Sometimes I come in the classroom and kids are wired. They are keyed up beyond belief and they are jittery and wild and can’t sit still. This happens at all grade levels, but especially in the lower grades.
Other times I come into the classroom and the kids are zombies. They are bored and half-asleep and they are more lethargic than little kids should ever be. Like the wildness, this happens at all grade levels, but this occurs especially in the upper grades.
Either way, the students are not participating in class and they have a hard time following along with anything. This frustrates me to no end. One of my biggest faults lies in the fact that I take things the kids do too personally in class. It gets under my skin. After the fact, I always feel bad. I objectively understand that they are just kids with 8 other teachers who demand just as much from them as I do. I just get bent out of shape if they’re not into the lesson. They often show their lack of interest in the ways that I mentioned above: They sleep or they are not even trying to pay attention. Not. Even. A. Little.
So what to do?
I realized, not too long ago, that it’s almost never my fault that they aren’t interested. They aren’t trying to personally hurt my feelings by ignoring me or acting out. Sometimes, they just need a break. They need to have a moment to be kids and to let loose. They need to be free to move around. They need to move those muscles. Sedentariness leads to antsiness and/or lethargy (as described above).
I love brain breaks because I’m giving the kids a lot of information in our stories and they can get overwhelmed. When they feel overwhelmed, that’s when they start to drift off and stop paying attention. They start to tune out the story or the activity. I try to plan a break into every class period, but the kids need something new and novel every once in a while because the breaks can get stale and lose their effectiveness if I lean on the same ones too much.
It occurred to me recently to try something that I saw on one of my favorite TV shows. 30 Rock is a show starring Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin (among others) about a sketch-comedy show on NBC. I was watching it at home and the episode “Jack the Writer” came on. It is a classic (well, they all are, if you ask me, but that’s beside the point). Tina Fey plays the head writer of the show and she has a large staff of writers. On one episode, after a grueling writing session, this happened:
I have a powerpoint presentation that has all of the vocabulary words that we have learned so far (mostly the high-frequency vocab so that the students can reference it during stories and writing). I added a new slide that says, “¡Fiesta de Baile! – Un Minuto.”
The kids looked suspicious, but I clicked on the song that I had added to the presentation (I just dragged it from my itunes library into the powerpoint window). The song came on and I let loose, waving my arms and legs like a crazy person.
The kids reacted well (just like the kids in this episode of Dr. Who).
The first song I’ve used so far is “De Camino A La Vereda” by the Buena Vista Social Club. I have various other albums of classic Cuban and other Latin Music along with more modern Latin Rock groups. The kids seem excited to hear new music. It helps that I taught the older kids how to salsa dance (solo, not in pairs) a few years ago and a lot of them remembered the basic step.
This was an interesting experience for the kids and for me. They definitely didn’t see it coming!