Student Reflection … YES … but how?

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

~ John Dewey

Nice View . . .

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We added an unconference-style element to our in-service today with breakout sessions, lead by various staff members. I facilitated a breakout discussion on Reflection’s Role in Learning. I chose this as a topic of discussion, not because I’m an expert in it, but because I want to get better at eliciting reflection in my students. I recognize the importance of reflection in my own learning process, so naturally, I want teach my students how to use this tool. In fact, my goal is to embed it so effectively into my classroom process that it becomes an automatic response for my students.

However, achieving buy-in with students can be a challenge. Reflection can be viewed as busywork by some, as Erin Konecky, pointed out today during one of the sessions, so teaching students the WHY behind reflection is important. As the blog post “Scaffolding Student Reflection” by my Twitter friend, Rusual Alrubail reminds us, “relevance=motivation.” (However, how to gain buy-in exactly is a mystery at this point!) Erin also pointed out that students reflect all the time–it’s not necessarily a conscious act though. It more often takes the shape of a fleeting thought rather than a formal response. Moreover, these momentary reflective thoughts are not always as deep as is necessary for the full benefit of reflection. And, some students are more adept at reflection than others. So, like in all classroom processes, we must teach what we want to see.

Throughout the course of two breakout sessions, a few things became apparent:

A. We reached consensus that reflection is an important part of learning.

B. We found that we all ask students to reflect in different ways–on a wide spectrum of depth and formality. None of us have perfected it, but we’re all seeking to improve it.

C. We can’t assume that students will come to us knowing HOW to reflect. We must teach them how to reflect or formalize their existing reflection process.

D. Reflection can take different forms and offering students choices in demonstrating reflection can be beneficial for teacher and student. It can also be a very personal process, so finding ways for students to share reflection comfortably will also need to be a priority.

E. Personal growth in students is sometimes overlooked because “the system” is so focused on number grades. Reflection may be a way to honor personal growth and give a better overall picture of a whole student rather than distilling him or her to a number in the grade book.

In the first breakout, we used a variation of the “Save the Last Word For Me” discussion technique to examine Rusul’s post (linked above). We delved into the WHY student reflection is important and WHY we should be incorporating student reflection into our classroom practices and assessment. The article also gave us an opportunity to discuss what role personal growth should play in defining success for students.

In the second session, I approached the discussion a little differently. We started with the above-linked article, and then spent some time writing responses to the following questions in a padlet that I’ve embedded below. After that we used the same discussion technique as we did in the first session, but compacted the time a bit.

Made with Padlet
We had limited time today to answer the question, HOW do we use student reflection in a way that is useful to teacher and student? But it was a start!
Here are some additional questions for you to ponder in your reflection about reflection:
  • We know reflection is an important component of the learning experience. How can we convince students of reflection’s importance? 
  • How are you already using student reflection in your practice?
  • What are your concerns about using reflection in your classroom?
  • Have you seen anyone else use it successfully?
  • What were your takeaways from our brief discussion today?

reason 5,495 why it is an honor to be a high school English teacher

We are finishing out the year with To Kill a Mockingbird. One of the test questions asks the students to identify the three most important events/issues in the book (which is FULL of important events and issues) and justify why they are the MOST important of all. One of the reasons I love this book is that I learn something new every time I read it and by reading the students’ responses, I am learning new things again, after reading this story again for the (literal) twentieth time. Students are so insightful and can zero in on the smallest scene that I’ve been glazing over for years and give it new meaning. One of the biggest takeaways from this book (no matter how many times I read it) is that people get caught up in looking at things their way and forget that everyone brings a unique set of experiences that shape the way they see the world and subsequently affect the way they behave. It’s the human way. Sometimes, we have to make a conscious effort to be empathetic to others. Atticus says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Teaching allows me to see things from these brilliant young people’s points of view. What a unique career perk. This is just one of many reasons why I am happy to be a teacher.

On Overparenting

Walk towards the light

Creative Commons LicenseJoris Louwes via Compfight


Jessica Lahey: We really need to stop looking to our kids for validation. They are not extensions of us, nor indicators of our performance, and it’s unfair to saddle them with that responsibility.

Julie Lythcott-Haims: Yeah. And our need for validation needs to be taken up with a therapist, not imposed on our kids’ existence. As Carl Jung said, ‘The greatest harm to a child is the unlived life of the parent.’

