Questioning The Remembrance Day Assembly

I think that I need to begin this post by recognizing educators around the country that put a lot of time into coordinating Remembrance Day Assemblies. I came from a school with a teacher very devoted to this job, and I went to another school with another teacher equally devoted. At both schools, numerous classes planned readings and songs to recognize this important day. Bands and/or choirs performed. Sometimes there were guest speakers. Students shared their work and we watched thoughtful video recordings and slideshows. Every student, from every class — Kindergarten to Grade 8 — worked hard to sit quietly, listen attentively, and stand still for the moment of silence. Often these assemblies would last more than an hour, and students went out of their way to really demonstrate their best behaviour. I definitely think that Remembrance Day (and the message behind it) is a day to recognize, but is an assembly the best option?

For many years, I’ve watched students as young as three sit through an assembly that often exceeds an hour. As teachers though, we’re regularly told about the benefits of limiting sitting time on the carpet. We’re regularly encouraged to think carefully about full group instruction, and consider how small group instruction might better support students. I’m a huge advocate of this kind of approach, and I’ve seen the benefits for my students, whether they’re in Junior Kindergarten or Grade 6. But then assembly time comes — especially the Remembrance Day Assembly — and we do everything that we try to avoid for the rest of the school year. Why?

At one point this morning, I looked around the gym, and I saw students wiggling on the floor. I saw their eyes wandering. They weren’t being loud. They weren’t distracting others, but they were definitely far from engaged (at least in my opinion). And the truth is, I felt for them. If this was my classroom and I saw students shuffling around, I’d start to question what I was doing. I’d start to question how long I was talking. I’d start to wonder if it was time to shorten the lesson, make it more exciting, and get students more actively involved. We can’t do this in an assembly though.

So what do we do? While I have some reservations about long assemblies, I definitely think that Remembrance Day is a day to recognize. Many students today shared wonderful work about this important day, and I think that this is something that should continue. What if we did a Remembrance Day Celebration of Learning instead? Last year, my previous principal and vice principal started Celebrations of Learning at the school, and it was great to see the diversity of student thinking and learning. This Celebration of Learning could be different though: it could be connected to key themes and ideas related to Remembrance Day. This doesn’t need to be an add-on. Students were exploring these topics anyway as they prepared for the Remembrance Day assembly, but now they can share their thoughts, ideas, and work in small groups with their peers.

  • They can question each other.
  • They can become the meaningful audience for each other’s work.
  • They can even reflect on what they learned, and share their thinking in small groups, grade teams, or with the class.
  • We can invite speakers to engage in discussion with students as well.
  • All students (and even school staff members) can share something that is meaningful to them.
  • We can still have the moment of silence as a school.
  • We can still share videos and slideshows with the class or in small groups, but instead of just “getting” information, we can think, question, and respond to each other.

Hopefully all students can then leave school truly understanding the meaning behind this important day, and knowing that they helped create this meaning for themselves and others.

How do you recognize Remembrance Day at school, and what do you think about making a change? How essential is an assembly to helping students understand the importance of Remembrance Day? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!



16 thoughts on “Questioning The Remembrance Day Assembly

  1. Legislation is currently working it’s way through the federal government and it seems very likely that in 2015 Remembrance Day will be a national holiday. I’m not sure this is a good idea. It will simply become a day off school for students, many of whom won’t do anything in remembrance. What we do in school is one probably the only thing students will do in remembrance.

    I’m not so worried about the assembly. I think some assemblying is good. Students need to learn how to behave appropriately in similar situations. No reason we can’t do that and other things too, and I think most teachers do.

    • Thanks for the comment, Andrew! I’m hopeful that if this legislation goes through that next November 11th will be a day for students to “remember” with their parents. (I do understand your reservations/concerns though.) I’m guessing that the Remembrance Day Assembly will be moved to the 10th in most schools.

