One of the hardest months of the year for me as a literacy coach is the month of December. Yes, December can be challenging because, at times, it is difficult to engage students as they are (and maybe even you are) counting down to the start of winter break. Every December since I have began coaching literacy, I have had conversations with educators about them choosing a text because of a holiday and not because it is tied to standards. December seems to be a time when some educators stray away from academic standards and teach holiday themed lessons instead.
There is nothing wrong with teaching about the holidays. During my third year in the classroom, I was teaching sixth grade English. My students studied the history behind several holidays and how they evolved into what they are today. This unit was tied to the Indiana standards. Unfortunately, nostalgia sweeps in for some educators and they want to read a certain story because a teacher they had read it every year around Christmas or because it is their favorite story, but when you ask the teacher what standard the text is addressing, you hear silence. There are several reasons this is problematic.
1. Schools are becoming increasingly diverse.
When I was in school, I remember when we transitioned from Christmas break to winter break. I remember my teacher explaining that we were changing the name because everyone does not celebrate Christmas. Although I have seen some schools do a good job of exposing students to holidays from various cultures, there are still schools that don’t. Students can become uncomfortable if they feel they are being excluded because a holiday they celebrate is ignored in the classroom.
2. Many districts have set pacing guides or curriculum in place.
It is rare to find a school without some guidelines of when during the year you should be covering certain academic standards. If you are supposed to be covering figurative language, but the holiday story you chose doesn’t have a lick of figurative language in it, then you need to reevaluate your lesson plan.
3. You are not doing your job.
Our job is to make certain students have mastered our content standards. If you chose to use the text: A Christmas Carol, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, “The Gift of the Magi,” The Gingerbread Man, The Mitten, etc. and you can’t articulate what standards you are teaching, you are not doing your job. I mention those books because I have had conversations with educators who used those books in December, but couldn’t explain what skill they were teaching or which standard was being addressed.
Please don’t do your students a disservice this December. If your lessons are not based on content standards, but only about a holiday theme please redo your lesson plans.