~ How Schools Are Handling An ‘Overparenting’ Crisis


This is NOT a judgment on ANY parent who reads my blog. I am an imperfect person and parent and I am definitely guilty of some of these overparenting “sins” (e.g. driving an assignment that one of my daughters has left at home or in my car to her school … or signing something digitally that should’ve been signed a week ago on paper … ) In fact, I did this yesterday. My daughter needed her paper signed, but she left it in my truck. Instead of just letting her experience a consequence, I drove it to her. I “rescued” her. I allowed her to be a damsel in distress. I shouldn’t have done that. 

Overparenting IS a thing. I’ve noticed it as a teacher and a parent and I acknowledge that it is an individual parent issue but that it is also a systemic problem. The unwieldy goals we (as in we, a society) expect students to attain at younger and younger ages puts unneeded pressure not only on kids, but on their parents as well.

Image is everything in the United States. We (the collective, general parent we) don’t want to look bad in the eyes of the school (as in the people who work at the school) or of other parents, so we protect not only our kids from failure but our own images in the eyes of others. It doesn’t help that, as a mom, who knows other moms, I know that some moms judge each other. That IS a thing too. As a teacher, I know that some teachers judge parents based on factors that they shouldn’t. And so that IS a thing as well. (Conversely there are some parents judging teachers based on things they shouldn’t too … ) So, we all know that we are all silently judging each other and some of us are just vain enough to worry about what other people are thinking–so much so that we manipulate our own image and the images of our children to portray the things we think we want to be (or what other people want us to be) rather than what we are. Humans are inherently judgey. And inherently vain. And inherently insecure … so it’s no wonder overparenting exists. We are all on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Letting your kids suffer natural consequences is GOOD for them. Having a 4.0 is overrated. One of the best things that ever happened to my oldest daughter was getting a B. Bubble popped and she survived. This helped her understand that she was still a valuable human being–even though she no longer carried a “perfect” GPA. Guess what happened … She still got a good scholarship at a school she wanted to attend in the program of her choosing.

You get a detention for not having your assignment done? BOOM. No one hurt you or berated you (too extensively) for said detention, and you survived, but you sure remembered your assignment the next time, right? You forgot your lunch … Well, you might be really hungry when you get home tonight, but you have enough energy in your body to survive until dinner, and I bet you’ll remember your lunch tomorrow. You waited until the last minute to do the project you’ve had weeks to do? Hmmm … you might squeak out some C-level work there at the end, and it might not best reflect your learning and it may affect your overall grade, but that’s better than having your mom finish it for you so that you can maintain your 4. POINT. Oh.

Allowing our children to experience and more importantly SURVIVE failure is one of the best things we can do for them. If there is someone judging you based on your child’s inability to remember gloves day after day after day, despite blizzard-like conditions, not only does Judgey McJudgerperson need a new hobby, but you can find friends who will commiserate with you rather than scrutinize you for the inconsequential anyway.

I love what Jessica Lahey says about our children NOT being extensions of us as parents. It’s not fair to the parent to view a child as an extension of herself and it is certainly not fair to the child–who is her own person, with her own mind, and her own need to experience and learn first-hand. This process (known as “growing up”) can be painful for the child and the parent, but failure is the best way to learn.

I speak from experience. I am a failure. I have been a failure time after time, which is why I know what I know (which is infinitely tiny compared to what I could know). I learn so much more when things are a struggle for me than I do when things are going well. I’m not saying it’s NOT nice to have things go well, but it’s also good to temper the easy-breezy with some learning. We owe it to our children to back off and let them learn some things “the hard way” too.

Parenting is not for the weak, but neither is life. Letting our children fail in safe ways when the stakes are lower (e.g. letting them go hungry at lunch for one day) will prepare them to be adults who can handle life–even when it’s hard.

I am an activist teacher.

X is for...340/365

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It’s amazing how a 20-minute conversation can change the way you view yourself. Just like that, I became an activist teacher. 20 minutes! I have never thought of teaching as a political act prior to today, and I feel naive admitting this, because now it seems so obvious, but in the interest of transparency and honesty I’m sharing this with you, dear reader. I’ve always considered myself a little bit of a quiet system bucker, even in my earliest days of teaching, but the word “activist” wasn’t on my radar in relation to ME.

Today the class I am in went and visited another class that has been studying teacher activism. We rotated through two of three stations and in one of the sessions they asked us to think of a time when we opposed a policy, curricular choice, or something else in our school and what step we took to oppose it. It was very easy for me (and my colleagues) to come up with several examples. The older I get the more squeaky of  a wheel I become. I cannot stand idly by and allow things that are not good for our students to happen.

