Friday, December 20, 2013

Teachers: Create Some Spark Before a Long Break

"Welcome to the Starlucks Cafe! The best cafe in town!" I exclaim to my students as we begin our poetry recitation.

The room was dimly lit with Christmas lights, tablecloths on the desks, lit candles (fake ones from the dollar store), sparkly confetti around the table, plates, napkins, and cups. I walk around to each student filling their cups with warm cocoa and topping it with mounds of whipped cream and chocolate syrup. "Wow! Mrs. Farmer, that looks so professional! I just want to take a picture of it!" says one student with a bright smile on her face. I smile back with delight as I pass the bakery items around for all to enjoy at the Starlucks cafe.

Then, I offer a quick lesson on poetry recitation. We discuss the importance of eye contact, voice, and movement. I allow them to pick from a handful of props, so that they might feel more playful with the poem. I section off a part of the room as the official stage, and then called my first student to the floor.

The students adorned themselves with various props, and recited their poems with great flair. They worked even harder when our Principal came in for a visit. The students showed off their tremendous talents to him by acting out their poems, using different accents for fun, and not using their notes. What a great connection between the principal and the students. That was awesome to watch!

At the end of the day, I felt very content that my students were able to do something fun with poetry, but also learn. Ninety percent of my seventy-six students knew their poems word for word, including title and author. My hope is that will never forget their special poem, and that a lasting memory was created, and that all my students will be pumped about returning back to school in January.

Now, I would like to reflect on a few things that any teacher should keep in mind before delving into a classroom activity like this one:

1. Time, Extra Effort, and Planning are Required: The majority of my students come from low income families in a rural area. There is no local McDonalds or Starbucks. The fact they got cocoa with whipped topping, and chocolate syrup was magical to them. That is one of the main reasons it is so rewarding for me to conduct enriching activities with my students. It's new, different, and exciting for them. However, it does cost money and I don't always feel that I should ask the parents to chip in on the items needed. My advice would be to create a budget, always be on the look out for sale items, shop around, and know that the Dollar Tree has almost everything a teacher needs for a dollar! Also, give jobs to the students. Have them help with decorations around the room. Take 5-7 minutes of class to get them to do odd jobs in preparation for the big event. It gives them ownership of the project, especially middle grades. They want to feel that they are contributing.

2. It's Worth the Time and Effort Required: First, I believe that lessons like the poetry cafe demonstrates to our students that they matter. Anyone can show a Christmas movie and hand out candy, but does that show that their learning is of essential importance? We can make learning fun, and accomplish learning goals before a break. Additionally, I believe that planning these types of lessons teaches my own children how important it is to serve others. I have three children ages ten and under. They willingly help me with my lessons, shop for my students with me, often for two or three hours after school. But, they hardly ever complain. They support me and what I do. I know they will look back at these times, and understand what it means to work hard and serve others. Finally, it gives students a reason to come to school. A wonderful teacher told me yesterday, that two or three students explained to her that they weren't planning on coming to school, even though she was giving a test. They decided to come to school because they wanted to be apart of the poetry cafe! Wow, that was so great to hear, and I told her she should do something cool next time. Wouldn't it be great if teachers all took turns creating magical days in the classroom. Students would never want to stop coming!

So, teachers, sprinkle in some magic on those last days before the break. It will make the time off that much sweeter!