Hey there, Susie from Anchored in Reading here to share a free resource and to talk about something always on my mind. School drop-out rates are soaring, students are experiencing stress like no other generation, and, some may say, the focus on testing has caused a shift in the focus of education and learning. This first sentence is not meant to depress anyone, but to show that there remains an increasing number of factors to consider when planning for instruction. The expectations of our students continuously changes and this weighs heavily on our learners. I, for one, have one plan of attack for all of this. I believe I have the solution, the magic formula, the answer to our conundrum. You might not believe it, but I’m saying it anyway. Fun. Yes, you heard me loud and clear and I hope you tell on me. Shout it from the rooftops, I'm not trying to ditch rigor for one second, but I want my students to have fun. I want them to enjoy school. I want my students to see the bigger picture beyond testing. They should understand the standards set forth are important to learning, but not life-threatening. I am here to admit that I do take a break from text dependent analysis, close reading, discussing figurative language, and other class work from time to time. My students have fun and they have success. Both can be achieved, really. And, yes, this may even mean ‘letting’ my students participate in a fun Thanksgiving activity!
Another elephant in the classroom I’ll address regards parent communication. I’m here to say that it is okay to get parents involved in projects outside of the classroom, even in middle school! These types of projects do not have to stop in second grade. Believe it or not, there are students still wanting their parents, grandparents, foster parents, older siblings, aunts, uncles, etc. involved in their school work. These fun home-school projects give many students the opportunity to feel successful. A little bit of that goes a long way. When I taught Learning Support I was always so afraid to send any work home with my students. I didn’t know what type of support they were receiving at home and I wasn’t sure if I would stress them out even more by assigning them work that most likely wouldn’t get done. You know what I found out: students will rise to your highest, or lowest, expectation. How dare I make that decision for these students and their families! I assumed I knew everything and actually singled out my students by making this decision for them. As hard as I worked throughout their school day to make sure all accommodations and modifications were in place so they could participate with all peers, I was robbing them of the chance to participate in all school experiences because I thought they couldn’t handle it. It’s embarrassing now, but I was doing what I thought was best at the time. The same goes for middle school students. One cannot assume a sixth grade student does not want to participate in a fun project that is to be completed both in school and at home. To create an effective, cohesive, and enriching school experience, we need to offer a multifaceted approach to learning.
So, how do we do this? How do we support our home-school connection while keeping learning fun (yeah, I used that word again, so what)? Ah, the holidays! This is a time that lends itself to celebrating traditions while working on standards. One way I accomplish this task includes the good old faithful ‘Turkey in Disguise’ project. There are many variations of this, but I encourage my students to make a turkey in disguise outside of the classroom and then we complete a creative writing activity about our turkeys in class. Because there is still a tiny part of me that will always believe there are kiddos who do not have home support, creating a turkey in disguise at home is not a requirement for a grade, but a fun activity I encourage my students to complete. Students complete the writing activity regardless if they actually make a turkey in disguise outside of the classroom. The prompt students respond to involves the adventures of their turkeys and what happens as they are hiding from the dinner table. Oh the creative disguises we see! If there are students who did not create a turkey at home, I tell them to base their writing off of any disguise of their choosing. I encourage them to think of how they would disguise their turkeys. Lastly, I let my students write creatively. To me, this is acceptable because my students feel successful and not stressed out about paragraph structure, mechanics, and length of the assignment (although I secretly keep my fingers crossed that they will apply the writing skills we have been working on!). In the past, I have graded these based on a strict rubric, but I find that is not always necessary. This activity always proves to be an enjoyable way to end the last couple days before Thanksgiving break.
Take this post as validation that it is acceptable to have fun every once in a while. Provide holiday activities, use current songs or social media in your instruction, do whatever it takes to gain the interest of your students. Don't ignore the other 'stuff' we have to do, but keep in mind it is best practice to provide opportunities for every child to feel successful. Even if you do not choose to do this particular project, think of a way to include fun. You know your students best. How and what I teach now that I teach in a rural area differs a bit from when I taught in the inner city, but I always had the same goal. These moments of letting loose will have a stronger impact than your best-planned and most thoroughly taught lesson. These are middle school kiddos; this is what they need.