When I think about the educators I admire most, (from those I’ve studied –John Dewey, Paulo Friere, Ira Shor, bell hooks, Jean Piaget–to those I’ve grown to admire more recently–Rick Wormeli, Ken O’Connor, Sir Ken Robinson, Diane Ravitch, many of my Twitter friends–and those I know personally–you know who you are …) I have come to realize that one of the reasons I am drawn to them is because they stand up for what is right for students.

Every time I make a decision in the interest of my students, even if it goes against the status quo, I am an activist. Every time I post something on my blog that aims to change the way someone thinks, I am an activist. Each time I defend public education to the naysayers, I am an activist. Each time I stand up for my students, I am an activist. Acknowledging this makes me feel brave.

I might be taking small steps in the world of activism compared to other more public figures in education or even some of you that I know more personally, but as my confidence builds, so shall my activism, especially now that I know I am an activist.

 

 

Kids these days: They just don’t know how to communicate …

 

The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.

~ Kakuzo Okakaura

There are all sorts of posts on social media and comments being made about how “kids these days” are becoming less social and less able to interact socially/intelligently because of smartphones and tablets and computers and drones and wifi and cyborgs … (WATCH THIS–> We are ALL cyborgs now. ~ Amber Case)  but I can tell you that this weekend I took a road trip with three 12/13-year-old girls who spent the entire weekend reading, writing, researching, AND speaking with one another both through traditional language (speaking), through writing (texting, messaging) and through visuals (Instagramming, SnapChatting). They type; they talk; they make videos; they share images; they giggle; they consume viral content; they CREATE content; they experiment; and they are just like I was when I was 12, except that they have modern technology–(just like I had modern technology when I was 12. It just happens to be 26-year-old technology at this point in history).

Here is one of the many non-digital activity the girls participated in this weekend.

Here is one of the many non-digital activity the girls participated in this weekend.

 

I understand why people see it this way. There are people (kids and adults) who over-use the technology that is so readily available to us. There are people who rarely see sunshine, or have hunched backs from constantly huddling over screens. There are people who have taken waaaay too many pictures of themselves (myself included). But, I do not believe for a second that modern technology hinders communication. Social media is a form of literacy. If you don’t learn it, you will become, in a way, illiterate. Refusal to learn is refusal to live life to its full potential.

The girls spent a lot of time using their screened devices. I am the mean mother who still hasn’t purchased a smartphone (nor a stupid phone) for my daughter, but she has an iPad from school and her friend has two smartphones, so she let my daughter borrow the smartphone she no longer uses, as a wifi-ready device for the weekend. There were several remarkable things I’d like to note about what happened our trip.

On the way to South Dakota, the girls decided that they wondered what it would be like to time-lapse themselves for the entire way there. One of the girls time-lapsed herself sleeping the other night and that idea spurred this idea. They set up one of the iPads and began time-lapsing the trip. Then they decided it would be pretty awesome to not only have a time-lapse of themselves, but also of the road, so they set up a second iPad. We had simultaneous time-lapsing going on. It was a rather nifty experiment.

This was part of our self-guided statue tour of the USD campus.

This was part of our self-guided statue tour of the USD campus.

 

The next thing that happened was they did a lot of sharing through digital communication. They also talked … a lot. They would be talking while they were sending each other digital content. Color-me-impressed with how much talking occurred this weekend. (It was nearly non-stop.)

These girls are documentarians. If you wanted to create a timeline of our weekend, you could. You might be overwhelmed by the massive body of work, but you could definitely chart our activities through the girls’ pictures and posts. At the end of the trip, my daughter’s two friends told their moms to follow me on Instagram so that they could see what their weekend was like. As a mom, I would really like to be able to see that. If my child is away from me, I would find it a blessing to know what she did while she was away. (Now that my oldest daughter is away at college, this is especially true!)

Anytime the girls were unsure of something, they researched it online. The answers are there. We were able to talk about website credibility through this. We were also able to practice concert etiquette–one of the important components being–>put your phones away during the concert! When the girls started to interact in catty ways with girls who weren’t physically there, we had the opportunity to talk about how staying out of “the drama” of being a girl is really better than engaging in it. If someone baits you online, it’s best to not take the bait! We had some excellent conversations. If someone says “like for a #TBH DM” don’t hit LIKE. Don’t do it! I learned some things this weekend, but I think they did too.

We saw three separate concerts while we were at USD this weekend.

We saw three separate concerts while we were at USD this weekend.

