Those who know me well know that athleticism is not my strong suit. Sure, I like riding my bike and, when the weather cooperates, cheerfully bike the 5-6 miles from my house to work and back. And yes, I love camping and hiking through the woods. But beyond that? Nope. I don’t play basketball, soccer, rugby, football, volleyball, hockey, baseball, tennis, lacrosse. Nor do I compete in track and field events, figure skating, swimming, running, or competitive cycling. Now, this can be chalked up to several reasons: I am blind in one eye, so I don’t have any depth perception; I likely have exercise-induced asthma, so running is generally a bad idea; no one in my family participated in athletics when I was growing up; very few of my friends cared much about participating in sports; I enjoy being a spectator.
This last bit is an important point, though! Even though I myself do not participate in sports, I actually really enjoy watching others play, compete, perform, etc. This was true in high school, when I was in the pep band and performed for nearly every football and basketball game. This was true when my baby sister was on a soccer team and I went to her games. And this has been true for the seven years I have been teaching fourth grade and asking my students to let me know about any games or performances so I can go and cheer them on.
A few weeks ago, two of my students invited me to come to their basketball games on Saturday mornings. I gladly accepted the invitation. While watching them play, I was reminded of a few lessons you can learn from being on a competitive team and wanted to write them down, both for myself and for those who may be reading:
Cooperation: Watching my students play on a team, I saw many examples of cooperation. Particularly as they were playing basketball, I watched as they got the ball, passed it to others, and worked together to achieve their objectives. What was especially interesting to witness was when those on the other team did not cooperate and took wild shots instead of passing the ball to another. Cooperation is that constant trait of working together for the glory of all, not the glory of one.
Compassion: My students won both of the games I watched. In fact, they dominated. But they showed compassion and kindness to the other teams. There was no gloating or mockery. When someone fell down, one of my boys was the first to run over and help him up and help him across the court.
Focus: There are so many voices yelling at the boys playing on the court. I was impressed as I watched my students focus on listening to their coaches and ignoring all of the other noise bombarding them. I noticed another boy who listened to what everyone was saying and, as a result, he was frequently confused and made poor decisions.
Joy: This may be the one thing that I saw most exuberantly. I am fully aware of the reality that not everything I have my students do in the classroom brings joy to them. As much as I love all of the subjects I teach (and I really do!), I know that my students do not always share that love, that joy. But I have burned in my memory the image of my students’ smiles of pure joy when they saw me walk into the gymnasium to watch them play. That joy lasted throughout the game.
As Spring Break wraps up and we return to the classroom on Monday, I hope to bring these lessons from the court to the classroom. I plan on using the examples I saw as I teach my students to cooperate, to show compassion, to focus on what’s important, and to find joy in the things they do. Many teachers throughout the country have adopted the Hour of Code; maybe it is time to institute the Hour of Joy, where students are given the freedom to explore whatever it is that brings them the most joy and to share that joy with others.
I hope you have all been enjoying the week thus far! My Spring Break so far has entailed the following:
Monday: Went to the classroom and did some housekeeping in the morning.
Tuesday: Served as an Election Judge for Champaign County’s primary elections in the Cunningham 7 and 8 precincts in Urbana.
Wednesday: Decided to have one day during which I would do absolutely nothing productive; I finished a book, watched several episodes of The X-Files, and took a two-hour nap.
Thursday: Helped me wife with an emergency at her office. Oh, and I finally got a delivery that I’ve been waiting for for several weeks:
Something’s coming to my classroom! I hope my students enjoy the surprise!
I’ll be working on third quarter report cards during most of tomorrow. Happy day!
Today is Thursday. I have one more day remaining of my days off for Spring Break, then the weekend and I am back to work on Monday. So I am taking a break today and tomorrow from blogging about anything teaching-related. I have books to read, episodes of The X-Files to watch, hair to get cut (I’m about two months overdue for a haircut now), a wife to spend time with, and an intense desire to actually take a break, be lazy, and maybe even get some more sleep than I have lately.
So I’ll be back on Monday. Feel free to come back and read through the archives and find any typos that may have snuck by editor.
Today is Wednesday. For reasons not quite clear to me, this day is generally known as Hump Day. I find it a somewhat annoying term, and yet I see it all around me. Perhaps that is why I find it annoying. Who knows for sure. When I was serving a two-year mission for my church, there was a common way of describing periods of the mission: first entering the mission field (as we called it) was the Bump. Six months later was something or other that was never defined often enough for me to remember. One year in was the Hump. 18 months in was the Slump, when the missionaries began to think about going home. And at the end was the Trunk, when the bags were packed and the missionary went home. Fortunately, we don’t break down the work week that much. Our society is content to focus on the middle of the week, which we seem to dread while also looking forward to it.
