Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Student Voice & A Love of Learning

I sent my neighborhood minions out to gather paying customers for our newly practiced theater production. We had worked all morning in the hot summer sun, and now, clothed in the splendor that was my mother's old bridesmaid gowns and cast-off Halloween costumes, we were ready to perform. The lawn chairs were set up, the sidewalk stage waited, our breezeway was our backstage area. 

You could watch the next award-winning Broadway production for a quarter. Another quarter would get you some Country Time Lemonade while you watched. Afterward, we would sign autographs on the red carpet, my mother's Christmas tablecloth that I had stolen from the bottom of the china cabinet.

Looking back, I think I always had a voice. Whether I was writing plays and directing, crafting poems for our small town newspaper, or mouthing off to my mom and then writing furiously in my diary about her unfairness, I had a voice. I have my childhood report cards to prove it... "Tracy needs to curb her talking."


As a teacher, one of the surest way to lead my students to love learning is to honor their voices, their thinking, their opinions, and their stories. When I make their voices the center of the learning opportunity, great things happen. 

Every year in March, my students and I hold an election. We review the major mentor texts that we read over the entire school year. We discuss them. We share our opinions about our favorites and our least favorites.  Then, we vote to elect our Book-of-the-Year for room 13. 

My students create a huge mind map about all ten of our mentor texts. They draw arrows to and from text titles to show connections they find between the texts. By doing this, my kiddos are remembering what we've read. They're reengaging with the books. They sit on the floor, surrounding the butcher paper, discussing characters and themes. They begin to find connections between the texts. This delights me, because many of the connections aren't intentional, and yet they can see common threads.

Afterward I ask students to choose one mentor text that they wanted to nominate for our Book-of-the-Year Award. Surprisingly, every book is chosen by at least one student.  They return to their seats to do a flash write about their choices. Because they are invested in sharing their opinions about something they care about, they write their literary essays with zest. They know they have to sell their book choice in order for it to win. 

We study bias in text and discuss how authors use words in certain ways to convince or rile up their readers around a product or cause. My students use these techniques while writing about their book nominations.

After drafting, revising and editing, they practice their nomination speeches at school and home. Finally the red carpet day has arrived. They come to school dressed in their best red carpet attire. Students who don't want to wear their finery to school have photo booth props that they've made. They use these instead. I lay out the plastic red tablecloth I bought at the local dollar store. Each student holds their nominated book, struts down the carpet and stands in front of a podium to give his or her persuasive speech (literary essay) to the class. Afterward we vote, and the winner is declared. My students LOVE this, even my hard-to-motivate student who struggled to finish any writing assignment the entire year. 

When we honor our students' voices, great things happen...every time.

The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw, and build and play, and dance and live as only you can.
                                            -Neil Gaiman 

If you're interested in learning more about this project, click on the picture. 

Be sure to visit these fabulous educators below! There are a wealth of ideas here that are sure to ignite a love of learning in your kiddos!

Spark a Love of Learning with Games  | The Owl Teacher       

Spark a Love of Social Studies  | Tried and True Teaching Tools     

5 Ways to Ignite a Love of Math Problem Solving | Think Grow Giggle          

Valuing Student Voice to Create a Love of Learning | Wild Child’s Mossy Oak Musings

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