 

At one point during the trip, there was a “fight,” as often happens when you get three girls together for any extended period of time. After said fight and after a little parental intervention (AKA group therapy sesh), I witnessed the three girls work out a problem they were having through Snapchat. One of them sent an (intentionally) unattractive photo of herself to the other with the message, “Why can’t we be fweinds?” right before the concert started, and then they were all holding in laughs and giving each other knowing looks that conveyed “WE ARE FRIENDS” or “fwiends” if you will. Up until that point, I thought Snapchat was a good-for-nothing app that served only as a way to send inappropriate images to one another under the guise of “safe anonymity”. It still CAN be that–no doubt about it–but if we educate our children how to use such apps responsibly, then amazingly enough, even Snapchat can be useful.

In addition to all the things I mentioned above, we also saw three collegiate orchestral, concert and symphonic band concerts, went thrift store shopping, took a self-guided tour of the statues of the USD campus, went swimming, sang songs, visited the National Music Museum where we were all able to take a crack at playing the gamelan and my youngest daughter got to spend (face-to-face) time with her big sis.

We took three "groupies" as the girls called them or "us-ies" as Dave Guymon calls them (which I favor due to the connotation of "groupies" in my generational vernacular. We took one at every concert.

We took three “groupies” as the girls called them or “us-ies” as Dave Guymon calls them (which I favor due to the connotation of “groupies” in my generational vernacular). We took one at every concert.

 

So, do these devices make us less social? NO. We may socialize in different ways, but we are not less social. Are kids super-self-centered in that they take a thousand selfies per minute? YES. Have you ever heard of a generation of adolescents who have not been self-absorbed though? They may have shown their self-absorption in other ways, but kids have always been on some level (varying by individual, of course) of the belief that they are the sun and the rest of the people in their lives are the world–revolving around them. Being self-absorbed at that age is NORMAL. My friends and I used to stare at ourselves FOR HOURS … (no hyperbole here … ) in the mirror making weird faces and bursting into laughter. HOURS. Now, they just do it into a screen and possibly make a montage of the most awkward photos or a mashup or a meme. If my friends and I could’ve done the same, we would’ve.

YES: Our kids do lead digital lives, but they haven't stopped interacting socially with one another. They just are doing it in new ways. Their kids will do it in new ways 20 years from now. Just like I did in new ways than my parents. It's called change. It's what happens as time marches on.

YES: Our kids do lead digital lives, but they haven’t stopped interacting socially with one another. They just are doing it in new ways. Their kids will do it in ways currently unimagined  20 years from now.

 

Balance. Of course, we need balance in everything we do–not just in digital VS. face-to-face interactions, and technology vs. nature–but in work vs. play, health vs. indulgence, physical vs. mental activity, fun vs. serious, and so on. Technology changes communication, but in my opinion, communication is easier today than it has ever been. Communication is more creative today than it ever has been. And kids are the same as they ever were; they just have new ways of expressing themselves.

In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

~ Eric Hoffer

The Lament (and Plea) of a High School Grammar Teacher

YouHadMe-400x280

When I was in high school, I diagrammed exactly ZERO sentences. In fact, I didn’t even know what diagramming was until college, when I took a Linguistics class well after declaring secondary language arts as my major. I remember doing grammar worksheets in elementary school, junior high, and high school. I remember learning tricks like FANBOYS (which maybe isn’t even a thing anymore???) and being confused by when to use commas. I also know that until I became an English teacher and researched it on my own, the semicolon was an enigma. (Now it’s my favorite.)

I also remember learning more about grammar in French class than in English class. I, without a doubt, learned more about how to apply grammar to my writing as a school newspaper staffer than I ever did in any English class. Newspaper staff is where I learned how to use a style guide too. Even though it was the AP Style Guide, it still set the foundation for using MLA and APA in college in the sense that it was a place to go when I wasn’t sure about something.

I’ve also sort of been blessed with excellent grammar genetics. I’m a good speller and have a good gut for the rules. Reading was a big deal in my household growing up too, so I’m certain I picked up on the rules of Standard English Grammar because of how much reading I did as a child and young adult. (Thanks for setting that foundation for me, Mom.)

During my language arts methods classes in college, we didn’t learn any techniques for teaching grammar explicitly. We were told that students should learn grammar through their own writing and that we should address grammar issues prescriptively. In other words, when we noticed an ailment, we should offer the student a cure at that time, rather than taking preventative measures, because discrete grammar instruction was supposedly ineffective.

So, it should come as no surprise that I really don’t know the best way to teach grammar. There. I admitted it.

I have some ideas, but I’ve been using the prescriptive method for nearly 15 years now and I’m not convinced it’s the right way to go about it. However, drill and kill doesn’t sit quite right with me either.

