Thoughts on Teaching: Working with Challenging Groups
This is the 5th post in my “Thoughts on Teaching” Series.
I just completed a two-week residency with a group of 4th graders at a public elementary school in my town. This was a large (28) and diverse group. There were a lot of concentration problems. Some were ‘too cool for school’ and their self-consciousness distracted them. Here were a few issues that came up.
Issue 1: “I don’t want to work with my partner”
A former college student of mine shadowed me on the residency. One of her questions was, “what do you do when kids don’t want to work together?”
Boy, does this one come up in every day life!
It can be very frustrating when one of two children (paired by their classroom teacher rather than self-selected) digs in and says, “he won’t do anything” about his partner.
For us, patience is a virtue. Try several points of entry, and remember that tomorrow is a new day.
1) “Show me what you’ve got.” I just ask them to show me anything and use it as a catalyst to build.
2) “What’s your idea?” Hear from both parties, and model pulling different ideas together. This is a good solution to the problem of: “my partner won’t do anything I say.”
3) “Take a break.” One person may be unable to work that day. Let her sit out, while the compliant student creates. The next day, they may be able to work together and there will be material to start from.
Issue 2: Listening
What’s the point of teaching if you cover the material but the material does not cover the child?
Some quick solutions:
1) “If you can hear me, put your hands on your __________” (head, shoulders, etc.) A quick scan around the room tells you who was tuned out.
2) Have them show (or tell) you. SHOW – When you review what you’ve just presented, have the group raise their hands when they hear the cue (or whatever the content is you are trying to impress upon them). TELL – If you call on the students who know, you’ll still have the space cadets floating out there. So ask the space cadets instead. Sometimes I will tell specific students that I will be calling on them immediately after I give the instruction, and they will have to repeat the key point.
3) Break it into chunks. Smaller bits are easier to digest.
Issue 2: Owning It
When students create and then perform their dances with no energy, apathetically, with small and cramped movements, and a sense of embarrassment, they need coaching.
1) Show 2 ways – Demonstrate the self-conscious, boring way and the energized, committed way.
Have students show, with their fingers indicating #1 or #2, which way was more interesting to watch. (They always pick the committed way). Then talk about why. “The audience doesn’t want to see your attitude about the thing you are doing. They want to see the content. Be committed to what you are doing. Let the audience see it.”
2) Make it bigger! Dances often ‘shrink’ in energy and size. Get everyone on his or her feet and have the students experience a big kinesphere of space, reaching in all directions. This gets the blood flowing and serves as a ‘reset’ too. Then, when they return to their dances, use the kinesphere image for overall size and energy.
3) It’s yours. Remind students that these are their creations. Own it!
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