A Little Sparkle Never Hurt Anyone

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I teach in a 4 by 1 block schedule, which means come Monday I will have a brand new roster of students since an 88 period day equates to teaching a whole year’s curriculum in one semester.  I teach Reading to mostly freshmen and a handful of upperclassmen that need extra help in the area of fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension taken in addition to their required English class.  The first week of fall semester was the first time I’d ever taught a “Reading” class.  Prior I had taught English 7, Composition 8, English 9, English 10, Communications 10, English 11, English 12, and Creative Writing/Newspaper during my first 10 years as a Language Arts teacher.  

What I learned within the first 10 minutes of class was that these kids were going to keep staring at me with their glazed over/dazed expressions if I didn’t pull out my version of the Disney World Castle Fireworks Extravaganza.  A.K.A. I was reminded of the importance of front-loading. I normally do it before a lesson, but the first week I take a portion of each class to simply give the students ideas of what their independent reading books/titles could be.  I book-talked, I held up the concrete evidence that the book existed in my room, etc., etc., but I found what convinces any student to actually even consider reading the text is an artistic or creative audio-visual.  This generation of students love to watch movies, YouTube clips, video games, Vine’s, etc.  There are some great book trailers out there, posted on YouTube or on publishing companies’ websites and I am grateful, whether it’s a pre-recorded book review, a mini-movie or movie preview vibe, or an Edmodo/slideshow-like explanation of the book to music with written words, it’s much more intriguing to my teen audience then listening to their aging teacher’s advice (no matter how with-it I am in terms of pop culture).

Every teacher in every subject matter needs to enthusiastically front-load if they are truly invested in encouraging their students to be excited about the topic being covered in class.  Just because you really love Math, History, Science, etc. doesn’t many there’s a single student in your classroom that feels the same way.  Most of my students find the act of reading to be frustrating so rather than to continue to read/practice the skill, they’ve simply decided it’s the last thing they want to engage in, in their spare time.  Not only do you have to possess life and energy in your voice, but ask yourself, non-verbally do you seem excited about what you’re covering in class?  Are you standing up and walking around the room or sitting in one chair for the whole duration of class?  The visual you provide just from your stage presence alone is huge when initially grabbing their attention.

The line I have to draw though is making sure the technology you use does not replace the instruction/human-to-human contact/relationships.  Front loading shouldn’t just be pushing play.  Most of the “Sparkle” needs to come from you and the content coming out of your mouth.  You’re the foundation/castle, and the audio/visual is the extra little pizzazz even light show (let’s just go with this analogy, shall we?).  Yes, the fireworks spice it up at night when the castle can’t be seen as well in the dark, but during the daytime, when there’s no pyro-mechanics taking place, you’re still respected and acknowledged.  In a phrase, make it as memorable as possible, but keep it real. 

If book trailers don’t work for you, consider using music.  There are a plethora of raps, jingles, and parodies used to explain Math and Science concepts (for example).  There is also plenty of artwork, along with music, that artists have created to illustrate moments in History.  It’s not enough to simply say, “You need to do this to get ready for college.”. “You need to do this to prepare you for next year.”, or “You need to do this to survive in the real-world.”  Don’t get me wrong, those are all valid reasons as to why a student should “do” something, but why will they enjoy it in this moment? Show them. Light the way.

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