Tuesday, June 9, 2015

End of Year Creativity

I left school Monday afternoon feeling energized and excited. As I hauled my teacher bags to my car I caught myself smiling as I thought about the work my students had done that day and wishing we had more than two weeks of school left. Where did this energy come from? I wondered, thinking about all those other afternoons where I felt wiped out on the very same walk.

End of year testing is just about over. The individual reading assessments have been completed and the school year is wrapping up. With a more relaxed air throughout the school my reading groups and I are digging into Readers' Theater with all of our end of year energy. I love it.

I have three plays going on right now, one at a Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) Level 6 (The Three Little Pigs), one at a level 18 (The Ugly Duckling), and one at a level 34 (Robin Hood). Each group has very different students and different reading needs, but every group is dedicated and excited to participate. I'm watching students re-read lines with vengeance, coaching one another on how to make their lines more dramatic. I'm sending kids off with play scripts and learning that they made one another practice in their free time. One boy, who I now think must be destined to be a director, came to the group having already mapped out costume and scene changes to reflect character changes in the story. My 34 group had debates on just how expressive lines should be read depending on the character's feelings within the story. When a squabble came up over who would be the main character the director boy solved it without me having to intervene. He even compromised his own desires to make sure everyone had the right part. They are thinking about how to reflect the character traits in their costumes and ways to show important scenes from the play when our only props will be made with paper. The groups that have been painting scenery have been messy and there are blue and green streaks across the floor of the special education room, but when they were working it was almost silent. My role as teacher has been to stand back and get out of their creative paths.

They are working on all the areas of reading I see a need for them to develop- reading with fluency, noting the difference between vowel sounds in words like 'swam' and 'swim', identifying the setting and characters, analyzing the characters, retelling the story, and discussing the deeper meaning.
A scene from the Ugly Duckling with white swans in the air

It is the end of the school year and the students all have pool-brain. They know there are nine days left and are excited for summer. They know testing is over and are already talking like they have moved on to the  next grade. Yet my reading groups have been going smoother than they have all year. My need for behavior management is down because the students are engaged. They've taken on ownership of their work and are pushing themselves to work harder than I could ever push them.

Why do I wait until the end of the year to do this? I become so focused on getting them to make a year's growth that I take the fun out of reading. I put the responsibility for their reading development on myself and I work harder while they can be begrudgingly along for the ride. Yet when I give them an assignment like a play where they can have more ownership of their own learning they work harder for themselves than they do for me. I'm willing to bet they can still make a year's growth if I let them do more of these activities during the year. In fact, based on what I've seen lately, they may make more than a year's growth if I get out of the way and let them become more excited about their reading. I need to trust them to work hard and to trust myself to be able to keep them on track and find ways to embed the needed skills into the more engaging activities.

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