Tuesday, October 07, 2014

It Doesn't Appear To Be Going Away

For the third year running, the children in our 4-5's class have instituted show-and-tell. As in the past, it's a child-initiated, child-lead activity, in a classroom of 20+ kids.

This is not something that I would ever seek to impose on kids. Indeed, when the idea was first floated by my friend Elena three years ago, I balked. I'd heard too many stories from other teachers who had found show-and-tell to be a miserable process involving a series of overly enthusiastic presenters and a couple dozen bored to tears audience members. But Elena was persistent and she rallied her classmates. As she sold it to them, the idea was that anyone could bring anything at any time and "show and tell it to everyone else."

Within a week, the bored audience predictions were coming true, not necessarily because the kids weren't interested in one another's show-and-tell items, but because many of the kids arrived with choreographed performances to go with their items. Even the adults were losing focus by the third such of a dozen, some of which stretched out to five minutes long. I made a minimal effort to keep the peace, however, in the spirit of allowing the natural consequences (boredom) of show-and-tell to emerge. I figured after a couple painful days, we could easily put an end to it. During one particularly unruly session, I said, "I've noticed that most of you aren't even paying attention to show-and-tell," to which the reply was, "There are too many."

I expected the discussion to then lead to a scuttling of the entire project, but the upshot was that the kids instead agreed that show-and-tell would continue, but with people only bringing show-and-tell items on "your parent's work day," reducing the daily number of items down to a maximum of 4-5. This was better, especially once Diego introduced the complaint, "You're losing your audience," which had the effect of speeding things up. We started getting bogged down again, however, when kids began bringing, literally, entire backpacks full of show-and-tell items on their day, with the plan to talk about each and every one of them. Again, instead of ending show-and-tell, the group simply amended their rules to limit each presenter to "one or two" items and, for better or worse, that's how we finished the year.

I've tried to more or less stay out of it, leaving show-and-tell almost entirely up to the kids. I do provide a box by the door each day for collecting show-and-tell items, but expect the kids to remember to bring the box into the classroom, a project that is more often than not handled by a team of at least a half dozen kids. I usually ignore the box until reminded about it by the children. Once reminded, I simply pull items from the box one at a time and hold them up, asking few questions beyond, "What would you like to tell us about this object?" I strive to maintain an attitude of ambivalence about the whole procedure. Show-and-tell continues despite my minimal involvement.

I thought it would die off after that first year, but it came up again the following year with similar results.

And now, in our new year, show-and-tell is back, but this time, so far, it's going differently than in years past. We're still in the stage during which anyone can bring anything at any time. After three weeks, we're enjoying a manageable trickle of 2-5 items a day. The kids are presenting fast, telling us what they brought, perhaps one or two pertinent facts, then sitting down. The result is that in many cases they're actually leaving their audience wanting more, with classmates extending show-and-tell by asking questions or requesting the opportunity to play with, or get a closer look at, items that were too briefly displayed.

As a result they've innovated the concept of the "sharing item." Should the child choose, she can declare her show-and-tell item to be a "sharing item." We've taken to setting aside a table each day (or at least a corner of the room) which we're calling the "sharing item station," where these items are available to one and all at the conclusion of circle time.

I don't know where this is going, of course, but the Woodland Park 4-5's class once again has show-and-tell and it doesn't appear to be going away.

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