I guess I am fortunate enough to find myself in a profession that allows me to enjoy what I do every day. Yeah, I get tired at times, but I still love my job. I look forward to each day. I hope someone will smack me when I start counting down the days until the end of the week. I don’t have a problem with counting the days until a break or until the end of the school year. But spending all of your time looking forward to the weekend? That seems a bit counter-productive.
Which is why I write about this as a teaching strategy. The strategy isn’t actually Hump Day, of course. Nor is it the recognition of the concept or the use of the term. Rather, it is the opposite. One of the most important things a teacher can do is to simply love coming to work, each and every single day. I’ve met the teachers who are their to do their jobs, as they think of it. And I’ve met the teachers who understand that their jobs are a lot more than what the contract says. I watched Mr. Holland’s Opus yesterday, and I think that this scene captures beautifully what I am talking about:
Fortunately for the music students at John F. Kennedy High School, Mr. Holland learned:
So the next time you find yourself thinking of Hump Day and then looking forward to the weekend, just remember: the teachers who rush to the parking lot with gusto as soon as their work day is over are rarely the teachers for whom after-school assemblies are planned and former students come back 30 years later to celebrate.
Following the topic I used yesterday, I have decided to devote this week to discussing different teaching strategies, which, for my purposes, are being differentiated from pedagogical methods. Yesterday was the use of videos, particularly those found on YouTube, to complement and/or supplement classroom lessons.
Today I’ll be talking about using games. Believe it or not, this was actually a major focus of a unit of student in one of my curriculum and instruction courses during my last year at the University of Illinois. Each class was begun with a student sharing a game that can be used in the classroom. Games have many different uses. Through my work with the Illinois Teen Institute and Operation Snowball, we regularly use games as a teaching tool. As the saying goes, we strive to have fun with a purpose. Every game, every activity, every silly song we sing shares the purpose of helping those involved progress toward the goals of the program. And so it is with the use of games in the classroom.
Some games are used as ice breakers. They help the class get comfortable with one another or to get to know each other. Some games are used as energizers. No matter how exciting the lesson may be, there are times when the students are going to start dragging. They need something to get them up and moving around. Other times the students are too wiggly and they just need to expend some energy. There are also the games used as closers, although they are not used as often in the formal classroom setting. These allow the group to prepare to move on to whatever comes next.
But there are two categories of games that are most important, in my opinion. They are the team builders and the self-awareness builders. Team building activities have been around for a long time. I love them because they allow those involved to learn to trust each other. As an educator, I strive for a classroom that is truly a cohesive unit. I want my students to rely upon each other, to help each other, to teach each other. This is very much an aspect of my egalitarian views of education. Team building activities provide opportunities for small successes, which in turn set the stage for improvement through scaffolding and supports.
Those activities or games that develop self-awareness are not used as often, but I find that I use them most often when it seems like the class is not paying attention. My favourite is the hand on the chin activity. This is how it goes:
I tell everyone in the class that we are going to do an activity, and I need everyone to stand up by their chairs. Everyone stands.
I tell the class that I want them to follow my directions as I give them. They give consent, wondering what I’m going to have them do.
I tell them to extend their right arms, and I show them what I mean. Everyone extends his or her right arm. (If someone uses the left, I will point this out, and they switch.)
I tell them to take their thumbs and index fingers of their right hands and make a circle. Again, I model this, and they follow.
I then tell them to slowly bring their arm in and place the “O” on their cheek. As I do this, I slowly bring my arm in and place my “O” on my chin. 9 times out of 10, every person in the class will do exactly as I did. Occasionally I will have a student who catches what I said and chuckles. The rest of the students are standing with their hands on the chins wondering what is so funny.
I repeat the last instruction. Slowly, realisation dawns: the chin is not the cheek. My response to this is that it is important to follow directions and to listen closely. We need to be aware that those in our lives may say one thing and do another. We should be confident enough in our classroom setting, and in our lives, to stand tall doing what is right, even if everyone else is doing the wrong thing.
I love the change that comes over the classroom when we do this. For a brief while, I have a room of students who are paying attention, working hard, and helping each other. And I’ll admit it: it is really funny to have a room of 25 boys and girls all place their hands on the chins after being told to put them on their cheeks.