Slice of Life: Time to Play

Even though I believe in the power of play, when I see it in action, I wonder how much healthier students would be if we built it into the classroom. Not woven into an academic pursuit, but purposely placed to support the social-emotional development of children.

My classroom ended 2018 with board game time, honored in the way we honor any part of our academic day.  Many games were brought from home. Children had a choice as to who to play with and what to play.  If they didn’t want to play, they could choose to write or draw or read or take a break.

Watching them work together was remarkable. The child who has trouble getting along did and was happy. The quiet child participated taking on all roles required by the game. Children played outside of their friend groups.

The occasional squabble was worked out without adult intervention. Turns were taken. Children moved seamlessly from game to game, person to person.

And when it was done with all pieces picked up and put away, one student said, “We learned absolutely nothing today.”

To which I responded, “Did you learn about each other?”

“Oh, yeah!’ he said with a big smile. “We learned who was flexible and who was not.”

Knowing the limits of the people we interact with is essential. Yet these students, who have been together in a classroom for four months, did not know this about each other.  That is shocking.

My students showed me they understood how to play. They did not have to be taught how to negotiate, how to take turns, how to listen. They got that. But in the process of all of that play, they did learn subtle moves to get out of tense moments.  That social-emotional how-to is built in to play.

Classtime has socialization build into it with collaborative projects and partnership work, but little cooperative time is spent working outside academic confines, AKA play.

How much of our success in life, be it academic or work-related, requires an understanding of the person beyond the task?

Would more play increase student flexibility and understanding of each other?

If we play with the people we work with, how much better might our work be?

What might we learn about ourselves?

What if, we just took the time to play?


Slice of Life: Figuring out our purpose

Purpose matters.  It motivates and directs.  I try to remember that. Perhaps the biggest challenge is not adhering to our purpose but figuring it out.

Our classroom blogging is writing for writing sake. It is 100% student driven. This writing, the kind that Ralph Fletcher calls “greenbelt” writing, may not be perfect. The audience is other kids. Not adults. This is by design.  The purpose is joy based writing. that tell story, give information, and share ideas that matter to other kids.

Enter student blogging that is shared with the world and   This year we have started a new student blog. Open to multiage writers afterschool. The topics are still chosen by students, but the content is now linked to the school’s website read by adults.  And with that, my purpose as a teacher changes. I now must seriously address grammar and capitalization slip-ups. An area I typically have no problem overlooking in favor of content and the desire to inspire young writers write.

Today, I conferred with a 5th grader about her fiction piece. A potential series of posts called, To be continued… The title says a lot. It’s funny and full of suspense.  I want to publish it, but first a little work around capitalization.  She started capitalizing the word “I” but then stops. I assume this is an oversight, so I mention it as a simple editorial reminder. And with that, I get a lesson.

“You always capitalize I? I thought it was just the first one.”

Whoa!  This student, one I’d lay money on getting an advanced score on any test. didn’t know to authentically use this straightforward writing rule.  One I know she’s been taught every year.

What does this mean for me a writing teacher?

We must write a lot to learn the rules.
To write a lot, we must want to write.
To want to write, we must enjoy it.
To enjoy it, we need to feel good about what we write.
To feel good about what we write, choice in the subject and minimal critique are necessary.
But at some point, the rules of writing need to be upheld.
When is that time?
When the audience changes? Sooner?

I go back to what I hold in my core. Each child is at a different place along the writing road. It is my purpose to note where they are and anticipate the upcoming bend in the road.

Always a journey for the writer and the teacher.