December has a history of being a month full of frantic activity, especially in the classroom. The usual December holiday stress is compounded by the writing up of report cards and trying to keep students’ attention while competing with the visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. (On second thought, today’s kids probably don’t know much about sugar plums. It’s more likely their visions are those of new video games.) Anyway, December in the classroom is not the fa-la-la time it is made out to be. The mood of the December classroom is one of excess energy and anticipation for the approaching winter break.
Today was the perfect example of what December offers. I was trying to wrap up reading and writing data for fifty report cards, one last literature post-test needed to be completed, and I could tell by the noise level of the students as they walked through the door, it was going to be a long day. As the students entered the classroom, I put on my best smile and silently recited my December self-talk. “I think I can – I think I can – I think I can. I know I can – I know I can.”
Once students were settled in, we began our morning pages. Suddenly the classroom was eerily silent. Blank faces stared back at me in response to my questions. Question after question remained unanswered. At best, I received a shrug of shoulders. It was as if an epidemic of amnesia had besieged my cherubs.
“Ok…how about an antonym?
I received more blank stares. I sighed, and then I noticed a child raising her hand.
“Finally,” I thought.
“Yes?” I asked in hopeful anticipation.
“When is snack time?”
“I think I can- I think I can- I think I can…”
The morning crawled on and it was finally time for the post-assessment. I had barely finished giving directions when a student placed his paper in the finished work basket. With no hesitation, he walked over to the reading nook and plopped into the recliner. Within a couple of minutes, two more students dropped their papers into the basket. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for what I would find on their assessments. I scanned their papers and groaned. The December crazies had begun. The three early birds had dared turn their papers in with bold X’s across the questions. One student had even had the gall to write me a note explaining he just couldn’t remember anything. Amnesia had struck again!
I summoned the culprits up to my desk, handed the assessments back to them, and reminded them about working with a positive mind set. (I’m not so sure I wasn’t the one who needed the reminder.)
One by one, students turned in their assessments and went off to work on other tasks. As I looked over student work, I saw more examples of memory loss. I once again recited my December mantra. I assured myself their memories would come back…eventually. And then, as I looked up from sorting papers, I saw something that gave me hope: a December miracle you might say.
There in the back of the room were three students, who even with interventions in place, continued to hand in work barely legible due to so many spelling and convention errors. But there they were… the three of them huddled in front of the sign language poster I had put up during our study of Helen Keller. There they sat diligently practicing their spelling words. I hadn’t suggested using sign language to practice spelling words, nor had any other student in the class attempted the task. On their own, they had taken their spelling words and moved to the back of the room to practice. Unknowingly, they had found a very brain friendly approach for practicing spelling. It was an intervention that provided learning with the use of more senses and movement than anything I had provided.
The three students didn’t know it, but in the middle of a stressful day they had provided me with a priceless gift. They had given me a reminder about the joy of learning. Watching students make connections and applying their learning in their own way is one of the most rewarding things about teaching. While I watched the students giggle and tutor each other, I was also reminded of something else. I was reminded that report card data and post-assessments aren’t as important as I allow them to be, but what those three students were doing was very important. They were taking ownership of their learning. That is a gift they gave themselves; one that will last a lifetime. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, even in a classroom during the crazy month of December.