This is a story of how my class dealt with the tragic events that have been happening in Japan. Having students in my classroom and school community from Japan, and having lived in Japan myself, it was important to acknowledge what was (and still is) happening in a way that emphasized the gravity of the situation, while allowing their natural exuberance and hope empower them to take action. It meant that many plans and activities had to be shuffled, or set briskly aside for another time. Yet I truly believe that the most important lessons were learned and the students exceeded not only my expectations of what they were capable of, but their own as well.
On the Monday after the earthquake and tsunami, I waited anxiously for my students to come in. I was thinking of two girls in particular....Nao and Jasmin. Were their friends and families okay? Would they even be here today? Would I be able to keep my mind focused if this was happening in Ontario? Probably not. I had only lived in Japan for 2 years but the recent events had shaken me. So, how could I expect them to listen to me babble on about double-digit multiplication? Could anything be more insignificant than multiplication today?
I was still struggling to find meaning in multiplication when my class came in. Well, they actually BURST in. They came at me all at once, talking at the same time, about the same thing. Tsunami! Earthquake! Japan! The class knew, they were up to speed, and they all had something to say about it. Above the fray, I managed to find out the Jasmin and Nao's family in Japan were all present and accounted for. Also, judging by their demeanor, they seemed to be coping well and were just as eager to talk about what had happened. I honestly couldn't keep up with them, I had soon given up on getting them to sit down and I already realized that my first lesson of the day would be loooooong gone....heck, the whole morning was looking like a lost cause at this rate.
I didn't mind so much though...mainly because above the chatter, I was hearing some wonderful things:
"We could make coin boxes.....like for Haiti..."
"...sell flags of Japan...."
"Why don't we have a bake sale?"
" ....I know! A dance!"
"Origami! Like at Jasmin's sleepover..."
"POSTERS! POSTER ALLLLL OVER!!!!!!"
It dawned on me that I had a little group of crusaders on my hands...they had the weekend to process what had happened, had already talked with their parents about it and were now ready to act.
The key was to get them organized or even better, to get them to organize themselves. I asked a few questions, I already gathered that they wanted to raise money but they needed to consolidate their plans:
What activities could we do to raise money?
The class had a catalogue of ideas. I quickly wrote down anything and everything they came up with.
Which of these activities easy and quick to organize?
Students had already decided that they wanted to help Japan RIGHT NOW. They felt a sense of urgency and agreed that immediate action was imperative. So, I stressed to them that elaborate projects that required a lot of rehearsal (such as a concert..which was suggested), although good ideas, may not fit our desire to get something going quickly. This question alone eliminated a lot of ideas!
From here, I decided to add my own two cents and suggest:
Maybe we can do a theme of some kind? I don't know....maybe a Japanese theme?
That further narrowed and refined their brainstormed suggestions, and added a few new ones. For example, origami and ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) popped up. I found out later that this was mainly due to a sleepover that the students had together weeks before, where the Japanese mother had organized these activities for the students to do.
When will the students of the school be available for these activities?
This was an important question. To get the highest level of student involvement, we would need to choose a time when they would all be free. I also wanted them to understand that volunteering and taking action involves not only giving money, but also giving time. This realization caused the students to suggest lunch. In the end, the draft of our fund raising plan looked like this:
I admit this is not pretty, it is raw! We had circled the ideas that we liked best and decided that we just couldn't narrow it down to one thing! Which is why we decided to do the activities over a week during lunch times. I was surprised and impressed at how adept they were at seeing ahead to possible issues and concerns in implementing their plan. I would like to think that this was due to a previous Unit of Inquiry they had completed earlier in the year. It had students running a business, they had decided to sell ice cream at lunch. Erin, one of my students, commented that our fund raising endeavour was similar and "Our class is the best to do this because we know what we're doing!" Comments like that make my day! Not only was she recalling a unit we had completed months ago, she was thinking of how it would apply to our current situation. So, we decided to make this fund raising a "Phoenix Cafe" endeavour since it was the logo of our previous class business. Anyway. further discussion and refinement brought us to that flyer below very quickly:
Before I knew it, our proposal was approved by our principal, this letter was sent out to parents and the following week, we were ready to go! The week was a resounding success, I was incredibly proud of my class and touched by the support from the parent community. Our class raised over $1500!!! Here are a few pictures of our whirlwind week!
After it was all over, I thought "How can I get the class to sum all this up? To reflect on it?" I felt that we had done so much, so fast and felt so many emotions over what we had done, and what was still unfolding in Japan. I decided to keep it simple. I thought of the "How To" poem that I had learned about during a 6-Traits Writing workshop. Sidenote: If you ever get a chance to go to a 6-Traits workshop..GO!!!! Here is the poem as it was given to me:
What I love about How-To poems, is they can be used for so many different things. As in this shark poem, it can be used as a Language Arts/Science integration...or Language Arts/Anything integration! For example, if you look at Natasha's blog here, you will see how she used it to make Promise Poems. These really focus on the writing trait of Word Choice and are a great way to review or introduce the concept of verbs. It is also a great way to challenge students by creating sentences with word order that is out of their usual comfort zone, while making them think of compelling verbs. After all, verbs are the centre of this poem format so they'd better be well chosen!
In my case, I decided to tweak this into a How to Take Action poem. To start off, we brainstormed what we did over the week to raise money for Japan...warning: another hasty, raw flipchart!
We pointed out what the verbs were and reviewed what verbs are. My class had prior knowledge about what a verb was so this part went very smoothly. After that, I introduced the How to Be A Shark poem and had the class see if they could figure out rules to writing this poem. They came to these rules:
#1 The poem doesn't have to rhyme.
#2 The sentences should begin with verbs, most of time.
#3 It's okay to begin with "Never" or "Always"
#3 It's a good idea to highlight the verbs in some way.
#4 The poem should be about 10 sentences long.
Once the conventions of a How-To poem were agreed upon, they set to work! Using the the brainstorm we did already, the students already had a bank of ideas to work from. They still managed to add their own thoughts and I was pleased to see their personal touches shine through. Take a look!
I found it a very interesting task, by asking the students to be concise and restricting the format a bit (as opposed to a straight journal task), they had to choose words that really mattered and resonated with them. I was also pleased to see some PYP Learner Profile and Attitudes creep in. On reflection, I should have reminded the children to look at these to enrich their poems. I bet this poem format would work with the Profile and Attitudes, "How to Be Cooperative" or "How to be a Risk Taker"...see, these poems fit with anything!
I thought this was a great way to cap off a successful week! I am always looking for different ways to reflect and this is now another tool for the reflection toolbox!
Leigh Ann Fitch
Thank you for visiting! I am a Canadian who teaches and lives in Oman. My goal for this blog is to improve my teaching by learning from fellow colleagues all over the world and sharing my reflections!