Wednesday, October 27, 2010

DC Reads Program Snapshot: 4th and 5th Grade

We have four different tutoring programs within DC READS: our traditional one-to-one after-school tutoring for third graders; Saturday tutoring at libraries and community centers; morning tutoring, where we serve as de-facto teachers' assistants in classrooms for all the different elementary school grades; and then our 4th and 5th grade program, which functions as an after-school classroom run by a group of tutors and coordinators and focuses on personal development goals, writing, vocabulary, and other forms of student enrichment. Over the course of this year, we'll be posting a mixture of tutor and coordinator reflections to allow us to convey our experience as educators and mentors, while also filling our readers in on exciting developments within each of our programs.


Coordinator Reflection: Matt Buccelli

This past Thursday in our 4th and 5th grade classroom at Houston Elementary School, we had a "poetry café" to celebrate some of the work our students have been doing and give them a chance to share their creative material. For the previous two weeks, we had been teaching a unit on poetry and its different styles. After going over basic poetry terms like rhyme, couplet, alliteration, stanza, and syllable using the rap song "I Can," by Nas, we spent four classes teaching our kids to write acrostics, haiku, cinquains, and free verse poems. During each class, students had the chance to share their work quietly with a friend or individual teacher, but we intentionally put off having kids share their poems with the class and instead reminded our students during each lesson that if they behaved well and continued to worked hard, our efforts at writing would build up to a class spent sharing our poetry and eating treats. In each class building up to the poetry café, every student in class wrote at least one poem in each style; some who finished early wrote more, while others chose to draw illustrations to go along with their poems. Many of our students had the opportunity to draw illustrations but chose to write more poems instead.

So by the time we had our café last Thursday, each student had plenty of material to work with. We began the class with a 30 minute game of "Jeopardy!" to review the vocab words (one "Word of the Day" each day) that we had been learning, with the winning team getting first dibs on the cookies and brownies we brought as treats. Then we rearranged the room so that the clusters of desks normally scattered across the middle were moved to the walls and we could all make a circle with teachers and students sitting together on the floor. Once the whole class had had a chance to get a plate of cookies and brownies and a drink, one of our teachers introduced each student and allowed them to share their poetry. Each student was instructed to pick one piece of work to share -- once the entire class had gone, students who wished to share another poem were the given the opportunity to do so.

Aside from being lots of fun, I think the poetry café really demonstrates some of the ways that programs like DC Reads can enrich the academic experience of our kids. Our 4th graders have an excellent teacher in Ms. Crump at Houston, but with all the learning standards and academic material to cover during normal school hours, even if writing and poetry are part of the curriculum (as they should be -- and are in Ms. Crump's class), it can be hard for even the most skilled teacher to find time to work in something like the poetry café. While DC Reads, in all of our programs, spends a lot of time working on basic literacy skills and teaching academic material, like our Words of the Day and the poetry terms we introduced, we also have a lot of freedom and leeway to incorporate a celebration like the one we had last Thursday, which was great on so many levels. Not only was it a fun after-school activity; as a class, it also allowed all of us -- teachers and students -- to celebrate the hard work and learning we've already done together in this young year, while further building the relationships, trust, and goodwill between us and our students that will help us set the stage for more learning to take place in the coming weeks and months.

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Happy reading,