      I can understand what you’re saying about assemblies, and I’m okay with short assemblies, but I wonder how effective long ones are for students. Maybe there could be a short assembly to lay wreaths, recognize the moment of silence, and possibly share a slideshow or a short video. Then other learning could happen in the classrooms. I think that this learning often does happen in classrooms to some extent, but if it does, then what’s the added value of a long assembly?


  2. You present some interesting points. I like the idea of a Celebration of Learning but, I think something like Remembrance Day is easy to honour in an assembly where the laying of the wreaths etc happen. I do agree that assemblies that are long go against everything we do in our room to keep our students engaged. I was shocked to hear that your assembly went that long. Our Remembrance Day assembly started at around 2:55 and we were done by 3:20. We keep it relevant but short. I couldn’t imagine my students sitting still and quietly for that long.

    • Thanks for the comment, Zoe! I can see your point about the laying of wreaths. We did this at my previous school, but not at this one. Maybe there’s value in having both: a short assembly for this full school recognition, but smaller in-class or division sharing opportunities to further the discussion — and learning — around Remembrance Day. I’ve taught at six schools in my Board, and our Remembrance Day Assemblies are always very long. I just wonder if this is best for students and really helps them understand the importance of the holiday.

      Thanks for sharing what your school does!

  3. Aviva,
    I really enjoyed reading your post. I was worried handing out poppies to my junior students wondering how many would become ‘pokers’ during the assembly.
    A teacher in my building organized a classroom War Museum for Monday. His students brought in artifacts, and personal stories from family members. They created books, and videos. They posted maps and brought in vets from a nearby nursing home. It was an amazing day for the school, particularly the class involved. The Mayor dropped by for a visit, and an appearance was made by the teacher’s mom. What a wonderful way to connect our students with their personal history!

    • Thank you so much Tara for your comment and sharing this amazing experience at your school! I really love it. Talk about meaningful learning! I bet that this experience gave students an even deeper understanding of the day and the importance behind it. Did you see this played out in today’s assembly? Based on this experience from yesterday, do you think that an assembly was needed? Why? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


      • Aviva, I think the assembly was important for our community members. We had a lot of adults arrive for our assembly. Next year, if Remembrance Day was deemed a stat holiday, I can see that the war museum organized our intermediate students could easily become a style part of how we ‘Remember’.

        • Thanks for the reply, Tara! I can totally see this option for next year if Remembrance Day is a stat holiday. You make a great point about community members. This came up as part of a conversation that I had on Twitter. With the size of our school community and the size of the gym, parents were not able to come to our assembly. Maybe in-class options would allow for some parent participation as well. I wonder if separate assemblies (a primary and a junior/intermediate one) may allow for this too. Thanks for giving me more to think about!


  4. Even as an adult it is difficult to remain engaged and focused for that period of time. I do think though that it is important for the kids to have the experience. Maybe if done in smaller groups, K to 3 and 4 to 8. That could make it shorter and more manageable for them??
    I really feel it would be incredibly sad if Remembrance Day became a holiday. It would be just another day off and I feel it would have little or no meaning. I know a couple of parents that considered keeping their children home but for the purpose of taking them to one of the services around the city.

    • Thanks for the comment, Christine! I think that there’s definitely value in us recognizing the day, but how does an assembly add to that recognition? Maybe division assemblies would help keep things shorter and more focused for different students of different ages. How might these assemblies differ? I wonder if a shorter assembly could be accompanied by in-class or division activities to help students further expand on their understanding of this day. While I do wonder about an assembly, I absolutely believe in recognizing Remembrance Day. I’d hope that if next year is a holiday, that students have learned and understood enough about Remembrance Day at school to help extend this learning at home. Then the day off can really be about “remembering.” This may be wishful thinking, but I’m trying to remain positive.


