Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Symbol Cymbals!

     This year my eighth-grade students are reading Audacity, by Melanie Crowder, and we are looking at the many symbols presented in the novel.  Of course, symbolism's subtlety can cause middle-school students confusion and frustration, so this year I decided to teach symbols with the most un-subtle thing I could find:  CYMBALS!  I borrowed a pair of the finest cymbals from our school's band director (conveniently my husband) and waited for class to start.  As the eighth-graders filed into the room, the shiny cymbals immediately caught their attention.  
     "I want to play the cymbals!"
     "No, I actually know how to play them!  Can I play them?"
     "She gets to play them all the time!  This is my only chance!  I want to play the cymbals!"
     After the initial commotion, the students settled down, eyes fixed on the cymbals at the front of the room.  I explained that the students would be taking turns playing our symbol cymbals, and I chose a student to take the first turn (next time, I will probably use an app to randomly select students).  The student stood at the front of the room as I read from our novel aloud.  During the first class, I asked the symbol cymbal player to clash the cymbals each time he heard something that may be a symbol.  Finding the symbol seemed to put the cymbal player "on the spot" more than he wanted, which was ironic since he wanted to clash loud metal disks together with all of his might and with a classroom full of peers watching.  Still, I decided I needed to adjust for the next group.  For them I put a symbol cymbal player at the front of the room, but had the class find symbols.  Each time they found a symbol and explained its meaning, the cymbal player got to clash the cymbals, and another classmate was able to take his or her place.  This was extra motivation for the class to find a symbol and its meaning, because the more symbols they found, the higher their chance was of getting a turn at playing the cymbals up front.  
     The cymbals probably would not have worked before my students understood what symbolism meant, but my students' problem was not a lack of understanding -- they simply did not notice the symbols because they were not actively searching for them.  Our symbol cymbals helped to draw attention to the symbols as they read, and that was exactly what my kids needed.  
     How do you make symbolism obvious for your students?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments below!