The students in room 8 made literacy come alive with a dramatic rendition of a story about a lovable giant, Abiyoyo.
Teachers Alex and Thuy designed Classroom 8’s Abiyoyo unit to focus on critical thinking and elements of literacy, like comprehension, recall, sequencing, and story flow. They knew that children’s early interactions with literacy materials, like paper and books, shape kids’ capacities for developing language, reading, and writing skills. The teachers also suspected their students would love the story about the giant Abiyoyo, just as other kids at the Center had.
And they did. The students began making observations and asking questions about the story during other lessons. Soon, they were imitating characters and acting out whole scenes. At pickup time, parents asked, “What is Abiyoyo?” Embracing the intentional flexibility of every lesson to foster self-directed learning, Thuy and Alex kicked off an extended, multidisciplinary unit that incorporated art, literacy, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and social-emotional skill development – guided entirely by student interest.
They started with a section aimed at enhancing vocabulary and language expression. The children discussed what it means to act, have a role in a play, and learn lines. They moved on to auditions, where they cultivated social-emotional and critical thinking skills by trying out for parts and analyzing who would fit each character best. Once everyone had a role, the children learned to encourage one another, give constructive feedback, and express how performing in front of a crowd made them feel.
To integrate STEM, Alex and Thuy channeled the students’ fascination with Abiyoyo’s size into lessons on estimation, measurement, and comparison. The kids measured their teachers and each other with rulers and discussed the differences: How big are you compared to a house? Do you think teacher Alex is bigger than Abiyoyo? They applied their imaginations, fine motor skills, and a deepened understanding of scale and size to the geometry and engineering of designing sets and building props.
Statistically, the need for rich, engaging early education that fosters cognitive, physical, and social-emotional growth among children living in poverty couldn’t be more dire. One study showed 4-year-olds living in poverty are only half as likely to be able to recognize letters as 4-year-olds who aren’t poor. High-quality early education boosts language development, inhibitory control, and engagement with parents and peers, and can change the course of a child’s life.
Thuy and Alex could see the transformation unfolding. As they neared the end of the Abiyoyo unit, the students displayed greater self-regulation and confidence. They had led their own learning from the get-go, from assembling costumes that reflected their characters’ traits to organizing scripted scenes and sets on a stage.
“Every type of learner – hands-on, auditory, visual – was able to learn,” Alex said.
The students were rewarded for the many smaller tasks they’d completed during the project-based unit with one encapsulating activity. The prop designers, stage managers, and cast of classroom 8 rolled out the red carpet, premiering Abiyoyo to an audience of families, teachers, and schoolmates. Applause filled the packed room as the students acted out the story they’d spent a month talking about – and the skills they’d developed throughout the process.
As Thuy and Alex intended, Abiyoyo was also a learning experience for parents. Studies find parents of children in early childhood programs show greater support for their children’s learning. They’re also more emotionally supportive and read more frequently to their children. With the teachers’ help, the parents of kids in classroom 8 learned to ask their children varied, open-ended questions, encouraging them to discover something new each time they read Abiyoyo.
The students had devoured the tale and every inspired lesson, thanks to their teachers’ expertise. Alex and Thuy had capitalized on the kids’ passions, turning the project into an agent for expanding cognitive skills, executive functions, and a sense of accomplishment in creating something meaningful.
“We want to build individuality, personality, character,” said Thuy. She reminds her students, “You are leaders. You are powerful. You can do whatever you want to do.