It is also less than unexpected that when I seek advice on best practices for teaching grammar from other teachers via social media that I get a whole bunch of cricket chirps in response. I have also done some poking around on the web and there are some good lessons out there … creative, engaging, helpful … but they are few and far between, and random. There isn’t that much stuff out there to help teachers teach grammar (in an engaging way). For example, when you type in “Romeo and Juliet Lesson Plans” in a search engine, something in the neighborhood of six magjillion lesson plans come up and a good number of them are effective. Not so with a search of “high school grammar lesson plans.”

Hear my cry, internet!

How do you approach grammar in your high school English classrooms?

I tried something new in the grammar department today and the lesson will continue tomorrow. (It may bleed into next week for all I know) … and I will document the experiment here.

What I really want to create is a bank of awesomely engaging lessons that teach something that is not usually categorized as “awesome” or “engaging” (in the eyes of most students anyway). If you have an awesomely engaging grammar lesson for high school students, will you share? Please?

Also, if you would, please share this post and respond in the comments below. (Please don’t share this with any crickets though.)

The MOSTLY Paperless (and Increasingly Empathetic) Classroom: A Revised Technology Goal

I have always been a tree hugger, both literally and figuratively.

This is me hugging a tree that George Washington planted at Mount Vernon.

This is me hugging a tree that George Washington planted at Mount Vernon.

Three years ago when we began our iPad initiative my technology goal was to go paperless over a three year period. Predictably hippie of me, eh? I wanted to phase out paper completely by the end of THIS school year. I have been toddler-stepping toward that goal ever since.

I deliver almost all handouts and assignments digitally through email, this blog, Twitter, and now most prominently, Google Drive. Students complete and submit most of their assignments digitally. The first year the students did so hesitantly and with raucous complaint. The second year it was about half and half. Half of them preferred to submit things digitally and half of them preferred the old-fashioned way of doing things. This year students almost exclusively hand in their papers digitally, without much comment, though we do struggle with a standardized process. And there will always be Luddites, even young ones, who just want to etch their responses into a stone and call it good, (or at the very least use a pencil and paper).

All through this process I grappled with the best way to deliver feedback to students. I struggle with feedback as it is. I have still not mastered a balance between high quality AND timely feedback. The students get one or the other for me. The closest I can get to providing both is the oral feedback process I started experimenting with back in 2013, but that still isn’t ideal.

Before I use technology in the classroom, I ask myself these questions: 1. Will it help my students learn new information that will help them in this class (and life)? 2. Will it help my students learn or strengthen a skill that I want them to have? 3. Will it serve to build or strengthen my relationship with my students and/or their parents? If I can’t answer YES to at least one of those questions, then I most likely won’t be using it in the classroom during instructional time.

So, at the beginning of this school-year, as I reflected on years one and two of my three-year technology goal of going paperless, I asked myself, Why am I going paperless? Is it going to help my students to become better readers, writers, researchers, speakers, or thinkers?

Ummmm …

Is it going to strengthen my relationship with my students and/or their parents?

Errrr …

So, why did I go with this goal in the first place?

Aside from the idea that going paperless seems like the environmentally responsible thing to do, I am big into the idea that if I ask my students to do something, I should be doing it too. I’m very much against the “do as I say, not as I do” attitude, so I feel like I’m letting my students down when I insist that they submit their work digitally, but then I print off the assignment and return it with feedback written with a pen. I don’t why I feel like I’m letting them down and I have not once had a student say, “Gee Mrs. M. I was really hoping that this feedback would be written in digital ink,” so I guess I’m sort of making an assumption about what constitutes “letting my students down.”

I have taken numerous stabs at downloading every students’ writing assignment to Goodnotes and delivering painstaking feedback with my finger, a stylus, or a keyboard, and every single time I try it, I give up and print it out. Usually, by the time I break down and hit command+P, I am so flummoxed that I wait to give feedback until later when I’m in a better mood (and thereby deliver feedback much later than I intended) OR give rushed handwritten feedback that is simply not up to the standard to which I hold myself. I did successfully deliver quiz feedback via Goodnotes and Google Drive this quarter and that felt like a minor victory to me, but again, not one single student said, “Gee Mrs. M. I truly appreciated that you returned this quiz to me digitally and that you used your stylus to write your explanations for why this answer needs work or how wonderful my response was.” (Not that students are known for giving such feedback to teachers anyway. Ha!)

This is me hugging a tree  in The Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, France.

This is me hugging a tree in The Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, France.

