Little Things

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Often it’s the little things that make life in our classrooms easier.

GOLF PENCILS. One of the biggest roadblocks to getting down to business is the old “I don’t have a writing utensil” problem. Instead of getting all uptight and letting it derail a portion of a class period, I keep lots of golf pencils on hand. It removes the hassle. “I need a pencil” + “Okay here” is a lot less stressful than “Goll dangit kid! Can’t you just be responsible? I guess you’ll have to go to your locker or borrow from a friend or give me your shoe so I get it back!” (Who really wants a high school student’s shoe? I mean … really.)

CARPET SQUARES. I listen to lectures better when I am a doodling. Some people like to have something in their hands to play with to help them focus. Other people are tappers. While doodling and fidgeting are usually not distracting to others, tapping can be, so I keep carpet squares on hand. The students can drum them with their hands or a pen or pencil and it pretty much muffles the sound altogether. My tappers and the people around them can all be happy at once.

WHISPER PHONES. Reading aloud is helpful to some students. It’s one more kinesthetic layer to their learning. Obviously, if you have a room full of students trying to read, some prefer quiet though. Reading aloud isn’t quiet, unless you whisper into a whisper phone (which can easily be made with two PVC elbows). You hold it like a phone and whisper it into one end and the sound travels to your ear through the “C” without broadcasting to the room. I can have a room full of silent readers with a handful of students quietly reading to themselves out loud. This works well too for students who are checking their own writing for errors in a quiet room and need to listen for errors (because we often catch errors with our ears that our eyeballs miss).

DRUM. Reading your own writing aloud in front of peers is for some reason less scary when you have a drum accompaniment. Weird, but true. Also, if you teach English, the drum is vital for any reading of “The Telltale Heart.”

None of these ideas are mine. I’ve learned of them from other educators over the years, and like a chef using someone else’s recipe, I’ve tweaked them to make them work in my classroom.

Rigorrrrrrrrrr

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seth m via Compfight

I like what (most) educators mean when they say RIGOR (and OF COURSE I love love love the bojangles out of relevance, which typically leads to engagement) but truth be told, the word rigor just makes me think of stiff corpses …

<tenting hands à la cartoon villain>  … You’re thinking about them now … aren’t you? …

Unfortunately (for me and anyone like me), any time you get a bunch of dorks together to talk about curriculum the dead body word comes up, every stinkin’ time. It’s been in use for a good long while now too, so I think it’s outlived the buzzword phase. We’re probably stuck with it. However, after typing rigor into thesaurus. com, I’ve curated a brief collection of of alternatives for the aforementioned word that I would very much like to avoid, if possible, when discussing anything but the state of a cadaver from this point forward:

AUSTERITY –> After all, standards should be of a stern and unwavering nature, no? (Curriculum should not be austere; standards should be.)

FIRMNESS or RIGIDITY  –> Standards should be unmoving, stationary targets. (Again: The curriculum should be fluid, adaptable, and ever-evolving to best meet and exceed standards, but the standards themselves should usually stay put–until we discover a problem. Then they should be altered immediately.)

PRECISION –> Of course standards should be clearly defined and exact–so should curriculum.

ASPERITY –> This one means harshness or sharpness, which is way worse than THE WORD THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED’s definition, but as a word, it is much more auditorily pleasing.

TRADITIONALISM or CONVENTIONALISM –> These are, after all, qualities that curriculum and standards sometimes take on if rigor’s intended meaning is misconstrued. Maybe, if we called it one or all of these things, it could serve as a warning to people when they started getting away from academically or intellectually challenging (the definition I use for rigor) curricula to stale, inflexible, stoutly traditional or boringly conventional curricula. (There’s nothing wrong with some traditional or conventional methods, so please don’t slay me with your words, dearest readers who favor traditional or conventional methods in education. I just firmly believe that educators need to stay fresh and open to the idea that there is always a possibility of something better out there as we continually learn more about learning.) In other words, when we are dealing with a rigorous curriculum–cool. When we are dealing with a stale, unwaveringly, boring, traditional-for-the-sake-of-tradition curriculum we can say … Whoa, slow down there, doggy. We’re getting into the realm of inflexible traditionalist conventionalism and we’re going to need to shorten your leash a little.

OBDURACY –> This means unmoving, stubborn, unyielding … When you get down to it, standards should be these things, but the people who write them shouldn’t be. WE, the keepers of the curricula, have to be flexible enough to see when something that was “set in stone” needs to be sandblasted.

PUNCTILIOUSNESS –> This is my favorite. It is more in line with what I think of when I think of what curriculum and standards should be, but is also just a cool words that does not conjure up any morbid thoughts for me. It feels pleasant on the tongue and sounds lovely in the air. Punctiliousness is an attentiveness to detail. Isn’t that agreeable? Maybe even … charming? Okay … that’s probably taking it too far, but it’s a heckuva lot better than corpses … frozen, immalleable, ossified corpses. (Shut up! I’m closing out of the thesaurus.com tab right now …)

None of the words on the above list mean fun things–not that education ALWAYS has to be a circus of entertainment. (Though wouldn’t it be cool if we actually included a standard for fun? Then again, any attempt to standardize fun would probably make it less fun … so, never mind.) Education should be fun when it CAN be, but it can’t always be. Curriculum should be suitably challenging, even difficult at times (not that fun and challenge are mutually exclusive). And again, I think that rigor (gag!) as it is usually intended in curricular discussions IS a good thing. I just wish we could agree on a more palatable* way to say it.

*I thought up the word palatable without the assistance of thesaurus.com.

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

First Friday!

I will be brief because one of my colleagues has taken it upon himself to have an informal tech meeting at his house after school today. In all of my years of teaching, I have not ever, before today, been invited over to another teacher’s house on a Friday night for the express purpose of decompressing and discussing my week of teaching. That alone makes this year exciting.