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  • Tandi Churchill

Performance Celebrations of Learning

I'm not sure who loves performance celebrations of learning more, the students, the parents, or me but one thing's for certain; they are a powerful platform for students to showcase the story of their learning. Last year my 3rd graders demonstrated their appreciation for and depth of understanding about Japanese culture by crafting and performing scenes that reflected important elements of Japanese culture.

They were given the freedom to select one aspect of Japanese culture from our studies to perform for their celebration of learning. Their choices created expert groups consisting of 4-5 students. They collaborated within these groups to draft paragraphs about their aspect of Japanese culture and to create performance pieces that demonstrated their appreciation and understanding of Japanese culture.

An important part of the Expeditionary Learning model is the integration of specials (art, music, P.E, etc.) into the expedition. I was fortunate enough to be able to collaborate with the art teacher, the music teacher, and the lunch director to enrich and enhance the students' celebration of learning. The art teacher helped each of my students create their own unique Koi Kites. The music teacher taught the students a few traditional Japanese songs which they sang at the celebration of learning as they waved their Koi Kites, and the lunch director helped them plan a light Japanese dinner for their guests complete with rice-crispy sushi rolls!

The day of the Celebration of Learning, the students prepped the rise crispy sushi rolls and rehearsed their performance pieces. The evening began with a Japanese dinner for their honored guests in the school cafeteria. The students enjoyed the meal with their friends and family, then served up the delectable rice crispy sushi rolls to their guests for dessert. After this, the students and guests made their way to the auditorium for the performances.

The Geography Expert Group decided they would like to hike to the top of Mt. Fuji for their performance piece. A student from another group narrated their informative paragraph about Mt. Fuji as they acted out hiking to the top during a thunderstorm (complete with simulated lightning and thunder effects). They arrived at the summit just as the sun peaked over the horizon. After descending down the mountain, we simulated a volcanic eruption!

The Japanese Cuisine expert group acted out an informational piece about traditional Japanese cuisine and etiquette. They sat on tatami mats at a low table, described and demonstrated the proper use of chopsticks, and explained how important is was to finish every last grain of rice out of respect to the farmer.

The Traditional Japanese Clothing Expert Group wrote and performed an informational piece about the importance and rituals surrounding traditional Japanese clothing. They dressed one of their group members in a kimono, obi sash, tabi socks, and geta shoes following the customary order of dressing.

The Martial Arts Expert Group planned a routine demonstrating some basic warm up and self-defense martial arts techniques. The sensei kept the group in sync by counting to ten in Japanese. Helping 16 third grade boys plan and carry out a martial arts routine was no easy task but they sure pulled it off that evening!

The girls arranged and performed a parasol dance for the guests. They studied many authentic parasol dances to come up with their own unique routine. They stayed in recess after recess to get it just right and their hard worked payed off. It was so fun to watch!

The Japanese Celebrations Expert Group wrote and performed an Obon Festival dance complete with a Taiko stage drummer. Their routine was quite involved and required great discipline to carry out. The students rehearsed the routine out on the playground day after day in order to master the routine.

The Performing Arts Expert Group wrote and performed an informational piece about Noh Theater. Each member of the group created a special Noh Theater mask and performed their own brief routine.

The second to last scene of the performance simulated the Toro nagashi ceremony. We dimmed all the lights in the auditorium and a group of students carried out lanterns and set them on the edge of the stage. They slowly pulled the lanterns across the stage in the dark simulating the floating lanterns the Japanese people send out along the river to guide the spirits of their ancestors back home. This scene was a very powerful moment of the evening performance.

To wrap it up, all of the students came up on stage and performed their Koi Nobori song as they waved the koi kites they created in art class. All of their hard work really paid off and made it a night to remember for both the students and their guests. I love performance Celebrations of Learning because they allow the students to assume the role of the people they are studying and make lasting connections to the learning. I've engaged my students in performances to showcase their knowledge since my 2nd year of teaching and now have middle school students come up to me and express how fondly they look back on those memories.

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