At the end of the year one of my classrooms put on plays based on familiar stories they had heard all year. They were adorable- the children really got excited about acting out the stories and rarely needed prompts to remember their lines. The students knew the stories so well that during practice the teacher would only need to say "Next we are going to do Caps for Sale. Who wants to be the salesman? Who wants to be a monkey?" She'd chose the parts and then pretty much let the kids free- they'd act out the story without much adult interaction- it was like we were simply giving an audience to their play schemes.
It was pure play of the best kind- when children are acting out what they've learned, using their oral language, problem solving with one another, and interacting with one another appropriately without adult interaction. It reinforced so much learning that went on during the year- sequencing of stories, language development, distinct character traits, elements of story... the list could go on. Watching the initial rehearsals when they were trying to figure out what to do was very powerful.
One of my kiddos suddenly became a shining star during these sessions. We've been extremely worried about this little one since she walked into the room on the first day of school. She is highly dis-regulated, has difficulty staying on task long enough to draw a picture of a person, has difficulty remembering names, faces, and where she is in the building. Having a conversation with her reflects our academic concerns- her difficulty of staying on topic leads her conversations to jump around from subject to subject, frequently giving the impression that she is simply stating sentences out of mid air that do not connect with reality. Needless to say, encouraging her to retell a story from beginning to end is difficult- getting her to sequence even the most basic steps is hard to do. During independent play time she plays alone- rarely interacting with the other children in their play schemes.
Yet the minute her teacher began preparing the plays we met a different child. On stage this little one became a shinning star. She never needed a prompt to tell her what to do next- she knew the exact sequence of the stories- knew what should happen when, and even understood the differences in the characters' moods so that she would change her voice or add little extra lines in to reinforce what was occurring on stage. She was a rock star. She tried every part possible- and rocked every part. She was a brilliant troll under the bridge, but also a perfect Mamma Bear in Goldilocks, and an angry salesman in caps for sale. It didn't matter what the part was- she was on top of it.
Watching her perform in those last weeks gave us a whole different perspective on this little one who struggled so much throughout the year. Her stage performances showed us that she has skills we didn't know she had- and that she has understanding of academic work we didn't know she had. All our regular assignments somehow failed to pull out her knowledge, until now. She needed a different way to interact with the material, and finally, in June, we gave it to her.
Next year she will be in my non-cat class and I cannot wait to put my new knowledge of her to good use. Obviously our long-term goal is for her to be able to retell a story without acting it out, and to answer questions on topic without being involved in a play. But now we have a glimmer of one of the building blocks needed to get her there. She's not as far back as she seemed before, we just need to tailor our assignments and then scaffold them in a way to get her from where she is to grade-level expectations.
I love the moments where we get to see our children in a new light- we realize that what we've seen so far all year isn't always the whole picture, and it's a reminder that as much as we love routines, it's good to change up instruction and activities inside of those routines so that we give our students otherwise of showing who they are and what they know.