  5. What interesting points you have made! My own daughter who is in grade three came home today and told me about her Remembrance Day assembly. She told me she cried and that she saw a picture with a man with a bandage on his head. When I asked her why she felt so sad she said she didn’t know. I have often thought about the assembly and is it too much? I agree that we need to recognize this very special day as well. As a student myself I don’t remember assemblies for this occasion. Did we have them? I am not sure. My most memorable moment was when a veteran came into our class and we sat in a circle asking questions. I remember feeling so proud that this man had risked his life for me. It moved me at a young age. Do assemblies do the same? I am a bit doubtful.
    Side Note: I think that making it a stat holiday is wonderful. How many people go about their day to day and don’t even pause? I think creating this holiday would give the opportunity for others who otherwise can not as they are working to reflect and be thankful.

    • Thanks for the comment, Maria! Your daughter’s experience coupled with your own, I think gives us many reasons to pause. Through the blog post comments here and the discussion on Twitter, I think that I like the sound of shorter, divisional assemblies followed up with learning activities/discussions in the classroom. I think that we need to make this Remembrance Day learning meaningful for the students, and that may change grade by grade.

      Your point about the stat holiday possibility is an interesting one. My previous VP, Kristi (@kkeerybi), blogged on this very topic tonight: While I tend to agree with her thoughts, you offer an interesting different point of view. I guess that the value in the holiday would depend on if it’s seen as a day for “remembering” or just another day off.

      Thanks for giving me more to think about!

  6. I think your Celebration of Learning idea could work well with Remembrance Day. It could create an audience for Remembrance Day activities that are done in the classroom, and allow for students to enter into age appropriate discussions and activities that would make it more meaningful for them. What I really like about the idea is the student engaging more actively in remembering, instead of the traditional passive role they have in an assembly.

    I am an itinerant teacher, and the school I was at today went to the Cenotaph to experience the public service put on by the Canadian Legion. What made it special for me, was that it happened to be my son’s school. I was able to travel with him on the bus and stand beside him at the service. The whole school went. I was impressed with the conversation we had on the drive home. Whatever your school does, it is important for the students to be able to ask questions and reflect after.

    • Thanks for your comment, Blayne! I love hearing about your experience too. I think that the opportunity to ask questions and engage in dialogue are so important, and this doesn’t happen at an assembly. It could happen afterwards though. I know that sometimes schools have assemblies to build the community atmosphere, and in that case, I understand. (I may try to make it shorter though.) It’s like the conversation that you had with your son today. It’s so nice to have the parents involved in this learning. I think that this could happen at the Celebration of Learning too, but it would mean parents visiting individual classrooms instead. Maybe what all of these comments show is that there isn’t one right way to celebrate Remembrance Day in school, but no matter what way’s chosen, it’s important to ensure that this option provides a learning opportunity for all.


  7. Aviva,

    You have stimulated a great conversation here, thanks for posting. I have always felt the importance to honour this Day because of a strong connection to my Grandfather. As a teacher, I am fortunate to be able to honour, share and celebrate my Grandfather’s contribution in many different ways in class, at assemblies, or at the cenotaph. At the same time, I have always struggled with the idea that some students, many even, do not have the same personal connection that I do and therefore have a hard time engaging in the discussions and ceremonies that surround this day. In the past, this ‘respectful disengagement’ would have angered or frustrated me to no end, but now I completely agree with you that it is bizarre of teachers to expect something so different from our classroom norms simply because of the occasion, Having said that, I also agree with Tara that the assembly in our school is very important/essential for our community and the response/turnout is always impressive and significant. The experience of Maria and her daughter should not be ignored, but by combining impactful class activities with a larger celebration style assembly, albeit shorter, I feel that schools can maintain the proper level of engagement while honouring the occasion at the same time. Thanks again for posting

    • Thanks for the comment, James, and for sharing your experiences! I can understand the desire to have an assembly if it is a community event. Due to the size of our school and the size of the gym, we couldn’t have parents attend the assembly. I wonder if we had smaller divisional assemblies or a Celebration of Learning with parent attendance, if this would work better for building that community atmosphere. I do think that there are benefits to shorter assemblies and ensuring that these important discussions are followed up in meaningful ways back in the classroom.


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