Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Power of Spontaneity

Call it spontaneity, or capitalizing on the power of novelty in awakening the brain, I am realizing more each day that seizing and creating playful moments in the classroom builds a positive classroom environment where everyone learns.

Many times these opportunities arise, yet often we use excuses that prevent us from seizing the moment. We cite time constraints and adhering to schedules as reasons to rigidly "stick to the plans."  Here's an example of when I jumped right in anyway, knowing that it would take a couple of minutes out of our busy schedule.

Yesterday, just after morning recess, my students were getting ready for a vocabulary quiz. As they noisily went about putting their desk items away and putting up their privacy screens, I exclaimed: "Ooh! I have a great idea!"  Heads peeked above the colored cardboard screens as the room fell silent. "What, what?" several exclaimed in unison. I suddenly had all eyes on me, awaiting my announcement. "Michael!" ( not his real name), " Would you grab the camera and take pictures of us looking nervous about our quiz?" I knew that my students would love "hamming it up" for the camera, as they come alive when they get to play act. I had serendipitously discovered this as they had played vocabulary charades for 10 minutes at the end of the prior day. "These will be awesome for our blog this week," Michael shared. After Michael took a few shots, which only took about a minute or two, I told the students to take a deep breath, smile, and think a happy thought, which was easy after the giggles from the posing. We had previously talked about how our facial expressions can impact our feelings and that at times we can help counter negative feelings by changing our thoughts and facial expressions.   As the room fell quiet again, the students took their vocabulary quizzes.

Of course, I can't be sure that my spontaneous photo tactic was the reason for the 100% score on all of the quizzes. What I observe is this: students are awake, enthuiastic, and engaged in class. When we lighten the mood with humor and fun, we create a safe and enticing classroom environment. Within this positive space, where the challenges of test stress are acknowledged and dealt with, we can then encourage and empower students to do the tough work of critical thinking and risk-taking. They will work hard, not because they have to, but because they want to and believe they can.


Melody_ugdsb said...

Love this entry, Joan! I am such a huge believer in spontaneity in the classroom. I'm known as someone who often changes the plans. As my principal said recently when I changed the activity planned for a staff meeting, "That's just the way Mel rolls!". Sometimes great ideas pop into our heads last minute or student curiosity changes our direction,etc. Sometimes I think that lessons lead to better learning when spontaneous moments occur.

When our school year started two weeks ago, I brought in two small Monarch caterpillars for my classroom. I'm not teaching science this year but it fits the curriculum and I knew that the kids would love it and hopefully inspire them in their reading, journal/blog writing, etc. Yesterday was an exciting day when we noticed that one of the now very large caterpillars had started to create its chrysalis! Of course, we stopped everything to get a closer look! At recess, I warned the science teacher that the students were unsettled and very excited about this development. She popped out of her seat in the staff room and hurried off to the library stating that she better hurry to get some information on Monarchs. She scrapped her original plans to study something that was so important to the children at that time. I was so pleased that she was able to be spontaneous like that! Thanks to Deb, an awesome teacher! Can't wait for the butterflies to emerge! :)

Cecilia said...

Hi Joan,

I loved your post. This is such an essential trait on a teacher: the ability of recognizing and seizing the opportunities for teaching (without it being in our initial lesson plan)and helping students learn better, feel better, become better people. And moments like this make us feel even more fulfilled and happy with our jobs, don't they?

Thanks for sharing :-)

Lori Sabo said...

Reminds me of a book I read a long time ago called The Laughing Classroom. Happy, healthy, learning kids. I would love to be in your room!

Joan Young (aka Mancini) said...

Thank you Melody for sharing your story. I love how you seized the interest of the students and collaborated with the science teacher to bring about memorable learning!

Thank you Cecilia for your comment as well. You are so right: not only was it fun for the students, but when I see them having fun while learning it really leaves me feeling fulfilled.

Thank you Lori for your kind words. I have heard of that book but don't think I've ever read it. I think we sometimes underestimate the power of positive emotions in the classroom!

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