At first, students were reluctant to talk about the items they had brought. In kindergarten, the children nearly bludgeon one another to death with their swaying hands and "ooh, ooh, ohh, pick me." Yet, here I ran into a wall of apathy.
"Why do we have to present if we can just publish this to our plogs and read about it?" a girl asks.
So, I begin with my item. I share the red rock from the western frontier where I was born. I talk about how I kept it as a child so that I wouldn't forget it when we moved back to the flat, dull land of Kansas. I mentioned what the land represented, how I had been shaped by the sense of the wild freedom out west and why I get depressed in this urban enclave when the smoke stacks and the gray terrain makes me feel trapped.
This opens the door for the students. A boy shares a deck of cards that he used when his dad was in the hospital and since they had little in common to talk about, the cards became another language for them to speak. A girl shares a stack of recipes her grandmother wrote out with the note, "This is my legacy. Don't lose it. I know you've committed this to your mind. I know you will modify these meals to make them your own. But if you ever feel yourself pulled to far by the city, look back at these recipes."
When it's all over, a student says, "Why can't all school be show and tell?"
It has me thinking that maybe he's right. What if it was always this personal? Or at least, what if there was always a personal element that they could hold onto in each subject? And what if, instead of "judge and label," the model was "show and tell?" What if the goal was to demonstrate their knowledge with a tangible item that they could show the world and talk about in a one-on-one conversation.
The beauty of pencils and paper is that it's permanent. Sort of. At least more permanent than a slate. It's portable, too. Kids can publish on plogs and write on shared documents. What this means is that the potential for a classroom based upon show and tell becomes more feasible.