finish up reading to Chapter 9 before tomorrow's start of class.
As you know, I try to practice what I preach when I tell you to read purposefully and often. I read for fun, sure — right now I'm reading a wicked cool science fiction book by Robert Heinlein — but I also read to learn things. And, interestingly, lately I've come across a concept we're going to talk about today — the concept of “credo” — in multiple places.
A credo is simply a statement of one's beliefs. Credo started as a Latin word meaning “I believe.”
And so without putting anything else into your mind about what a credo is or why I think it matters, I'd simply like to you draft some writing about what you believe. I'll place some writing prompts on the board now, and you can feel free to simply respond to them with “I believe ______” statements, trying to be as specific as you can.
I place the writing prompts (below) on the board. Students write until the bell. I tell them to bring these back tomorrow.
Credo crafting writing prompts — used on Day One
Respond to the following questions with “I believe _____________” statements or something similar. Allow yourself to be creative.
- Which relationships are most important in your life? What is the order of priorities?
- What is the best way to live?
- What are the best kinds of moments in life?
- What's the highest thing a person can achieve in their lifetime?
- What's the point of being alive?
- What are your greatest weaknesses?
- What are your greatest strengths?
- What do you believe about your future?
- What do you believe are the keys to success in life?
- What do you believe that your legacy will be?
Day Two — the last 10 minutes of Thursday
(Remember, our class structure this week revolved around spending the bulk of each lesson reading and discussing Things Fall Apart. It's worth admitting that I didn't make any effort to connect TFA with the credo crafting; this would probably cost me points on a sophisticated teacher evaluation rubric.) 
All right, family and team — nice work today. On your desk, you'll find a little text set I put together — it contains a variety of thought-provoking texts pertinent to the credos we drafted yesterday. You'll find:
- a Google definition and etymology of the word credo;
- the credo of the current pope, created decades before he became the pope;
- the story of the credo of a company whose credo helped them make a right decision that cost them $100 million;
- the credo-esque essay of a woman whose life philosophy is summed up as, “Be cool to the pizza dude.”
What I'd like you to do with our remaining minutes of class is to read at least two of these texts, keeping your rough draft credos out and on your desk. If at any point something that you read gives you an idea for modifying your own credos, act on the compulsion and revise to your heart's content.
The students do this, reading and revising as I walk around and observe. When class is about to end, I tell them that tomorrow we'll create our final drafts.
Day Three — the first 10 minutes of Friday
On Friday, I decided to use the first ten minutes of class instead of the last. Students crafted their final draft credos as our warm-up activity. As they walked in, they saw the following on the board:
Get out your rough draft credo statements; today, I want you to write a final draft on a fresh sheet of paper. Keep in mind that credos, especially in our adolescent years, are often a work in progress. So let go of the pressure and do your best right now to capture what it is you believe about life. I'll give these back to you in a month.
When you're finished, please read Chapter 13 of Things Fall Apart. It's a short chapter, and an important one, plot-wise. Be ready to discuss.
Some students complete the writing task in five minutes, and others take fifteen. The reading assignment at the end of the writing allows kids to take their time and produce their best work.
The credo classroom activity that didn't go well
The super short explanation
- I tried a radically shortened version of the above activity with a group of kids I've only met with three times.
- They were good sports, but their credos were much more superficial because of how rushed the activity was and how new our class culture is.
The more developed explanation
This year, our high school is conducting a long-term flourishing experiment wherein every teacher has a group of students that he or she will shepherd in the form of monthly, 40-minute advisory classes. If all goes according to plan, teachers will keep their groups until they graduate. My hallway has 10th graders, and my advisory class is a mixture of some kids I taught last year and some I'm teaching for the first time. When we met yesterday, it was my fourth time meeting with this group and, as a result, we were still getting to know one another and form a class culture.
Well, I thought, perhaps credos would be a good way to get to know my advisory kiddos and develop our culture.
And so, after completing the counselor-created study skills portion of the lesson (it was great), I tried basically ramming the above mentioned Days One and Three into the final 12 minutes of advisory. Surprise: it didn't work that well. Some students were confused (my explanation was rushed); most kids didn't have enough time (i.e., they did understand the activity, and as a result needed to put a bit of thought into it); and most of the credos were of a markedly different quality than those crafted using the three-day method described above.
The moral of the story: Quality learning experiences should be as quick as they can be, but not quicker.
(To see some sample student credos, see the final page of my free text set.)
A final caveat
Before I let you go, I want to clarify that I am not a moral or philosophical relativist. Some of the things my students write in their credos I find to be not just disagreeable, but even foolish or harmful. It's unfashionable to say so, but I think there are wise, helpful beliefs, and there are short-sighted, goal-hindering ones. With that said, I don't tell my students what to believe and I still think this exercise promotes the long-term flourishing of my students. Every human being operates from a belief system about the world; too few actually know what their belief system is. In prompting my students to reflect, I am hoping to help them clarify their thinking about the things they hold true. Later, I hope they'll reflect on how these beliefs positively or negatively impact their lives.
