Happy 38th birthday Harry! You see, Harry Potter, although only a reality in readers' minds for 22 years now, was born on July 31, 1980. Our fourth grade students LOVE Harry! Prior to teaching fourth grade, my colleagues and I taught third grade. We really do believe that strong memories made in the classroom helps learning to stick. So, for many years now, we've used a theme to help make memories. The first year we did this the theme was "Hollywood". Since then we've had a "Superheroes" theme, a "Broadway" theme (we performed three musicals that year!), a "Road Trip" theme, a "Culinary" theme, a "Rock 'n' Roll" theme, etc. Then, we all moved up to teach the fourth grade. We knew we'd want to continue to use a theme but we wondered what might be appropriate for fourth graders. It couldn't be too babyish. We threw around lots of ideas like, "Star Wars", "Jungle", "Sports" but nothing felt quite right.
The theme we finally chose was "Harry Potter". It was a home run. Actually, it was the perfect choice because we were celebrating 20 years with Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling first published Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1997. It was the 2016-17 school year so it totally made sense! Fourth graders (and their teachers) LOVE Harry! We carried our theme throughout the year. The first communication that students received from us was a letter informing them that they'd been accepted into Hogwarts. There were flying lessons on the first day followed by a sorting ceremony where students wore the sorting hats and were "sorted" into one of Hogwarts four houses. We authored our classroom norms and then, week after week, housemates nominated other students from their house to be prefect based on how well he or she had lived up to the norms. As we read one chapter of the first book each week. The students wrote letters to Harry based on what unfolded in each chapter. These journals, called "Dear Harry Journals", became the prized possession of many students. In the end, there were 17 letters where our students questioned Harry, wondered about the various situations he had gotten himself into, and reacted to the events that occurred. The journals were a wonderful window into each child's comprehension and writing ability. We could see evidence of their developing skills and of their empathy. We culminated our year with a real quidditch match, butter beer, and Hogwarts themed treats. It was an amazing year. By the end of the year each student really identified with the house they had been sorted into. We gave them many opportunities to work as a house. "Math in 3 Acts" tasks were often performed as a house. Students typically partnered up with students from their own houses. Even kids who had been sorted into Slytherin came away with a real sense of belonging. It was magical.
The following year, we went back to the drawing board. We had never repeated a theme. But how do you top Harry Potter? You can't! It was the 2017-18 school year. You guessed it. Still, technically, the 20 year anniversary. We decided another year with Harry made sense. Plus, we were in love with the theme and it made us simply joyful to repeat. Joyful teachers are never a bad thing. Again, the year was made memorable by all the rich connections to J.K. Rowling's brilliant books. We said that there definitely wouldn't be a three-peat.
Only, it appears that there will be. By the spring of this past year we were getting all kinds of community pressure to continue with the theme. "Kids are counting on it, they're really looking forward to it", we were told. Our school secretary was visibly upset when we told her that we'd likely go with another theme. "But you have to do, Harry Potter. Those kids have been waiting their turn!" she proclaimed. The guilt! In the end, we happily succumbed.
I got an email from my favorite bookstore yesterday. Seems they're having a 20th anniversary party at the bookstore that will celebrate Harry Potter. 20 years? What??? Turns out, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone wasn't released in the United States till September 1st, 1998. We'll be launching the 2018-19 school year. So, happy 20th (American) anniversary Harry Potter!
If you have any great fourth grade theme ideas please send them my way. I'm putting my foot down next year...honestly.