Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Happiness Is the Last Day of School

Have you ever noticed how the school year seems to accelerate? I always teach things a bit slowly at the beginning, making sure that the students learn all the routines, rules, and procedures. Once I'm comfortable with their progress, we speed things up a bit, adding more content and more lessons to each day. By February, we're clipping along at an impressive speed, and the students are making large amounts of observable progress. Somehow, that acceleration doesn't just continue, it increases. And in May and June... egads! I'm practically panting, trying to get it all done and even squeeze in a few extras! And then all of a sudden it's the last day of school.

This year was no different! My sweeties made mounds of progress, and I kept them reading and writing until the very last minute of school on the last day!

On the last day of school, there were several school-wide activities that took up the bulk of the day. Fun things, but I always want to slow down that last day... savor the last hours with the class I've come to love. All I was able to protect was the last half hour. During that time, we read poetry.

At the beginning of the year, I requested that each child bring a binder to school. The binder became a poetry book, and each week, we added poems. I gathered poems from a variety of sources: favorite books, traditional songs, classic poems, and I made up a few of my own. Some of the poems were unbelievably silly, some were short, and some were classics that children as young as five and six years old wouldn't normally be reading.

Each Friday throughout the year, I provided a few copied pages with poems on them. Sometimes the pages had just one poem, and other times I shrunk the font and included a few poems. Students used their highlighters and looked for both words they knew and words that were unfamiliar. They shared with their table groups and then we discussed together. After this vocabulary mini-lesson, students brought their poetry books and I got mine, and we sat together on the floor. First we read the poems that were new that week, and then I always asked if anyone had an old favorite they'd like to read.  And the hands shot up. They all had favorite poems! My students loved poetry time! In fact, I've been doing something similar since my very first year of teaching and it's always a favorite time of the week.

So poetry is fun. But it's not just fun. My students learn about rhyme, rhythm, repetition, alliteration, figurative language, idioms, and tons of new vocabulary. My emerging readers gain experience with print, learn to track and look for words on a page, and they have the support of their classmates when we read together. Our poetry time is always one of the most valuable thirty minutes of the week.

And so, on the last day of school, during the last thirty minutes, we read poetry. It was peaceful and happy, and students were engaged in a worthwhile academic activity until the last bell of the school year rang. They were adorable, chanting and singing together for the last time. And then we said goodbye, and my students walked out for the last time, poetry books in tow.

Happy Summer, Teacher Friends!


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