They practically danced in this morning, clutching bags of carefully labeled Valentines for their classmates. Anticipation of candy, trinkets, and a day of celebration made the energy palpable.
I’ve spent years dreading Valentine’s Day. Not because the holiday makes me feel sad or because I have any real complaint with the holiday overall, but because it has felt like a wasted learning day. The high of Valentines and candy overshadowing math and reading and writing. I tried ignoring Valentines, banning them outright, shoving them off to the side…none resulting in a satisfactory outcome. I kept coming off as the Ebenezer Scrooge of February, ruining everyone’s fun.
So I decided to try something new this year. After much thought, I approached my students a few weeks ago to talk about a potential plan for the day. I started by asking my students if they wanted to bring Valentines for their classmates. It was unanimous. Every student wanted to bring them–some had already purchased them or started making and/or planning their hand-crafted gifts. So I asked if they were interested in using their Valentines as a learning tool and having a Valentine’s themed day of learning. Again, it was unanimous.
I didn’t want to just add hearts to math problems and read a Valentine picture book. I wanted whatever we did to fully incorporate the actual Valentines and push our thinking and learning forward. I decided on graphing and spent some time Monday and Tuesday reviewing the essential elements of a graph. My students are already adept at interpreting graphs, but not quite as confident building their own. Yesterday we explored creating a data set and practiced constructing our own graphs as a class. Today, once the Valentines were all distributed, I asked students to sort their Valentines into 3-5 categories to create a data set for the bar graph they would create. I loved watching the focus as the Valentines were sorted for a reason, data sets recorded in their math notebooks, and graphs created on “real” graph paper. They willingly put the Valentines back into their bags and put them deep into their backpacks for the rest of the day.
After recess I pulled out Love by Matt de la Pena. I love a book that makes me think…and makes kids think. I loved watching their faces as I read each page and showed the pictures. Looks of confusion showed as they tried to figure out love defined as adults blocking the view of the TV and love as burnt toast. Smiles appeared as the story turned to love as a game of horseshoes. I heard a student gasp as the beautiful brown face appeared in the mirror. The discussion that followed brought up understandings about loss and love, death and memory. We decided that we will re-read the book tomorrow, there is more that we want to explore.
The day flew by, we didn’t have enough time for all I wanted to accomplish today so we will continue tomorrow. In my 29th year of teaching I continue to learn from my students. When I listen to their needs and desires and combine them with my own goals, magic happens. That crazy holiday energy that can make teachers want to pull our their hair became my friend today, pushing students to think and create…and yes, to learn. I’m already thinking about next year’s Valentine’s Day and how I will include my students in the planning to make the day productive and have fun doing it! I #loveteaching every day, even on Valentine’s Day.