Celebrating Success, III

As I mentioned yesterday, our CAMWS-SS panel became a joyful community last weekend. But what about my students?  How have we built on successes – and helped them learn from struggles?  Debbie’s profound point still inspires me:

We don’t want chaos; we don’t want challenges and barriers; we don’t want to see students struggling with a personal issue, with an academic concept; we don’t want to see students in conflict or teachers in conflict; we just want a joyful community. But where does our greatest Wisdoms come from? From times of discord, when we are presented with challenges and situations outside of our comfort zone.

When we are able to see all experiences as an opportunity to teach, guide, strengthen core values, then we can celebrate the unjoyfulness. We can jump into the teachable moment with a smile on our face (ok, probably not jumping or smiling) but at least hopeful?

Last week had been challenging for my students, who then had a substitute teacher … on Friday.  And this is “Spirit Week,” when we dress in unusual ways with a daily theme.  Pajama Day on Monday (no, I don’t participate); Support Your Team day Tuesday (I wore a very subtle tie, an older version of this one).  For a school with a restrictive uniform dress code, Spirit Week is a big deal.

(What’s the purpose and intention of a Spirit Week for a school without athletic teams?  Let’s save that question for another day.)

Tired from my long, successful  weekend, I arrived at school very early Monday morning, looked at my students’ work from Friday, and sighed with relief.  We needed to play a game together.

Muscās captāte looks like a simple game – a variation on the old language-teacher favorite called “The Flyswatter Game.”  But those variations make a difference.

We began on Monday by returning to the stories we’d read on Friday, refining the Latin questions we’d created.  Our goal was at least one excellent Latin question per “virtual page” of story in about 20 minutes.  I collected the written questions, divided the classes into groups of 4 or 5, and gave each group a colorful flyswatter.  Nothing revolutionary … except that students create questions and the goal isn’t just recognition.  Oh, and if I ask your question as you wrote it, you don’t answer, but you do score some points.

Otherwise, every group tries to answer every question  … in writing.  They send up one member bearing the written answer and the flyswatter, and they swat the target – an announced location on the old National Geographic map of Rome that hangs at the front of our classroom.  You swat that target and then (oh, so crucial for my impulsive students) you stay still.  The first correct response gets the most points, but every correct response gets at least one point.  And while each group keeps track of its own score, I keep track of a cumulative class score … which can increase or decrease.

  • There’s no penalty for a wrong answer, but there’s a three consecutive dropped questions rule. If your team fails to answer three questions in a row, your team’s score – and the cumulative class score – will decrease by one point.
  • If friendly competition turns ugly, the cumulative class score decreases. What’s ugly? Pushing, shoving, tripping, arguing – all the things factory-model games encourage.

It’s not a purely practomimetic game like Operation LAPIS.  There’s not a 1-to-1 correspondence between gameplay objectives and learning objectives – or is there?

And do the rules sustain or subvert the ruleset of factory schooling?

  • There’s collaboration at the heart of the competition.
  • What all of us do together is more important than what each group does individually.
  • The focus is on communication and creation, not passive recognition.

We played on Monday, played again on Tuesday, will play again today.  We played our way toward  joyful learning community – because community, like joyful learning, needs care, attention, and support.

But before we could play, one class had a difficult conversation.  “I don’t feel it,” I told them.  “I look and listen, and I don’t feel or see the Latin Family.  I see 27 individuals and some friendship groups.  But I don’t see the greater organization.

They were stunned.  “What do you mean?” they asked.  To be a joyful community, I explained, we must care for each other, respect each other, be kind to each other.  When we’re thoughtlessly selfish or self-absorbed, we can’t be a joyful community.  “You can continue on that road if you’d like,” I explained, “but then we can’t be the Latin Family.  We’ll just have to be … a class.  I’m not sure you’d like that. But you can decide.”

Stunned silence ensued, then quiet, focused effort. Then a beautiful round of muscās captāte.

“Isn’t this fascinating!” Debbie had noted Tuesday morning, shortly before all this happened:

Awareness is the first step …. and if we can teach our children/youth to be self-aware and to be open to outside help in the process, wouldn’t our world be a better place! Imagine the teachers of the future, the government reps, the parents — if they were able to look within, find negative motivations and do something to change it.

Real choices.  Real ownership of process and consequences.  The power of community.

But down the hall, just like every day, Ms. X was yelling at students for “being bad and lazy.” Ms. Y was complaining about “those cell phones” and how “distracting” they are.  “If I find the site where Mr. Z downloaded the worksheet, and the answer key is right there, is that cheating?” someone asked me.

How can we build learning communities in deserted corners of teaching factories? And how can we sustain them when our students spend the rest of their day being processed on the assembly line?

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Published in: on November 7, 2012 at 10:40 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] It would not have been a good day for a competitive game!  Not even for the cooperative game I described in yesterday’s post. […]


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