Monday, September 8, 2014

Drawing Laughter

Walking into the room, I can only assume what she saw, what she heard. Her reaction is easily justified when you think about it. The students laughing, not little giggles, but noisy and disruptive laughter. The substitute teacher standing silently before the class, whiteboard marker in hand.

"Hey! Be quiet!" she bellowed. "What would your normal teacher think?!"

What had started as a normal, boring vocabulary lesson would turn out to be much more.

The students at this school had been taught to sit quietly in their seats, aligned in rows, and absorb the content that the teacher presented. It was very similar to what most of us were taught, if not identical. (Which is apparently the same as Sumerian classrooms c. 2000 BC.)

I had started the vocabulary lesson as I knew how - having experience being a student, but no formal training in pedagogy or behavior management - and I was bored. I can only imagine how the students felt. So I decided I was going to do the lesson a bit differently. There were a number of nautical terms, so what better way to illustrate the concept for them than to actually illustrate it?

The problem with that is that I am a terrible illustrator. (By which I mean that I have not invested the time in lessons or practice to improve my skill and have little interest in doing so.) So I did what any person would do; I made my sketches even worse, intentionally, and made up a story that slowly introduced each vocabulary word.

The students could tell that the illustration and story were intentionally silly, but they were humored. They laughed and wrote what they needed. They were engaged.

Then another adult walked in, not knowing what was going on, just that the class' behavior was very unusual. She wanted to do her part to help with what was seen as an out of control class. After a few minutes, I assume she saw what was going on.

Looking back, I wouldn't change the story. I would rather try something new, look silly, and have my students engaged than fit a traditional mold of education. This can be at conflict with parent or administrative demands, but I think that the results prove it worthwhile. Never be afraid to learn, try new things, and engage your students.

What have you tried in your class that is unorthodox? How did it work? What did you learn?

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