As I finished a session with a class of second-graders today, I asked them to identify their favorite moments from class. Amongst the ‘everything!’ answers and those noting the joy of being unusually physically involved during a lesson, one girl said, ‘Being the Christmas present.’ It’s true. I bestowed upon her the title of Christmas present for a brief moment as the students were forming themselves into groups. I note that, in that brief moment, all eyes were on her and she held the greatest power in the room. Then she made a choice, the session continued and the moment forgotten until she mentioned it again at the session’s conclusion.
The moment came about when I tasked the students with creating groups of their own choice, bound only by the number to be included. The students bustled about, as expected, choosing and re-choosing potential group mates until just the single girl stood alone. I called her over to me, saying, ‘Look what I found. Look what I found! A Christmas Present. Which group would like a present?’ Hands in every group shot up. The girl smiled and chose the group she wanted to join.
Such a small moment, such a simple task, the question might be why put so much energy and focus on it? Why not simply assign her a group and move on? I am the product of last choice sports teams. All throughout high school I suffered the indignity of being last choice when teams were chosen. And generally it was very public, as the team captains slowly chose one team member at a time, until I stood there alone, last, undesirable choice. I was generally told to just toughen up and learn to get over it. And I always wondered why should I have to?
So I have experimented endlessly, and continue to do so, to find as many ways to guide students to create and choose groups that support varied interaction, giving power to the oft powerless and finding ways to turn the dynamics, so that those who might have once stood vulnerable and deflated, suddenly become the most powerful and desired in the room.
More than just momentary power and good feeling, these tiny events contribute to positive, support working relationships in the room. Trying to avoid telling the students how to treat each other, I offer models for how we honor each individual and their potential contributions. In addition to the answer, ‘being the Christmas present,’ I have regularly heard from older students such answers as, ‘I got to meet more people in the class’ and ‘I liked working with the kids in class I never worked with.’
Christmas is a time for good feelings. I keep wondering, why not bring that to class every day?
An ardent teaching artist, Daniel A. Kelin II is Honolulu Theatre for Youth Director of Drama Education and President of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE). He is on the Teaching Artist roster of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and was Director of Theatre Training for both Crossroads Theatre for Youth in American Samoa and a Marshall Islands youth organization. A 2009 Fulbright-Nehru Scholar in India, he has also had fellowships with Montalvo Arts Center, TYA/USA and the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America. Dan is co-authoring The Reflective Teaching Artist: Collected Wisdom from the Drama/Theatre Field for Intellect Books. More at www.DanielAKelin.com