Screw traditional teaching methods.
Sure, some of us who consider ourselves reasonably intelligent human beings may have learned a thing or two from them, but Holy Moses…speaking as one who is locked in a small room with 135 teenagers over the course of a day, traditional teaching methods are a load of poo.
Let’s take one of the worksheets that comes with my Spanish language textbook as an example.
“It’s a fantastic Saturday afternoon in the park! Describe the scene in the picture with as much detail as you can. Use the verbs to hear, to do, and to meet.”
Whoa. Hold me back, folks. Don’t know if I can handle the swell of overwhelming enthusiasm emanating from my fifteen-year old students. Aaaaand….yep. They’re still all asleep. And that was one of the most exciting set of instructions I could find. Beats the heck out of “Complete the sentence with the correct form of the present tense.”
* Use words from the box to complete the instructions you might hear in class or read in your textbook.
* Match the teacher’s instructions to the pictures.
* Your friend wants to know where each person is from. Answer the questions.
* Shoot yourself in the head out of boredom. Or, as an alternative, become a royal pain in your teacher’s ass.
Ok. I made that last one up. So? Flashcards Schmashcards. Worksheets, lectures, textbooks.
“Bobby has two apples. Anna has four. If Bobby and Anna combine their apples and then divide them evenly, how many apples does each one have?” Seriously? In my world? Each one has a big load of “Who gives a rat’s ass?”
The beauty of my job is that I’m forced to spend my day with a group of psychotically energetic human beings who refuse to think linearly, sit still, or conform to any structured idea of what might be considered “normal.”
So why in the world would I train them to be dull?
Walking through my school, I’ve seen the math classes throwing Barbie dolls off of balconies with bungee cords, science classes making pickles glow, and the history department building…something…out of Play Dough.
I never got to do that. I hate math to begin with. Give me repetitive worksheets and a textbook that’s a third of my body weight and I hate it even more. Let me dress Barbie up in the outfit of my choice and then launch her off a the second floor balcony knowing she may well smash her face into the concrete below, then I might — maybe — give your class a chance.
“You’re catering to an ADD population,” say the traditionalists. “These kids don’t know how to pay attention. They watch too much TV. They play too many video games. They are spoiled/entitled/so much worse than we were.”
How many of you have fallen asleep in a work meeting? Or at the very least started to twitch from boredom? How about presentations? Ever been caught multi-tasking? Checking your email? Texting on your phone? Planning the rest of the week in your head? Yep. Hypocrites.
How in the world can you expect someone with ten times your energy to be any different?
So why not have a little fun?
Accents in Spanish are a royal pain in the rear.
“Commands in Spanish generally don’t take written accent marks. Unless they are an affirmative command to which you are attaching a direct pronoun, indirect object pronoun, or reflexive pronoun. In that case, you count back three syllables from the first attached pronoun and place the accent on the vowel in that third syllable. If that syllable has a double vowel combination the accent mark is placed on the strong vowel…”
It makes my eyes cross, and I’m the teacher.
“I tell them to draw a butt,” one of my colleagues shared with me.
“Look, when you count back from the added pronoun, it makes a little butt. Like this:
So you know the accent goes on the first a. Pásamelo. No butt, no accent.”
And for me, no ability to leave well enough alone. Coincidence that the word for accent in Spanish is acento? I think not.
“Alright, kiddos!” I announce the next day in class. “Here’s how it works. No butt, no ass-cento.”
“Um…Señora? Your jokes suck. And how to you say ‘butt’ in Spanish?”
“No sé. Diccionario.”
“Are you seriously going to make me look up the word for ‘butt’ in the dictionary?”
And thus begins the internal struggle of a teenager. Which is stronger? The irresistible temptation to learn something borderline inappropriate, or the extreme desire not to use a dictionary?
Inappropriate always wins.
“NALGAS!” Nate’s eyes shine in victory.
Five minutes and two vocabulary words later (apparently “crack” was also necessary to “differentiate between syllables”) my students are nailing commands and accentuation for the first time in my career.
“Cometelo.” I write on the board.
“¡Nalgas!” shout my students. “¡Se te olvidaron las nalglas!” I forgot my butt cheeks. I happily write in the missing accent mark. Suddenly, accents are no longer a pain in the rear. Get it? Pain in the…
Aw, never mind.
For giving directions, we tossed out the worksheet maps of fake cities and made a human obstacle course. For the prepositions por and para we re-wrote and performed the lyrics to La Bamba. Future tense? The class list of “most likely to…” (options invented, of course, by the students themselves.)
And when something really boring comes along, we just add a little insanity. I’m very up front about the insanity policy in my classroom.
“We’re going to check the answers to the homework, however, rather than simply read the answers back to me, you have three options: you may sing them, do an interpretative dance while reciting them, or say them three times in a row as fast as you can, no stumbling over words.”
Wasting time? Sure looks like it. The kids think it is. Which is awesome, because then they think they’re getting away with something. And they so love getting away with something.
But really, those songs and dances are going to catch their attention. If you refer back to the memorable ones over the next couple of days, the kids will remember them for the rest of the year. And, unintentionally, they’ll also remember the irregular verb. Or the math equation. Or the science vocabulary word. Your shyer kids who will select the “easy out” of just saying the answer three times fast will be 1) working on memorization 2) practicing pronunciation 3) forcing the rest of the class to do the same by listening for errors. And if you make them repeat it again every time there’s an error, you’re going to hear it a lot more than 3 times.
Plus, there’s the whole “having fun” part of it as kids wait to see who will be the most outrageous.
But then, who cares about having fun?
I do, for starters. Why in the world would I spend 8 hours of my day doing something I don’t enjoy? Why should I expect my kids to? We all know our best work goes into the things we really love. As for those things we don’t love doing, we’ve all found tricks to make them a little less painless. Painting my house is better with a couple of friends and a bottle of wine. Paperwork is bearable if I can hit my favorite coffee shop patio on a sunny day. Cleaning the bathroom…damn. I got nothing for cleaning the bathroom.
But toilets aside, you get my point.
And if you don’t, sit back and get comfortable while I go get my tutu. I’ve heard the Anatomy classes are doing their version of Dance Dance Revolution today…