Battling my annual bout of post- holiday blues, I started thinking nostalgically about all the special occasions in my classroom over the years. I contrasted these thoughts with the dark memories of my first few years in the classroom as a young, inexperienced blind teacher when the mere thought of decorating and planning for special occasions was so overwhelming that I often took the course of least resistance and did nothing. As a blind teacher, planning daily lessons can be overwhelming enough without worrying about extras and special events, but if you want to be a good teacher, you owe it to your students to go beyond the ordinary. Here are some suggestions which might help.
When you think of special occasions, the first thing that probably pops into your mind is holidays. If your school allows it, acknowledge and even celebrate holidays in your classroom. With imagination and creativity, holidays can be integrated into the curriculum for almost any subject or age level that you might teach. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday and fortunately, it hasn't been banned from my school as it has from many public schools. Admittedly, celebrating Christmas in the classroom is easy for me as a foreign language teacher in a Christian school. I decorate my classroom with bulletin board displays for Christmas in Mexico, France and Germany and an international Nativity scene with all items labeled in Spanish, French and German. I teach my students about the Christmas customs of various countries and we sing Christmas songs in the languages they are studying. Integrating Christmas into other subjects may not be as easy but it is doable. I have seen examples of how this can be done by observing the other teachers in my school. Every year, our English teacher has the 8th graders study Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Then, she hosts her annual Charles Dickens Dinner in her classroom where the students dress in period costumes and enjoy a typical meal which would have been served during that time in history. Our science teacher takes a very innovative approach to Christmas. During December, she teaches a unit on cells. For a final project, each student must make an "incredible edible cell" out of such things as Christmas candy, nuts, cereal, raisins and food coloring. In music class, our students learn some of the less common Christmas songs and the origins of the more common carols. Even our math teacher spreads holiday cheer by creating story problems with Christmas themes. Social Studies screams out for Christmas. Consider units on the historical aspects of Christmas, teaching geography by tracing the route that Mary and Joseph followed to Bethlehem, or bring economics to life by teaching the principles of merchandising and the impact of the Law of Supply and Demand during the holiday shopping season. The possibilities are endless.
Other holidays can bring curriculum to life in your classroom. Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving, Presidents' Day and Memorial Day activities can enhance the teaching of American History. Even Election Day can help you to teach several subjects. For example, staging a mock election could help your students learn about government and the election process as well as the current issues which are important to candidates and voters. Students can even use their math skills to count popular and electoral votes and use this data to decide the outcome of the election. As you can see, holidays present great teaching opportunities.
What can you do during those boring times during the school year when there are no holidays? Use your imagination and create your own special occasions. For example, to break up that long period between Christmas and Easter, I schedule my annual Midyear Review Super Bowl, complete with teams and a cardboard football field, the week before the real Super Bowl. I stage a similar review baseball game at the end of the school year. Students look forward to both of these events and they are excellent ways to review what they have studied. Other special occasions that you can plan may include field trips, guest speakers, projects, performances or parties.
How can you make the prospect of planning special occasions less overwhelming? First, enlist the aid of others. Many students love to help and can learn by doing so. Parents can be valuable resources, too. Don't be afraid to ask. Other teachers can also come to your aid. One of my colleagues made my cardboard football field for me. Second, browse stores and catalogs for useful items. I bought my tactile baseball field with movable pieces from REB Magnetics. Also, don't forget to browse the Internet, garage sales and even your home for special treasures to use for those special occasions. Finally, don't forget to use your imagination to make your class’s special occasions. The possibilities are endless and you owe it to your students to make every class a special event.
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