AYER — Teachers often struggle for ways to get learning in at the end of the school year when the weather is warmer, the kid’s have “spring fever” and it is difficult to motivate students. However, one educator has found a way.
At the end of April, Ayer Middle School Language Arts teacher Julie Tobin started a Cinderella unit with her fifth-graders.
“This project took about six or seven weeks to complete. We read 15 to 20 versions of the Cinderella fairy tale, and we researched different cultures’ renditions of this classic story,” Tobin said. “I think this lesson is important because (the students) learn that culture shapes art and literature. I hope that they learned that across cultural lines we may find differences, but there are also a lot of similarities between us like the stories we tell.”
A fairy tale like Cinderella is a category of the folk tale genre. Folk tales are stories told from generation to generation and are common to a culture.
At the beginning of the year when Tobin told her classes about this end-of-the-year assignment, she said a lot of them, especially boys, grimaced at the thought of studying Cinderella. However, she found that they all enjoyed it with most of them noting it as the highlight of their year.
After studying this ancient fairy tale, which was first documented in written form by the Chinese in the year 850 A.D., the students were given the task of creating their very own Cinderella-like story. They had to incorporate over 30 points in their creation including a magic helper, the number three, a mistreated hero and social status.
The fifth-graders got to share their stories at the Cinderella Celebration June 12 in the cafeteria in the presence of fellow students, teachers, families and friends.
Fifth-grader Stephan Steinhauser enjoyed this project and the challenge it presented to him due to English not being his first, or even second, language.
Steinhauser came to the United States with his parents almost a year ago from Germany. He did not choose to base his fairy tale in Germany, or even his mother’s native Thailand. Instead, he picked Brazil as his story’s backdrop. Steinhauser’s father, Wolfgang, is very proud of his son’s accomplishments.
“He has worked very hard this year, and we are glad that his English is improving and his writing, too,” he said.
While some children stuck close to the original plot line, others were very creative.
Nick Gutheil, a self-proclaimed Yankees fan, wrote “Cinderyorka,” a narrative about a male character, Derek, who is searching for a missing baseball hat to fit his head.
Connor Emma’s tale, “Timberfeller,” is a story of a lumberjack who is mistreated by his stepfather who won’t let him attend the lumberjack competitions. After the magical creature Treetrunk Tom appears and grants him three wishes, he goes on to win the competition and marry the lumber company boss’ daughter, Pinecone Paulie.
Tobin, who wore a tiara and carried a magic wand for the event, was very pleased with the process that the class underwent and the products that evolved from that process.
“They learned so much, and I am so proud of all of them,” she said.