In other words, I recommend a very light-handed approach here: the purpose isn't to tell our students what to believe, but to allow them to clarify what they already believe and come to their own conclusions henceforth.
A final encouragement
Reading my students' credos is one of the most rewarding teacher things I've done this year. It's rewarding not because I've had any identifiable impact on my students, but rather because my students — from the highest to the lowest — are such special, potential-laden, deep-thinking, faith-filled people. Just like me. Just like you.
Every day, I get to work at bringing more of that potential out — in myself and in them. That — apart from all of the noise these days — is our profession. And it is good.
- That might sound epic, but we're a culture in process, not one of perfection.
- Lynn from California helped me out here in an email exchange after this articles was first published. I'm excited to try this out! “Ask your students to become Okonkwo and write his credo from his point of view. I am guessing this will deepen your discussions about the novel. As a follow-up, when you get further into the book, it would be fascinating to see what credo they would come up with for the missionaries and the district commissioner. Off the top of my head, I think it would also be fascinating to see the credos of his wives and his son Nwoye. Perhaps you could jigsaw these so that not every student in your class wrote every single one but everyone did get a chance to hear other students' takes on what these credos might be.”
Found the post so interesting in two levels–the activity itself but also a glimpse into how you structure your class/structure teaching a longer piece of literature. Would you ever consider doing a blogger post on teaching a longer piece of literature and how it plays out in the your class?
Kristin, thank you for this feedback. I’ve made a note to revisit the “longer piece of literature” idea — it’s not as front-of-mind an issue for me this year since I’m teaching only world history for the first time in my career, but I can still share what I’m thinking and trying.
Dave, your post have been a big inspiration to me, a veteran teacher, and to my son, a pre-service intern! This post is especially good. I plan to have my French students do this – with some adaptations for French! I appreciate your enthusiasm for teaching / ministry! Well done, sir!
Don, thank you so much for the encouraging feedback. It gives me goosebumps to think of your multi-generational education family. May you and your son have a great week.
I have been using NPR’s This I Believe essay assignment to begin the second semester for years. Your first post sharing the Pope’s credo reinvigorated the process for me. It was a great reminder that this is more than a classroom activity; real people in their real lives are guided by belief statements. I have never thought about why it works to introduce this assignment after we have had a semester to establish a classroom culture. I have always considered it a great way to begin a new year, but we need a semester of learning to build trust before sharing such personal writing. Thank you for your reflection!
Yes, Bonnie — I think there’s a lot of wisdom in waiting until the start of semester 2. As is often the case, our “teacher instincts” lead us to good places 🙂
Thanks for your posts! Every time I have a second to visit your blog, you inspire me to keep trying. 🙂
Teresa, that is my job here. 🙂 Thank you!
This was a great one amigo! I forwarded it to my teachers and gave you a shout out on Twitter! Thank you too for the disclaimers and hints and explanations. Those are often what make your posts so relevant and user-friendly. 🙂 Keep it up! Be well! Greetings to Crystal and the girls.
Thank you, my friend! I hope the good people of Turlock are doing well. Very much wish I was heading out there this month as I did a year ago — Crystal does too! 🙂 Brrr — very cold here!
Thank you so much for sharing this lesson. I plan to use it as a spring board for our new 20% time/Enrichment time. Weekly, for the rest of the semester, students (8th graders) will work on “something” during enrichment time. I am all for the time, but I am also about using time well. I really want the time to be used to really ENRICH—so I plan to have students create a Credo…to move us in the right direction. I will let you know how it goes…very excited to try it!
Dave Stuart Jr. (@davestuartjr) says
Sherri, this sounds like a very ideal use for this activity — come back and let us know how it goes!
I did this in a 6th grade classroom. On my final lesson I had each student share his/her most powerful credo. It made the teacher cry. I decided to go back and do a two week unit on personal essays in this teacher’s classroom. Perhaps one will show up on the “This I Believe” website. Thanks for a great activity that can be adapted to many grade levels.
I have worked with 8th graders to develop “I believe” statements related to the books they are reading. I think it is a struggle for them because as you said, it is valuable for us to know and be able to articulate how we feel about the world. I first learned of “I believe” statements as part of a “1-pager activity” at an AVID conference. I appreciate seeing it in a slightly different context, and I enjoyed reading about the process through which you lead your students. I also want to thank and commend you for all the references to class culture. Powerful stuff Dave!
Thank you so much, Andrea 🙂
Check out how you can adapt this lesson to your science class, here: http://writingfix.com/I_Pod_Prompts/This_I_Believe3.htm