Drill and Kill at its Finest

So at some point in that secretive, allusive  “teacher school” we all attended, they dress the males in ABC ties and the females in jumpers and make us chant: Drill and Kill is Bad, Drill and Kill is Bad, Outdoor Recess Duty is Fun, Drill and Kill is bad…

Okay, so maybe your experience wasn’t exactly like that, but you get the idea.  Our professors uncovered the unyielding power of the meaningful, experiential education world, filled with self-discovery and connections to relevant material.  This leaves little educational value for the repetition of massive amounts of similar problems in an effort to work toward mastery.  Essentially, those math worksheets of 200 addition or multipcation problems make Piaget and Vygotsky turn in their graves.

Or does it?  Are there some things that can be mastered through rote experiences?

My district’s adoption of a “Balanced Literacy Framework” outlines a “Word Study” component that is based on a classroom “Word Wall” made up of high-frequency (often ruleless) words.  During a recent unit, I came across the challenge of teaching the word “beautiful.”  As the lesson-planning wheels started cranking in my head, out came Jim Carey’s “B-e-a-utiful” line from Bruce Almighty.  The more I ran “beautiful” through my mind, the more I thought about Taylor Mali’s popular video On What Teachers Make. Assuming you’ve seen it (or just clicked on it), you’ll remember his repetitive approach to spelling the phrase, “definitely beautiful.”

And so launched my Fifth Grade Definitely Beautiful Challenge.

Over the next few weeks, my students spent every “free” moment writing “definitely beautiful” on any small slip of paper they could find, adding their initials and homeroom on the back.

100_1593Basically, there were two parts to the challenge.  First, the individual challenge:  At the end of the competition, four slips would be drawn from the container (for which I had to eat 7.2 million cheeseballs) and the winners would all be invited to a Definitely Beautiful Pizza Party with a friend.  Putting it in fifth grader language: the more slips you fill out, the better your chances are to get pizza! For the group challenge, if my 69 kids were able to produce a total of 5,000 “definitely beautifuls,” their oh-so-masculine teacher (that’d be me) would dawn a pink tutu for a full day of school.  Over the next two weeks, the following transpired:

– notes from parents asking if they could participate!

– students choosing to sit in the autidorium part of our gym during indoor recess to definitely beautiful (yes, it became a verb)!

– contacts from parents saying that this contest should be extended because their student ceased fighting with a sibling while she definitely beautifuled (apparently a past-tense verb as well!) each evening!

– students writing “definitely beautiful” all over every paper they submitted, in an effort to show off their mad spelling skills!

– 5,815 definitely beautifuls (look, a noun!) appeared in the contest tub.100_1604

So alas, two colleagues drew the pizza party-winning names (much to the disappointment of some sore-handed non-winners).  And as promised, there I taught with my pink tutu, magical fly swatter wand, and my homemade Definitely Beautiful t-shirt.  I even busted out the tiara from my costume drawer in my curricularium at home.100_1598

Funny what things make it to YouTube, as well.

Well?  Have my students mastered the spellings of definitely and beautiful?  Ask them to find out.  Are there appropriate uses of drill and kill?  Ask them to find out.

Simon Says

Over the next few weeks, I hope to tackle a few of the blog “drafts” that I’ve started throughout the school year, but just haven’t had the time to sit down and finish them.  After some of those “good teaching days,” I’d pull up my TeachToYearn dashboard, type in a few words to help me remember the day’s reflections, and save it as a draft.  Now to undraft! Dedraft? Whatever.

Play “Simon Says…”  Sounds simply, doesn’t it?  Last year, I taught seventh grade social studies.  I was always so proud of these 12 and 13 year olds for digging in their proverbial heals to master some fairly abstract concepts such as class systems, productive resources, democracy, and republic as they learned contributions and locations from civilizations whose names they couldn’t really pronounce.  Despite by best efforts (read: four trillion calories burned) to keep their pubescent minds focused on world history, sometimes I just had to mix it up a bit.

So one Tuesday in early May, we played “Simon Says…”  I’m pretty sure Simon Says, Marco Polo, and Heads Up-Seven Up are the only three games in the world that literally require no rule explanations.  They must cover those three in the neonatal units.  Anyhow.  It was one of those days were seventh graders seemed to have forgotten the daily (yeah, daily) routine/procedure of enter-the-room-silently-while-looking-at-the-IWB-to-get-instructions (I remember them doing it once one day in late August.). Moving for a more directive approach, I exclaimed, “Simon says grab your journal and answer the question on the board!”  Suddenly the clouds parted, a pair of doves fluttered through the opened door, and angels appeared humming, “Kum-bay-ya.”  The kids started working!

The wheels were in motion.  The remainder of the day was filled with, “Simon says take out last night’s homework,” and, “Simon says Rachael go to the SMARTboard and explain yesterday’s notes.”  Heck and darn…they did it all.  And when I’d forget the obligatory preface, even the class’s most unengaged students would perk up to let me know, “SIMON DIDN’T SAY!”  I’ll take that.