Educator Services

Teachers' Top Three from ESE - September 15, 2016

  1. Teacher Reflection: Why I Put My Students on Stage
    Sydney Chaffee, a ninth grade humanities teacher at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester and the 2017 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, has all of her students participate in the national Poetry Out Loud competition each December and all of them take to the stage the following spring. Here's why:

    On September 2, I stood in the middle of a circle of new ninth graders and pretended to wait for a bus. I checked my (imaginary) watch, paced, sighed heavily, and acted like I didn't notice my students' nervous giggles and dramatic eye rolling.

    This was just the beginning of a year of "Huntington days," biweekly theater work that is an integral part of my ninth grade humanities course. Over the course of this year, my students will build literacy skills and become more confident public speakers through a unique partnership with amazing educators from Boston's Huntington Theatre Company. In May, every ninth and tenth grader will perform on stage as a capstone project.

    Each year, I put my students on stage, because bringing a text to life requires careful analysis and close reading. Theater work helps them practice collaboration and compassion, and, with the right supports, theater is accessible to all kinds of learners. Students confront their own self-doubts and prove to themselves that they can do more than they believed possible; the pride and triumph they feel after performing is authentic and exhilarating. At Codman, theater is a tradition; every year, ninth and tenth graders at our school go through these theatrical rites of passage, and the older students cheer them on, knowing the journey well.

    I'm lucky to benefit from my school's partnership with the Huntington, but you don't have to have a formal connection with a local theater company to give your students these kinds of powerful learning experiences. If you're interested in infusing learning with some healthy "drama," you can:

    • Sign your class up to participate in the national Poetry Out Loud competition. Students will choose, memorize, and recite great poetry, becoming better readers and speakers along the way.
    • Have students mount a mock trial based on a historical controversy, encouraging them to fully inhabit their characters. (See a great example: The People vs. Columbus, et al. Zinn Education Project.) Bringing history to life helps it "stick" and encourages more thorough research.
    • Put a novel or short story "on its feet" by using Readers Theater techniques; turn the text into a script that can be read aloud by students (or have students do the work of turning the text into a script).

    There are so many more ways to bring theater into our classrooms to maximize student engagement and learning. Share your favorites on Twitter using the hashtag #Top3fromESE.

  2. Did You Know?: Constitution Day is September 17
    Constitution Day/Citizenship Day, which commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution, is September 17. Congress has mandated that every educational institution that receives federal funds hold an educational program about the Constitution, and the National Archives and Records Administration has several resources, including "The Constitution at Work" matching game and the "Exploring the U.S. Constitution" eBook. Other resources are available from the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the U.S. Senate.

  3. What We're Reading: Know Your Students
    We know it isn't the first week of school anymore, but you might still find Rick Wormeli's article on "What to Do in Week One?" in the September issue of Educational Leadership an interesting read. His suggestions for building a positive teaching-learning dynamic include ways to get to know your students. He also includes some entertaining examples, such what students wrote when asked to compose a letter to their teacher about themselves while posing as their parents.

line Help us reach more teachers — Share this email with your colleagues and encourage them to sign up! To subscribe, please complete the short form. We also invite you to connect with other teachers across the state and ESE staff on Twitter. Find us at @MASchoolsK12 and use #Top3fromESE to discuss items from this newsletter or suggest new topics. If you have suggestions for content, questions, or comments, you can reach a member of our staff at

Last Updated: September 16, 2016

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