This time of year, the teacher struggle is real, but sometimes, it’s worth it.
Yesterday, I actually heard one of my 5th graders say, “This is the best day ever!” during class. You’d think, as his teacher, I would be so psyched to hear that!
Unfortunately, this was NOT in response to him finally understanding a math concept, or maybe even a reaction to an activity I had created. As it was, his enthusiasm resulted from the fact that yesterday, we basically did no work.
You heard me, no work! It was literally a wasted day– or so I thought.
We are pretty lucky at my school to have a lot of great enrichment programs for the students, and one of the most popular after-school activities for the 4th and 5th graders is the chorus. Over half of my class is in the chorus! This week was their holiday concert, and in addition to the evening performance for the parents, they also perform for the whole school!
Excuse my Grinch-y attitude, but in my teacher brain, this amounts to loads of lost instructional time! There were 2 shows, one in the morning for the primary grades, then 1pm-2pm for the intermediate grades. This meant that chorus students were not in the room for over an hour in the morning, then we were all gone for the afternoon performance. What?! How can I teach?
Well, I couldn’t. There is no way I could introduce new material with only 1/3 of my class present. I didn’t want to check homework without them, either. We couldn’t even read the next chapters in our class novel because the chorus kids would miss it (and likely tar and feather me for doing so without them!)
What was I supposed to do? I needed something educational, so we started with a math game I recently taught them called ‘Buzz.’ (see below for info)
After a few elimination tournaments, they were getting antsy again. I remembered another game I hadn’t used in a while, so I started up the new one, called “Back to Back.” This one tests knowledge of facts by having two students trying to guess each others’ number using the product of the two.
Here is where I began to change my tune towards this “wasted day.” During this game, 2 kids at a time are playing against each other at the board as the class watches. Can you just see those shy kiddos sinking in their seats as I speak? There he went: R.H.’s shoulders just dropped as the realization hit him-he will be in front of everyone having to do math, a subject that he believes he is not very good at.
R.H. is by no means a math whiz, but he’s not bad. It takes him a little longer than some to get his answer, but if he takes the time he can do it. You know that kid 🙂
When it was his turn, he reluctantly made his way up to the board and when he won the first round, you could see that little sparkle in his eye. I have an in! I chose his next opponent and decided to stack the deck just a little. He went against someone who I knew was not likely to beat him. He won again, and now he couldn’t hide the smile! The loser typically chooses the next to go up, so they continued to play without my intervention, and darn it if R.H. didn’t keep on winning!
Eventually, despite the class rooting him on, he lost a round and had to swap with another student. The boy we saw sulk to the front of the room was not the same boy we watched strut back to his desk! For one of the smallest kids in 5th grade, he was standing tall. I looked on, overcome with pride, as he jumped at the chance to return to the front and avenge his title.
He wasn’t the only one, either! Many students who are normally shy and reserved seem to shed their protective shells and were bouncing out of their seats to prove themselves. With each round, the class grew more and more supportive of each other, whooping and high-five-ing like it was the world series! It is the closest, I think, we have felt as a class, like one big family having fun together.
My teacher heart grew three sizes.
By the time the chorus returned to class, we had little time for much work save a quick math review. We finished our class novel, Wonder, to a few tears and huge applause. (If you haven’t read it, you simply must!)
Which brings me to that comment about the best day ever. Little R.H. had been on cloud 9 since his math victory, and when I announced that I had booked gym time for our recess instead of playing in the classroom, well he just couldn’t contain his happiness. I often ask the class to nominate their classmates for things, and when I said,
“who should we nominate for today’s MVP to be a team captain for kickball?”
nearly everyone called out R.H.’s name. I’m not sure I have words to describe what it looks like to physically see someone’s confidence increase exponentially, but trust me, it’s pretty miraculous. He was a whole new kid, and for the rest of the day I saw him act like he was The Man. On the way to the buses I heard him say it,
“This is the best day EVER!”
And I have to agree.
I first read about this game in the book Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire, by Rafe Esquith. It is basically a number sense game where the students use their knowledge of multiples, and listening skills, to say “buzz” instead of the multiple being buzzed that round. For example, if you are starting with 2s, you go around the room to each kid, counting up from 1 like so: 1,buzz, 3, buzz, 5, buzz, 7, etc. It is harder than it sounds, because the students are tempted to say the next number in the sequence, instead of the one after the ‘buzzed’ number. Also, when you get to 4s and 6s, they are stumped!