From Make Believe to Rigor: Play Meets Personification

The Power of Objects: Making Deep Connection to Symbols

We want reading to be an experience to be had not a task to be completed.  It is powerful to teach students to step into the character’s shoes, to become totally  immersed into the story. When this works children are transported into the narrative in a palpable way.  We can take this same kind of experience and apply it to informational units of study.  How? We can teach through this idea of becoming a national symbol. Personification offers us a golden opportunity to take very abstract ideas, like the eagle, an emblem  (strength, long life, freedom, soaring, the United States of America)  to a more concrete level, we can connect the eagle to national ideals.  This is a perfect match for children even though it seems lofty but really it’s completely doable and extremely powerful.  

Purposeful Writing: Engaging Craft and Creativity

What did students have to do? If you read our blog on a regular basis you know we are steeped in our World Communities Unit of Study.  Students are immersing themselves in the countries of their choice. As a way to teach others about their countries they had to decide which object best represents their country as way to teach others.  This lesson follows this line of thinking: If I can understand what a bald eagle is I can understand something deeper about America.  It is just like Isabel Beck’s vocabulary research putting a new label on a known concept.  This paired association is powerful because it helps to extend student thinking from more basic to more sophisticated.  It’s not about the  bald eagle it’s really about the analytical work, the connections, the inferences, the evaluations that students have to generate to participate in this lesson.   Here is the break down:

  1. Pair students in partnerships who are working with the same country
  2. Each student selects an emblem or object that is representative of their country
  3. Gather information and personify it; to decide what kind of tone their object would take
  4. Engage in craft writing merging information and tone to write an entertaining piece that would teach other students
  5. Rehearse and practice it to perform
  6. Perform it for each other

Creativity in the Classroom: Playful Performances

It looks like fun but it’s really rigor. This requires a lot of work and critical thinking.  Students are engaged with the work because it’s important to them.  Structuring the work in this way means that students won’t meet the demands of this kind of teaching unless they are really doing the work with a sense of agency:


Process Reflection: Structural Synthesis Through Collaboration

A 21st Century Education has to always hold real relevance for students.  If  our goal is to achieve critical thinking, then we need to create learning opportunities, through choice and meaningful work.  Of course it has to be manageable, the task was the same for the students, pick an object and teach others. The expectation is clear but each students’ process will be unique and honored.  If the work doesn’t make sense to the learner then what’s the point? Let’s get real. With meaningful work comes substantial reflection. This is what we observed, students are learning from each other’s process. This is collaborative, generative learning in action.  Two students (Coffee and Empanada)  wrote their pieces with a humorous tone.  Their object had a playful banter that other students tried out in their writing. This is learning on multiple levels: informational learning, craft moves, the power of writing, lifting their presuppositions of what the finished product could be through reflection.  Students were reading, practicing  foundational skills, writing (mixing modes), speaking, listening all at the same time.  Most importantly what they really were doing was thinking for themselves and experiencing the joys of learning for learning’s sake.   

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