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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Manchester

How Do I Get Through the Three Weeks Before Winter Break? (group fun, not group work)

Updated: Nov 27, 2021

Even when the dark comes

crashing through When you need a

friend to carry you And when you're broken

on the ground You will be found

These words rang out through the auditorium, first with the choir members on the stage, then as the fifth grade leader invited them, each grade stood together to sing these words to each other. There were tears. Good tears. From students, parents, and teachers.

The lyrics come from the lead song from the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen. In the musical, the lead character sings about how his friend was there for him even in his darkest times. In the video that we watched over and over to prep the song, my students saw the students in the video rallying around ones that were hurting. Students talked about how they might feel alone and who is there for them.

As the school community sang together, there was a feeling of unity and belief that these words were true and they would be true for our school.

I loved that moment and I wanted to analyze it so that I could re-create it.

It wasn't about an award-winning lyricist and score. You Will Be Found is a beautifully written song, both lyrically and musically. When our elementary choir performed the song, it was accompanied by a beautiful grand piano and an incredible cellist.

But there was a similar feeling even when the lyrics were less profound and the music more functional.

We're A Special School,

that's what Cassingham is

We all learn and have fun every day

And each girl and boy is

filled with joy

Doing their best every way!

So we give a cheer! '

Cause our friends all are near

And together we all shall grow

Oh, Cassingham, our spirits soar,

We will love you forever more.

This is our school song, sung to the tune of "You're A Grand Ole Flag." We once had a professional songwriting team from Nashville in to work with the students. We played them the school song and their reception was less than enthusiastic. They brought attention to the fact that ending the phrase with "is" is a rather unorthodox lyric writing choice. But our students did not care. This is their song and they are proud of what is represents to them.

The words paint a lovely picture of a place that is fun to be at and where people learn, but the inspiring part is not the lyrics, but the way that generations of students have learned the song, taught it to their brothers and sisters, and enthusiastically sang it together with the rest of the school. One student who had moved to our school just this year commented, my old school did not have a school song. This is really cool.

It's about working together. When the students at my school sing these songs together, there is a feeling of being part of something greater than themselves.

This year instead of singing as a school, we recorded separate sections and then I assembled them together. After we recorded, I played back the recording to the class for some evaluation. The classes always felt best about the performances where they couldn't pick out any one individual singer, but the combined effort sounded great. "We sound just like the real thing," they would say, referencing the professional recordings I had played for them.

Sometimes working together doesn't work so well in schools.

Assessment becomes much more difficult when students are working in groups. I think about how the Beatles songwriting team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney might have faced difficulties if they would have had to be assessed individually on their shared catalog of hits. Even though many of the songs are specifically identified with either writer, the synergy that was the catalyst for the writing that came from one while the other was writing is hard to quantify.

Generally group work tends to get a bad rap, but maybe the problem is the work part and not the group part. Most people like group fun. There are a lot of things that are more fun to do with at least one other person than by yourself and many things where a group effort multiplies the intensity and reward of the activity.

And surprisingly group fun does not have to mean a sacrifice in learning. Many times it is the opposite.

In recent years, reading together as a group has gained traction as a strategy for developing reading fluency and building confidence in struggling readers. This technique is known as choral reading. Perhaps there are educators desiring to implement this strategy thinking to themselves, if only there was a specific genre of works meant for choral reading- highly engaging texts that work well when read together as a group. Yes, the genre is songs. Singing together is not just a fun break, musical standard, or social-emotional activity, but a very easy way to implement a proven and sought-after reading strategy.

While group singing (while reading the text) is always a highly engaging kind of group learning that serves many academic and social-emotional goals, it is just one of many types of group fun that does not diminish the academic function of an activity, but rather heightens it.

In these next three weeks of classes before winter break, there is little shortage of student excitement and desire for socialization. Teachers can capitalize on this without having to short-change academic goals, but rather being creative about how best practices can define lots of group fun to finish out the year.

And two more things...

Please take a second to fill out our survey about feeling like quitting teaching here-

Also, our podcast, A Different EduPodcast will begin streaming with three preview episodes dropping in December- stay tuned!

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