The Power of Movement

Me: "Alright everyone, if you agree with the statement on the board, move the left side of class. If you disagree, move to the right side." 

One student moves to the left side of class. The rest stare with eyes that pierce like needles.

Me: "OK...let's try this again. Does anyone need clarification on the statement on the board? Does it make sense to you?"

Nods.

Me: "Great, then let's move. If you agree, go left. If you disagree, go right."

The one student who originally moved switches sides. Everyone else - motionless.

Me: "Hmmmm...OK, let's try this. I'm going to go to the hall way and stand there for 10 seconds. When I get back we're going to try this again."

I walk to the hall and give a silent-scream at the window, locker and the lady bug staring curiously at me on the wall, as if she is asking why I chose this profession in the first place. I stare at the lady bug and tell her that at least the job pays well. I re-enter the class.

Me: "Everyone stand up!"

Confusion.

Me: "You heard me! Everyone get up. Stand right next to your seat. Everyone. That means you too! All of you. There we go...one more...and we're up. OK, now you have no excuse to stay where you are because you're already up. One more time now - if you agree with the statement on the board move to the left and if you disagree move to the right."

All but two students shuffle slowly to one side or another. The remaining two are peer pressured into taking a stand by their friends. 

Me: "Let's start with the agree side. Raise your hand if you want to give your argument and we'll get to you. In a minute, the disagree side will get a shot. You're allowed to switch sides at any time that you change your mind."

15 minutes solid of thoughtful, colorful debate. Some upset students who get too into it. Some students switching sides and immediately raising their hand because they want to say why they switched. Some students starting with the phrase, "Well this is kinda like during the French Revolution when..." All but a few of the students say something during the 15 minutes, even if it's a short something.

Whoa.


***
I've learned a lot about teaching since my first day in August 2010. For example, you must occasionally assess students. My first unit of my first year, I got 7 weeks into the year before my wife asked when they were taking their first test. I realized that I hadn't given a test yet! I was so in over my head. 

Some lessons, such as that whole assessment thingy, came really quick. I entered the teaching profession without a teaching certificate or an educators background. The pedagogical lessons of the trade hit me like a train that first year, but I picked things up as quickly as I could. I felt like I had my first good lesson about 5 weeks into the year. I felt like I had a good, thoughtful discussion in class a few months into my first year. I felt like a finally wrote a quality unit from start to finish over winter break of my 2nd year of teaching. I was taking night classes the entire time, experimenting with what I learned in night class with my classes during the day. 

I am now in year four of my career and I feel like I have got it down pretty well. While I am certainly not a master teacher yet, I have well-planned, thoughtful, relevant and (in my opinion) interesting units of study called LAPs that prepare students for college and the "real world"*. The other week, I learned another lesson about student engagement. I hope I never stop learning these lessons - teaching would become extremely tedious if that were to ever happen. 

*I hated when teachers used this term. I still hate when I slip and use it. It makes me feel like an old grandpa on the porch yelling for the kids to get off my lawn. Back in my day...blah blah blah.

***

Moving into 4th quarter, I started to get frustrated that the same 5 or 6 kids in each class were answering questions. I felt like I was getting those students to think and argue and debate, but I was losing everyone else to boredom. What's worse was I became afraid that not speaking up in my class had become a habit for some of my students. So pretty randomly one day I decided to try a discussion and debate activity that required students to take sides and argue their opinion. That's when the scenario above played itself out.

I have a tough time expressing the frustration that I felt when no one was moving. I wanted to scream at them that I was trying to be more interactive, I was trying to get them to think, I was trying to get them to speak their minds - all normal complaints that teachers hear from students - and they weren't going with it! Stepping in the hall was the best choice I made. It gave me time to settle and think about why they were doing what they were doing. And I think it, in a slightly humorous way, showed the students that I wasn't happy with how this was going. 

I think that nearly every teacher has had moments where they felt like this with each group of students. Another lesson I've learned is that my reaction to these moments is very important in the relationship that I form with the kids. If I can respond with patience and love and some tweak to break the frustration, this can earn me a lot of trust with the kids. That lesson wasn't learned until my 3rd year. It's a lesson I'll never forget. 

I was telling my dad the other day about this and how I felt like I needed to embrace chaos in my class a bit more. I have the procedure thing on lock and have very well-behaved students. I rarely write students up and rarely have to give detentions out. But now I need to evolve to be comfortable enough to let true, difficult, painful learning occur. This process, as has been noted by countless individuals before, is messy and sloppy and noisy. 

It's also a lot of fun. I'm starting to see certain students do and say things that are surprising to me. I am seeing certain kids open up and be passionate. Are they on task the entire time? Nope. Are they awake and paying attention most of the time. Yeah, they're starting to. I've had multiple students come up to me after school and want talk or argue about the topic of class that day. I even heard a student last week leave my class and tell a student in the following hour, "Mr. Chambers' class was really fun today. You're gonna love it!"

Talk about whoa...



I took this video at the end of a pretty intense 10-minute debate about the pros and cons
of socialism. One side started to claim that they owned all the businesses and were sick of
supporting the other, lazy side. I mean, they were actually accusing the other side of being lazy! 

It got emotional quick. It was AWESOME.

Love it? Hate it? Leave your thoughts below and let's talk about it!

Get in touch! 

E-mail: alectchambers@gmail.com            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec