Throw Out the Desks! Planning On Your Feet
This week at Habla we’ve had several extraordinary educators from around the world visiting: Anne Thulson, Arnold Aprill, and Terry Blackhawk. Along with the formal presentations for the community that are part of our “Pedagogy of Creativity” series, we created an informal opportunity for our visitors and local educators to share an “aha moment” over the last year when they deepened or changed a particular aspect of their work. You can read about some of them here on Arnold Aprill’s blog. Here is my story:
In working with teens and adults we’ve all witnessed the post-lunch slump. Our classes, workshops, and meetings are filled with energy in the mornings, with everyone fresh from a night of sleep and amped up on coffee, only to be followed by an afternoon where we can barely muster the energy to offer an idea. We’re all just trying to make it through the rest of the day.
I’ve been facilitating day-long professional development workshops for teachers for many years. In the mornings, my colleagues and I demonstrate how teachers can incorporate a variety of performance activities into their curriculums. We take teachers through an active process of reading, writing, and performing. Everyone is energetically engaged . . . then we have lunch.
In November, Eileen Landay, my coauthor of A Reason to Read, and I presented a day-long workshop at the Coalition of Essential Schools Fall Forum. After lunch we decided the teachers would sit to work in groups and consider ways to take the ideas of the morning back to their classrooms. As they worked I saw the zombie-like stupor take hold. We mixed the groups up again to share ideas, and this helped, but still, it wasn’t the kind of vibrant process we had experienced in the morning.
The next week I was presenting another day-long workshop for teachers in South Portland, Maine with my colleague John Holdridge. I knew we could do better.
When the teachers entered the room after lunch we didn’t let them sit down. John said, “By the time I count to 10 please be in a standing circle . . . 1,2,3 . . .” We introduced a childhood game to get them back in the space and working together. John demonstrated the game Rock, Paper, Scissors to the teachers and asked them to play a version of it in pairs (little did I know about the history of this game and the variations of it but there were several introduced in the room). Then we asked the question, “When this morning did you feel you were most challenged?” They had a quick conversation with their rock-paper-scissors partner and then returned to the circle. We then instructed, “Change places in the circle by the count of 5″ and everyone quickly crossed over and found a different spot. We asked them to find a new partner and play a quick game called “Thumbs Down” (see below). After this we asked, “What was your experience working with the text this morning?” (in the morning we had participated in a process of bringing a chapter of Seed Folks to life with a variety of performance techniques). After this conversation we gathered again in a circle, changed places, and then John asked them to grab a partner, choose a letter from their names they have in common, and physically represent that letter.
We repeated the process several times of a) having conversations in pairs; b) returning to the circle; c) changing partners; and d) playing a quick physical activity.
Some might think playing physical games between conversations is a ridiculous waste of time. But what I found is that when we interspersed discussions with “play”, the room filled with laughter and energy, not just during the games themselves, but also during the task-oriented conversations. The discussions were much more animated as teachers energetically exchanged ideas, a stark contrast to the previous conference’s post-lunch slump.
When it came to more extensive conversations, and planning for classroom implementation, we asked the teachers, in pairs, to go for a thirty-minute walk discussing how they would like to use the set of ideas from the morning session in their own practice. It wasn’t until nearly the end of the afternoon session that the participants actually sat down in groups and planned on paper what they hoped to accomplish in their classrooms.
We spend a lot of time sitting, not just in schools, but also at work and at home. New research suggests the detrimental effects of sitting too much for adults as well as kids. I’m not sure if it’s time to throw out the desks and conference tables, but a little more moving around sure wouldn’t hurt.
Find a partner and face each other arms length away. One partner puts hands out palms up. The other partner puts hands in a thumbs-down position with the thumbs in the partners palms. Everyone begins playing the game where the palms-up person tries to slap the top of the hand of the thumbs-down person before he/she pulls away. Go for 3 out of 5 and switch sides.
What other ideas do you have for “planning on your feet”? Feel free to add your ideas in the comment section. Thanks!