So, am I attempting this goal for environmental reasons? (Sort of. Okay: Yes.) And, am I failing the environment if I continue to print student work and write my feedback out long-hand in ink? (Probably not.) It depends on who you ask. I read an article that said that really it’s not the paper-making process that’s environmentally problematic; it’s the fact that we humans don’t recycle enough of it. Now that my school district is recycling again (YAYZ!) I feel a little better about this. It seems that I should spend less time feeling guilty about things and more time reflecting on why I do the things I do. After all, I’m into the third year of a three-year goal and this is just now occurring to me … ??? (Did I just admit that aloud? UGH. True confessions.)

One of the most important things we do at the classroom level is give students feedback, so if my goal to become a paperless teacher is impeding this important thing …

I have decided to rethink my goal.

My new and improved revised goal is to run a mostly paperless classroom in which the teacher delivers high quality feedback in the most timely manner possible, even if that means sometimes printing stuff off and writing the feedback with a pen. My goal will be to use paperless methods where it makes sense and works well for all parties involved and offer alternatives when it doesn’t work well for someone (be it student or teacher). I will use paperless methods when it makes sense to do so and not just for the sake of going paperless.

The other good thing about this revised goal is that I’ve already met it! (Pretty tricky. I know …)  I feel that I’ve succeeded because most of my information level and activity level handouts are digitized and students are successfully navigating Google Drive, Goodnotes, Twitter, and their blogs to give and receive information. And, my lack of success in delivering digital feedback 100% of the time has given me another lesson in empathizing with the frustration students feel when they have to turn in work digitally and struggle with it. And I don’t think there’s such a thing as a teacher having too much empathy for her students.

“Don’t worry about the grade. Focus on what you’re learning.”

Out on town
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Kristina Alexanderson via Compfight

On Thursday, one of my students bombed his vocabulary and sentence structure test. He seemed less disappointed when he found out that he could retake it and receive some remedial instruction pre-retake. This morning he was waiting for me when I arrived at school. We reviewed comma splices (and how to avoid them), as well as the complex sentence structure. He retook the test and I told him I’d have the results for him later in the day.

When I gave him the results, he seemed pleased to learn that he recovered almost all of his points. He told me that his father had texted him earlier in the day to find out how he did on his retake. When this student told him he didn’t know the results yet, his father, (sensing his son’s apprehension regarding the results, I imagine) said, “Don’t worry about the grade. Focus on what you’re learning.”

That is a remarkable things for a parent to say in the day and age of the Almighty GPA, high-stakes test scores, and an overall desire to “keep up with the Joneses.” Our culture has a general obsession with how people look on paper regardless of what they actually know and can do. We can talk multiple measures all we want, but until more colleges start looking at the student as a total package and actually using multiple measures to determine admission, and even more importantly, who receives scholarship awards, we will continue to perpetuate the culture of distilling people into numbers. (I realize this isn’t the ONLY thing that needs to happen, but it would be a very influential place to start. I also believe that those who run colleges are starting to recognize this.) We can push from the bottom, but what we really need is some top-end action.

I can tell students that it’s important for them to challenge themselves by taking more difficult classes, by doing their best, by trying, even when trying is hard, and I might make a difference, but when a child grows up in a home where the learning process is valued above sheer numbers, that is the most powerful influence of all. Learning is a lifestyle. What a powerful message–what a powerful gift–that father gave to his son this afternoon.

Many students spend so much time fixating on their GPAs that they lose sight of what school should really be about–learning transferable skills that they can take with them into the world (not just college, but THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD). Any time I hear of parents taking some of the pressure off of their children by assuring them that the process they are going through is more valuable than a number on a paper or in a grade book, that makes my heart happy. It gives me hope for our system.

And Change-o Was Her Name-o.

When I started this blog last year–the inaugural year of my school’s 1:1 iPad initiative, I thought the name I chose was so clever. I mean iPad … iTeachiLearn. Get it?

How delightfully clever am I, said I, gleefully clicking my heels in celebration as I hit “publish” for the first time.

But then the other day I was poking around Twitter, when this link came across my feed:

 

I heard a record player’s needle scratch vinyl as I realized … uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh … I’m not the only one. I went and poked around Dave Mulder‘s website: iTeach and iLearn and I was just like “OH MANNNNN” especially when I realized that his blog was older than mine.

Then, I did what any modern-day tech-savvy teacher should do PRIOR to establishing a new blog and Googled “iTeach iLearn” and OF COURSE, Dave’s blog came up and so did a bunch of other stuff that used the same or similar title: There’s an ORG with the same name, as well as an un-uploaded book, an RTI Tier at a school in Washington, a spiral-bound book about iPads, a slideshare slideshow, a barely established Pinterest Board, a NING, and an archive of student podcasts.

