Teacher Implements Hootworthy Instructional Strategy

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Halton Thomson

Saying we’re proud to have such talented, hardworking, and creative faculty and staff at Georgia Cyber Academy (GCA) might be an understatement after we introduce this Hootworthy staff member!  Ms. Shuman, former GCA ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher currently serving as the ESOL District Supervisor has taught at GCA for ten years, five of those as an ESOL teacher.  She enjoyed serving GCA’s multilingual population in the classroom, and is now leading, inspiring, and encouraging the teachers who support our multilingual students. 

Shuman with Head of School and Sparkle

Last school year, Ms. Shuman was tasked with educating multilingual learners in kindergarten, her first time at that grade level as a matter of fact. Coincidentally enough, she had her own kindergartner learning online at the same time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She noticed how difficult it was for her son to stay engaged with online learning, so she began thinking how she could make her own classroom more engaging. How could she reach and keep her virtual learners engaged? Answering this question is where her hootworthy teaching strategy arose. 

She remembered her hometown puppet show as a child, how interested she was in the puppetry arts, and how excited the drama made her. She thought of her son’s fascination with YouTube, fantasy, pretend, and stories. Her idea then came to life. Ms. Shuman decided her class needed one more student who lived in monster city, her puppet, Sparkle. 

halton with sparkle

Ms. Shuman introduced Sparkle to her class as a multilingual learner, like them. She also let the students know Sparkle was very shy because she wasn’t very confident in her English, so Sparkle would talk to her, and Ms. Shuman would translate. The students immediately took to Sparkle. She truly shined as the star of the class. Sparkle would participate in many of the activities the students did; however, as Sparkle would sometimes get stuck on an activity, the students would help Sparkle complete it. She sometimes brought an item to class to discuss or hyped the students up to get ready for class. 

Shuman with Sparkle in class

Of course, with this creative and fun teaching strategy, Ms. Shuman saw increased engagement with her students, but she did notice some students still would not show up for class on time. This gave her the idea to bring another visitor to the class, Pom Pom. Now Pom Pom was a bit mischievous, and he would do things before class began to mess up the lesson, such as mix words or letters around, and students would have to let Ms. Shuman know what he did, so she could fix it. Students would talk about the things Pom Pom did before class which encouraged the previously tardy students to begin showing up on time to class because they didn't want to miss out on Pom Pom’s antics. 

Shuman with Burrito

Even though Ms. Shuman is no longer in the classroom, her strategy made a huge impact by inspiring other GCA teachers to try it out. In fact, the Federal Programs team purchased and distributed puppets to K-1 teachers at this year’s back-to-school professional development. Many of these teachers are utilizing their puppets to create the same type of fun and engagement with learning that Ms. Shuman generated in her classroom. 

Primary teachers with puppets

Ms. Shuman believes this strategy is possible at all grade levels, with some tweaking. She noticed in her own experience that the elementary grades are more into the puppet for the drama, fantasy, pretend, etc. that the puppets elicit.  Meanwhile, the older students, like in middle and secondary grades, are more interested in the puppetry arts aspect. She recommends that teachers keep that in mind, if they plan to use the strategy in their classrooms. 

For educators interested in giving puppetry a shot and welcoming a puppet into their classrooms, she emphasizes a few things:

  1. Start small (at first) - Have the puppet do a little portion of the class, such as an activity or a hook to get students excited about the lesson.  Add more as time goes on depending on how much of an impact the new member of the classroom is having on the students.
  2. Have fun and be silly - Puppets are also a way for teachers to embrace their inner child, which will help connect with students.  Don’t don’t be afraid to have some fun and be silly.  This will get you excited to go to class, which will become infectious for students and cause them to be excited too. 
  3. Puppets are people too - Treat your puppet as a real character, not as a puppet.  Give them a name, character traits, and integrate them into your classroom in tangible ways.  This will help the students relate to the actions and activities the puppet is doing.

Ms. Shuman wanted to make sure we highlighted Miranda Flynn Legge’s Kids English Theatre YouTube Channel. Legge is a British actor from London and a certified ESL teacher. Her YouTube channel features teaching English using drama, including puppets. Ms. Shuman credits Legge’s content for much of her inspiration to attempt implementing puppetry in the classroom. 

We are so happy, and yes, proud to have such talented faculty and staff at GCA, like Ms. Shuman. We hope many more teachers feel inspired to try this creative teaching strategy in their classrooms to engage and to inspire their students. 


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