Thursday, January 21, 2016

Making Lemonade

 In the first two weeks that we've been back to school, I've been open 2 whole days. The other days, the Media Center was either closed completely or up until the last 30 minutes of the day. Frustrating! But more than that, how unfortunate for our children to not have access to the books, computers, etc. Well, you could say they had access to the computers, but it was to test for 90 minutes at a time. Not exactly World Book, BrainPop, Cool Math or PBS Kids. And this was for something called an "Interim Test" for what? Or who? And we're only half through these Interims! When these testing decisions are made, schools are large as ours, with the number and sizes of small groups that are pulled to test (ELL, ESE, etc.) can create a logistics nightmare. But this isn't a testing rant (oh really?) That's not my thing (yet!)
But as they say, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade! If I couldn't get the kids to the Media Center, I'd take the Media Center to them. I was  asked to cover several classes whose teachers missed their planning times, so I wanted to come up with something fun for these over-tested kids when the Media Center was closed. So here's what I did, on my shoestring budget, minimal technology, yet abundance of enthusiasm for some fun activities:
Grades 2 and 3: We feature penguins in the Media Center in January, so I took copies of a reader's theater for "Tacky, the Penguin", some hastily collected props, and led several classes in Drama 101. Most kids love to participate in these activities, and we had lots of fun. Then I led them through a cartooning exercise that started with the letter "P" on the whiteboard, and with the addition of a few strokes, created a penguin on their paper. More learning fun, with opportunities to encourage the creative side, both artistically and dramatically (wait, is that the same thing?), that often gets short-changed.
On to Grade 4. Since this is the time of year that our 4th graders need a shot in the arm for our district Battle of the Books, I used a 25 minute video of book trailers of all the books, which I didn't have time for when we did our kick-off. The students were all given a "Movie Review" sheet in which they marked if they'd read the book, or gave it a "Thumbs Up" or "Thumbs Down" as to whether they wanted to read it. They then kept the papers for future reference. The result? More students at our weekly BOB Lunch Bunch than ever this year!
And finally Grade 5! What book do most of them ask for? Wimpy Kid! So I showed a video of a brief interview with Jeff Kinney explaining his writing process, then went to "Art Hub for Kids" in which a cool dude artist and a cool dude kid create popular characters step by step and side by side. After handing out paper and skinny black markers to those who needed something to write with (everyone), we proceeded to create our own versions of our favorite stick figure. The results were quite varied, but it was another great opportunity for tapping into and encouraging their creative side. Sadly neglected in these days of "Interim Testing".
So I know it wasn't exactly rocket science, but we were able to have a fun learning experience, lemonade, in the midst of the lemons of testing. Another upside was seeing all the students I haven't seen in the Media Center due to their being new, missing books, lack of teacher sending them, or of course, us being closed for testing! A few new relationships were forged as I could reach out to these unreached kids.
So how about you? Do you have some great go-to activities, "emergency plans" or a trunk packed when you have to take your show on the road? I'd love to hear from you about how you make the best of these testing times. I'm not going to let any "Interim Anything" get in the way of maintaining a
media program that is engaging for our students. That's how I'll Stay Grounded!