Let this be a cautionary tale, friends. Always Google your intended name, pre-establishment.

So, I’ve been thinking and thinking and thinking … actually that’s an exaggeration. I had TWO names picked out prior to establishing this blog and I ended up going with iTeach iLearn because of the 1:1 iPad connection. However, though iPads have certainly played a role in my blogging experience, they are not the focus of this blog, so my original name choice is probably more telling anyway. Now, I’m going to reveal to you my new blog name, (which I did Google and came up with ONE similarly named blog, but nothing else, so I’m forging ahead), and the name is … (drum roll, please) … Small Teacher, Big World, same tagline. New name. Same tasty flavor.

And now you know why.

P.S. Dave Mulder plays the ukulele and loves Jesus. I WANT to play the ukulele player and totally love Jesus. Coinkydink? I think not–>We’re actually the same person. DUNdunDUNNNNN.

Just kidding. We’re are definitely NOT the same person, but we both obviously have excellent taste in blog titles.

Drama Games For Every Classroom*

*This post was inspired by this week’s #slowchated.

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Why school? Because: Relationships. Relationships are why education is.

It is for the above-stated reason that I spend so much time at the beginning of a semester (even for year-long classes at the beginning of second semester) front-loading rapport-building activities. As far as I’m concerned, content and skill development can wait because without a student-teacher rapport, learning will suffer. I have a friend who lives by the mantra: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If you invest this time connecting to students, you don’t even have to think about classroom management later on. When you earn your students’ respect, you set the stage for smooth production.

In my current position, I teach English and drama. Some of the same games we use to build performance skills in drama class are also brilliant community-enhancers and can be used in any classroom for such a purpose.

Why do drama games work for building classroom community? They’re fun. They’re a little silly. They give license for people of all ages to play together in a low-risk situation that has no other goal than to strengthen the relationships in the room. (SRSLY, doods. Everyone wins. Every. Single. Time.)

In this post, I’ll discuss drama games that have worked well in non-drama classes for the purpose of relationship-building. Some of these games came from books that I have acquired over the years and some came from workshops that I’ve attended. I will give credit whenever memory serves me well enough to do so. Many of these games are much like oral literature in that they are passed by word-of-mouth over time and tweaked by each new recipient, so the way I present them are versions of the way I learned them, but I’m certain they have changed from the way I was taught in a subtle or maybe even sometimes drastic way, just as I’m sure that the way I was taught was personalized by the teachers in some way, shape, or form as well.

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THE GAMES

☆☆☆ —> THE MAGIC SUBSTANCE

The Wizard
Photo Credit: Sean McGrath via Compfight

Source: A Drama Workshop (but I can’t remember which one–sorry!)

Premise: Suspend your disbelief. Sit in a circle. One person (the starter) in the circle has a magical substance. It can take any form or shape. The starter should play with the substance for a while, changing it’s weight, size, texture a few times before passing the substance to the person sitting next to him/her. (S/he may choose to the left or to the right.) That person must receive the magical substance as it is delivered to him or her, but then s/he must change it somehow before passing it to the next person. Each person, in turn, must receive the substance as is and change it somehow before passing it, until it comes back to the starter.

Note: You may not change the substance into a thing. For example, you can’t change it into a cell phone or a gun. It must just be an indefinable, but constantly-morphing, magical substance at all times.

 

☆☆☆ —> DEFENDER

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Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Ol.v!er [H2vPk] via Compfight

Source: Theater for Community, Conflict and Dialogue: The Hope is Vital Training Manual by Michael Rohd (with a foreword from one of my all-time favorite educators, Dr. Doug Paterson from University of Nebraska at Omaha)

Premise: Move around the space freely. While in motion, everyone must SILENTLY and WITHOUT OBVIOUS FANFARE choose a Defender and an Enemy. In the time remaining (5 minutes or less) continue moving (still silently) around the room, but the object is to always keep your Defender between yourself and your Enemy.

Note: In some cases, individuals will select a Defender who has selected him/her as an Enemy. This only adds to the complexity and challenge of the game. Encourage students to choose others who they would not normally choose. (For example, someone may choose their best friend as their “enemy” for this game, or someone with whom they’ve rarely talked as a defender.)

☆☆☆ –> BLOB TAG

 

Source: I don’t remember. (EEK!)

Premise: One player is The Blob. (In traditional tag, this person would be called “IT.”) Everyone else must try to stay away from The Blob. The Blob must try to tag everyone else. Once The Blob tags someone else, that someone else, hooks arms with The (original) Blob and becomes a part of The Blob him/herself. Each person who is subsequently tagged becomes part of The Blob until EVERYONE is part of The Blob.

