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 Bio Blitz for Non-Fiction Character

"The Biography Blitz has become the highlight of the school year. Other programs have come and gone, but this one is popular with our students, parents, and faculty," shares Teresa Parkerson. "It is the one activity that unanimously has become everyone's favorite."

Everyone "dresses the part" on the day of the Biography Blitz.

For the last three years, Lake Park (Georgia) Elementary School has met AYP goals and has been named a Distinguished Title I School, and Parkerson, an academic coach, believes that the Biography Blitz has contributed greatly to the schools success. The program was developed collaboratively by teachers and parents who serve on the school's parent action committee. Biographies were selected as the focus because the purpose of the program is to motivate students to read more nonfiction books.

"During the Biography Blitz, the school was given a goal to reach, explained Parkerson. For example, our goal last year was to read 2,000 biographies, and our students read 9,000.

If the students reached their goal, they were invited to attend an American Idol program which was presented by the teachers.

Students are encouraged to choose characters of substance, such as Susan B. Anthony, because these topics correspond to curricular goals.

All teachers, paraprofessionals, and other staff members were involved in some way in the American Idol presentation, either as "performers" or audience monitors. In its "premiere" event, teachers portrayed Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, and Simon Cowell and critiqued the acts, and the assistant principal wowed the crowd as Hannah Montana. The high school jazz band performed as well.

On the day of the Biography Blitz, each child dresses as a character from a biography and gives a brief presentation in the classroom. These presentations range from oral speeches to posters or PowerPoint demonstrations. Parents are invited to attend, and afterward, they join the students for a "tea." Each grade level's tea has its own flair. Some of the teas feature simple cookies and punch, while others have students and parents sipping tea from china cups with tablecloths and candelabras.

"Our third grade always has a garden party outside in the courtyard, which includes food and decorations," Parkerson told Education World. "The refreshments are chosen by the grade levels and provided by the parents. Parents on the parent action committee coordinate the refreshments, set up, and clean up."

Changes have been made to the Biography Blitz in order to reinforce its primary function, to strengthen reading skills through nonfiction books. The most recent program gave students more points for reading biographies that related specifically to their grade level standards. At some grade levels, students were also required to choose a character for the Biography Blitz event that was also directly connected to the standards, which reduced the number of famous athletes and entertainers.

Robert E. Lee also made an appearance during the Biography Blitz.

"We did have some parents who were not real happy with this change because it wasn't quite as much fun to dress like Teddy Roosevelt as Jeff Gordon [NASCAR racer]," reported Parkerson. "We supported the decision of the teachers within the grade levels. We explained to the parents that our ultimate goal was to increase student achievement. I think with time, as this program evolves, that our teachers will all go more in this direction and our parents will become more and more supportive. In hindsight, I think this should have been a requirement at the beginning."

Another update to the Biography Blitz also occurred this year when the committee chose to parody the program "Dancing with the Stars," rather than "American Idol." Previously, the students were so keyed up about the performances that it was a challenge to keep them quiet enough to hear the comments of the "judges." Using an emcee who introduced the "dancers" allowed for better flow in the show.

"The students are so excited during the performance that it is almost like a pep rally," admitted Parkerson. "It is just not conducive to being quiet. They love seeing their teachers all dressed up and performing."