Well-thought-out topics and meaningful references open the door to great presentations in the same way that communication leads to great possibilities for connection, discovery, and collaborative learning. This month’s topic of Helping somehow fell quickly into place. The things we’ve mentioned when sharing about our families, friends, books, and travel suddenly started to make even more sense. What’s more, the act of spreading the word about helping at home elicited strong feelings of sympathy and even brought some to tears. For some students these presentations truly pulled on not only their own heartstrings but also those of their parents while for others the experience helped them become more mature and responsible.
What I was aiming for was to prompt students to consider their role in helping and providing support for their family members. As always, with the tremendous aid of parents, the content of the presentations went beyond the specific role of children in helping with the household chores and caring for their younger siblings. It included the crucial role of community helpers and service providers, especially in these difficult times.
Indeed, since our field trip to the nearby mountain and the time we made our own hourglasses, we established a solid practice of morning meditation, followed by acknowledging the help of others (bus drivers, parents, pilots, farmers, and others) and expressing our gratitude and appreciation not only to them but also to Mother Nature. During our morning circle time, everyone has the opportunity to express their gratitude, especially the kids who were facing a problem the day before and were helped by one of their fellows. They are not only reminded of the support they had received but also invited to express their gratitude in writing through a pleasant surprise – ‘Thank you’ note.
As the year advances and we get our heads around progressively more complex topics, in a uniquely different context, the breadth and depth of children’s vocabulary and language skills significantly expanded. We hear recently introduced words describing emotions, such as “Worry” which we earlier came across when a student introduced us to the song “Three Little Things” by Bob Marley. Instead of singing “Don’t worry about a thing cause every little thing gonna be alright” we learned a new song and a day didn’t go by without us singing “You’re doing a good job, a good job. You’re doing a good job. Don’t get too down. The world needs you now. Know that you matter, matter, matter, yeah.”
This time, however, we came to realize that the word is used to convey an alarm. Teachers find themselves confronted with an unprecedented dilemma as to what to do when it’s hard to hear and understand what children wearing masks are saying, especially when it is of paramount importance. Luckily, when it comes to our Show & Tell, there is a safe physical distance between the student standing and presenting at the front and the rest. So, when one of my students stood up and started talking about the new coronavirus infection, I felt the need to make sure her message would be heard and understood. When I look back at this moment, I wish I hadn’t made her feel alarmed by asking her to take off her mask. Children experience the need for reassurance that no-one would compromise their health and safety even for the sake of knowledge and education.
Through our Show & Tell activities we are able to share our yesterdays, our travels to foreign places, our laughter and feelings of wonder. Quite indirectly, through relating our own stories, we come to realize the importance of communication and understanding. A couple of the students talked about their younger siblings and how their behavior – pointing with a finger or pulling their hair out – was disturbing them. When invited to ‘translate’ this behavior, no other but one student was able to interpret the pulling of hair as the sibling’s way of asking her older sister to play. Unfortunately, the kid who knew the answer wasn’t confident enough to speak up and was only overheard by the teacher. This was a great opportunity to emphasize how, unlike babies, kids have the power to communicate and should exercise this power by voicing out their opinion and ideas. With a quick reference to the book Curious by Ian Leslie, I was in a position to explain that before they can speak, kids babble, point their finger, and engage in all sorts of behavior in an attempt to get others to pay attention to them and to answer their questions (indicated by pointing).
It is in the acting out of the story where students can truly put themselves in the shoes of others. In a very distinct and impactful way, two of the presentations allowed most students to comprehend the concept of sympathy. The first presentation entails enacting the role of one of the students in helping his mother arrange the family members’ shoes neatly at the entrance of their home. Not only did we stage the act but we took it to extremes by having 17 rather than 5 pairs of shoes. While the second presentation directly addressed the issue through a reference to the Golden Rule or the principle of treating others the way we want to be treated.
The acting out part is what piques students’ interest in the presentation. And it is exactly what helps learners understand and deal with human-relation problems and affairs. Earlier that day the kid who brought up the topic about the Golden Rule was crying because his friend wasn’t sharing a toy. So, we welcomed this timely opportunity to revisit and reflect on what happened by acting it out.
One genuine invitation in the form of “Who wants to be me?” and one powerful inquiry in the form of “How does it feel to be me?” transforms the world for those involved.
Helping out on the spot
To reinforce the idea of helping each other, when kids needed someone to help them read through the presentation, they had a friend come up and help out.
I can’t even count the times when a student overhears a word or a phrase and says “I said the same thing in my Show & Tell”. It reassures me, as a teacher, that even when children read their part, or memorize it, it is fixed into their memory. Once I was encouraging a student with the words “Do your best!” when another student said “In my Show & Tell I said I will do my best in helping my mom.” Another time, when I was demonstrating the cyclone in a bottle science experiment and complaining that I hadn’t attached the two bottles well since water was leaking out, a student exclaimed “In my presentation about USS Arizona Memorial, I used the same word ‘leaking – oil is still leaking”
If we had never talked about USS Arizona, we would have never been able to make an inference about what had happened in Hiroshima back in the days when remembering a former classmate who recently moved there. If we had never shared about our best friends, we might have never pointed out that some of out ‘new’ belongings were handed down (osagari) to us by these very same kind and caring friends. I can’t help but feel content that I have planned and put together an excellent string of topics and designed sharing activities which lead to meaningful discussions and learning that transforms every one of us.