Recently at Sandia Elementary, Josie Paquette’s second-graders traveled around the world on their International Day and learned all sorts of things about different cultures, as well as about their own personal histories.
International Day was an extension of a lesson from “Imagine It!” (our elementary language arts curriculum). After reading “Jalapeño Bagels,” a story in which a young boy experiences an International Day, Paquette’s students were so taken with the story there was simply no other option but to hold an International Day in their school.
Students chose the cultures they wanted to learn about: Germany, Japan, Italy, Mexico, Africa, Asia, Hawaii and others. To learn about the culture, a number of activities were called into play: Researching, writing papers — yes, these second-graders are remarkable writers — and assembling their presentations. The presentations were resourceful and included not only a presentation of the culture, but also other creative elements, such as songs, dances, jewelry-making, even translations of phrases from the language of the region chosen.
When International Day arrived, Paquette’s classroom was colorfully decorated, including hanging Asian lanterns and the teacher dressed as a Cherokee. There was food from all the different cultures: Orange chicken, enchiladas, coconut marshmallows, cavatelli, spaghetti, cheese noodles, bagels, beef and fried rice, pigs-in-a-blanket and German cookies.
When the teacher asked which students wanted to share their presentation with me, all were eager to do so. Alyana Cordova stood and read a well written paper about the Volcano Rabbit in Hawaii; Jasmine Diaz flawlessly read her paper.
When I complimented the students on the quality and teased them, saying truthfully that I did not believe they were in second grade, they had to be sixth-graders, the teacher had them explain how they learned to write paragraphs.
Students were eager to share: “You start with a topic sentence; then the body; then the conclusion.”
Jadyn Rainey enthusiastically added: “You also have to indent; and don’t forget your periods.”
Kilonna Burdell presented Italy and shared an old photo and the information that her great-great-grandfather had arrived on Ellis Island on the Mauretania from Italy.
The teacher mentioned that they had just completed persuasive paragraphs and would soon be working on expository paragraph. When I looked surprised and asked, “What in the world is an expository paragraph?” Many hands shot up, and Jaden Martinez offered, “It’s a paragraph to inform people about something!”
I was bowled over by these amazing students and offered some crazy remark, and the teacher said, “Class, what is that?” Ashton Bell immediately responded, “An idiom.”
Every day I try to learn something new, but didn’t expect to learn a number of new things from a second-grade classroom. Reminds me of a quote by educational researcher K. Patricia Cross, “The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate ‘apparently ordinary’ people to unusual effort. The tough problem is not in identifying winners: It is in making winners out of ordinary people.”
Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the instructional technology coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org