Items to keep in your school bag:
Not by nature a maker of fun, I do like to have fun, and I believe that others need it, too. Do you notice, for example, in a classroom, if the teacher is not providing any chuckles, a student in class will start performing that function? Intuitively, we all know, even if we resist the knowledge, that the Class Clown is essential. Just as every group could use a leader or two, every group could use a fun-maker.
Even a serious teacher like me can design some fun. Props help. A few weeks ago, seeing that my September and October calendars were filled with appointments for visiting classrooms on campus and giving students my brisk “Come to the Writing Center” speech, I bought five toys. Diversely, they squish, boing, and bounce.
I bring them into the room and put them on the desk. I introduce myself in 15 words or less, and then I ask the students to think for 30 seconds on this question: “What makes writing so hard?” I add: “Every answer is the right answer.” I wait. And then I hold up the first ball and I give my brief instructions: “I’ll throw this to one of you. When you catch it, say your first name, and then tell us what you find so hard about writing.” I toss, a student catches, and the ball makes a surprising, mechanical “boing” sound. He laughs. The group laughs. The catcher answers: “I’m Paul. And getting my ideas down is hard for me.” Yes, I say, that’s challenging, for all writers in fact.
I give another stage direction: “Paul, throw that ball to one of your classmates. It’s someone else’s turn to tell us her first name and what’s hard about writing.” The next person answers. After that I introduce a new toy, and then another — they’re getting the hang of it now — and learn a few more things about what makes writing hard for students: “grammar,” “finding the right word,” “thesis” (over and over), “getting the length right,” and “starting.” Within a few minutes, all five toys are in play, and the students seem to have figured out the drill, and they’re looking at each other, waiting for a turn, aiming if they’re throwing, and talking to me and each other. The game, furthermore, is giving me material; I’m not a lecturer, and I get most of my energy from the questions and thoughts that students bring to or make in class. In this case, their responses give me an entrée to a conversation about how 1:1 tutorials in a writing center support students at all stages of the writing process and for any writing challenge.
Thanks to Joanne Manos and Kristen Daisy, in the Writing Center that afternoon, for their willingness to “lend a hand” to these pictures of the toys.