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Turning our Monday Around

This past Monday, everybody was dragging. The weather in Vermont this time of year just keeps getting more wintery. And that has a bit of a deleterious effect on students whose homelands are a bit more tropical.

Monday last week was just one of those days.

I was EXHAUSTED. It’s a new word I’m trying to teach them. But all of my students report that they are “fine.” “OK.” “Good.” Even though I can tell from their body language and lack of energy that they are not.

But Susan came in ready to play. And she really turned our day around. She had likely two hours worth of stuff to do planned. But we followed our hearts, and our draggy bodies were dancing at the end.

Such great stuff!

It’s kind of funny how teens are so reticent to use their imaginations. I think we kill imaginations in school. We teach kids that often there is only one right answer and one right way to get there, and that they need to fit in. That’s not only the behavior we expect in the classroom, but also the behavior they expect from each other. You act differently from the herd and you are ostracised.

We’ve all been there.

So getting kids to use their imaginations and pretend that this ball we are holding and yet not holding is really big or really heavy or really light seems very strange. So strange, in fact, that one of my girls went to the board to hand me an eraser so we could actually throw things. I think she was trying to show me that we didn’t have to pretend. We could actually throw something.

How do you explain that in simple English? Here’s what I wanted to say: “The entire point of this exercise is to get you to use your imaginations and your bodies to show opposite concepts. Your job is to show me that you understand what it looks like when something is heavy or light. And you need to work together with your peers to make this happen.”

But here’s the translation: “Thanks, but I want you to use your brain and SHOW ME. No erasers. PRETEND.”

Eventually we get the concepts. And eventually they play along, even if they think it’s silly:

  • Dancing emphasizing legs, elbows, arms and knees. But after we dance, those terms are a little more solid in their minds.
  • Playing the mirror game to build observational and teamwork skills.
  • Do you know your neighbor? A game that teaches the pattern of question and answer while people behind the questioner’s back make eye contact to work together to secretly switch places.

And in the midst of all this, conversations arise. One student needed to tell me that she was gone because she had to get “this thing” as she pantomimed getting a shot in her arm. Another student talked about what she had done on the weekend. All important stuff in a class where I’m asking students to take risks and put themselves out into the world.

Thank you, Susan, for playing along! And thank you to the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts teaching program for helping me bring this exciting work to our students.

We have one more week with Susan before my class gets a lot smaller. Some of my students have worked to develop their English skills enough to move on. I’m conflicted because I always miss them when they leave, but I’m so proud when they can move forward with their educational goals.

Today’s the day to play!

I can’t wait.



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