Note: You will want to set boundaries in the space, especially if you are in a large one. A stage, a commons area, a gym, or an outdoor space works well for this.

 

 

BONUS: Blog Tag + Costumes (This was taken during Homecoming Week on Cartoon Day.)

 

 

☆☆☆ —> BUNNY

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Source: A Church Youth Leader, somewhere in Minnesota … 

Premise: Form a circle. Choose someone to be the Starter. The Starter places his/her two thumbs on the side of his/her head with the rest of his/her finger stretched outward. (Think of the nanny-nanny-boo-boo gesture.) S/he wiggles his/her hands and says “Bunny, bunny, bunny, bunny, bunny, bunny, bunny.” On the 7th(ish) “bunny” s/he takes his/her hands off of his/her head and puts his/her palms together and “sends” or “zaps” the bunny to someone else in the circle. Whomever the Starter points to then receives the bunny, by placing his/her hands in the aforementioned “bunny” stance AND the person to the receiver’s right, places his/her right hand on the right side of his/her head and the person to the left places his/her left hand on the left side of his/her head and all three people chime in with “Bunny X 7ish” until the middle person zaps the bunny across the circle again. If any of the three receivers do not react quickly enough, or make the wrong gesture, that person is OUT and steps out of the circle. As more and more people get OUT, the circle tightens until it gets down to three. The last three will be the quickest paced portion of the game because ALL three people will be involved in ALL of the bunnies. When it gets down to TWO, you must have a VEGETABLE DUEL. (A vegetable duel can be used to settle all sorts of classroom scores, by the way.) For the vegetable duel the last two people must stand back to back, until the duel master spurs them to take four swift paces away from one another. Then the duel master must call out the name of a vegetable. Upon hearing the name of the vegetable both duelers must turn and do an impersonation of the chosen vegetable. Whoever makes the best impersonation of said vegetable (as determined by duel master or by clapping vote–house rules) WINS.

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☆☆☆ —> CIRCLE DASH

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Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley via Compfight

Source: Theater for Community, Conflict and Dialogue: The Hope is Vital Training Manual by Michael Rohd

Premise: Form a circle with one volunteer in the middle. The object of the game is to get out and stay out of the middle, but it’s also to challenge yourself with taking a (safe) risk with the help of another student. When the person in the middle isn’t looking, make eye contact with someone at least one person away from you. Make eye contact with that student and give a slight nod, raise your eyebrow, or make some sort of tiny gesture to indicate that you want to trade places with that person. Once you and the other person have silently agreed to trade spots, make a run for it. When you are in transit, the person in the middle will try to take one of your spots. If s/he does, then you will take his/her spot in the middle and try to take someone else’s spot, when s/he trades with another student.

Note: This is the only game during which I have been positively FLATTENED by a student in her zeal to trade spaces with the student who was standing next to me. It hurt like HELL, caused bruising, and the student felt awful about it, but it was also really really funny. The students couldn’t believe I wasn’t mad. I explained, “That’d be like me getting upset that I got tackled in a mosh pit. It’s all good.”

—> BABY I LOVE YOU

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Source: A Childhood Game

Premise: Everyone sits in a circle. Someone volunteers to be the Starter. The Starter turns to the person on his/her left (his/her choice) and states, “Baby, I love you, but I just can’t make you smile” using any voice or facial express s/he desires. However, s/he may not touch the receiver. The person who receives this message must follow these guidelines: Eye contact is required. No sucking in cheeks or biting lips. S/he must not smile or laugh. If s/he smiles or laughs s/he is out. If the Starter gets that person out, s/he must repeat the process with the next person in the circle. If the Starter does not succeed in making the Receiver smile, then the Receiver must go through the process with the next person in the circle. As more and more people get OUT the circle must tighten and those who are out can become the audience. When it gets down to the “stone cold killahs” you can choose new bizarre phrases for them to try out on one another. (For example: “I baked you a muffin” or “I’m a cotton-headed ninny muggins” could work, but you know what will make your group giggle.) The last person standing is the winner and should be celebrated as such with joyous aplomb.

Note: I usually play the games with the students, but this is one from which I abstain, simply because it is too weird for kids to be telling me they love me, even in jest.

 

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Other Resources that I <3 <3 <3 (in no specific order)

  • Games for Actors and Non-Actors by Augusto Boal (translated by Adrian Jackson)
  • 3-Minute Motivators by Kathy Paterson
  • Theater Games for the Classroom: A Teacher’s Handbook by Viola Spolin
  • Children Tell Stories: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss