Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Inspired Teaching Institute Day 3: Inspired Teaching is reacting

After day 1, Julie, Inspired Teaching’s Director of Research and a linguist by trade, marvelled at the Institute leaders’ skill. Two in particular have led the Institute for years and have heard the same responses to similar questions over and over again. Yet somehow they are able to respond as if they’re hearing it for the first time. They took this skill from their theater backgrounds straight to the classrooms in which they taught. Now, in the classroom that is the Institute, they demonstrate it so flawlessly that we forget that our epiphanies and quandaries are nothing new to them.

So while we played an intentionally repetitive game, I followed their lead.

This is a horse.
A what? A what? A what? A what? A what?
A horse. A horse. A horse. A horse. A horse.
Oh, a horse.

Basically, everyone sits in a circle and takes a turn offering a random object to the person beside him or her, and saying that the object—which is not at all horse, much more likely a cell phone—is indeed a horse. The person responds by asking, “A what?” and the individual offering the object confirms, “A horse.” “Oh, a horse,” the recipient answers. If it were just one round, it would be so simple. But as the game continues, the question and answer must return each time to the first person who offered the object.

Too much information? Confused? Well, imagine 20+ people playing with both a “horse” and a “cow” circulating in opposite directions!

I confess: Other than feeling some anxiety when I had to simultaneously receive and pass two messages different ways around the circle, it got to be a bit dull.

Fortunately, we took time to unpack the activity, looking at what lessons could be taught through the game. Then we journaled in response to questions about the entire day. As a teacher, what do you do when you’re out of your comfort zone or are in the unknown? Co-teaching with a colleague whose mental processes are very different from yours. Engaging students during the last few days before a standardized test. Maybe fielding some of those curiosity questions: “Are you married? How old are you? Who’s that lady in the hallway?”

Or being bored. During the game I tried to do what Kaneia and Aleta do—to react genuinely to each statement as if I didn’t know what was coming because I had never heard it. It was a fake-it-till-you-make-it tactic, and it kept me amused and thoroughly engaged.

A teacher can show their students how to ask and answer questions, but over time, the magic might fade for the teacher. Remaining open increases the chances that everyone involved—teachers, students, families, principals—won’t get bored with school. Instead they might be inspired again and again by opportunities to learn.

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