Joke of the Day

How do you stop a dog barking in the back seat?

That was the “Joke of the Day” in my classroom today. After our morning routine – lunch, attendance, etc. – we start each day with a joke. I generally get these jokes from a website, and my family even got me a Silly Jokes for Silly Kids book for Christmas.

This all started accidentally over a year ago. Before a math lesson, I shared a joke my then nine-year-old daughter told me the night before. My students loved it and shared some of their own. We spent the next few minutes telling jokes and laughing before our math lesson.

All of a sudden Joke of the Day was born. I didn’t think much of it at first. The jokes were just something to make us laugh before math. Then, after they had a substitute, I asked my students about their day. They told me everything was great except the substitute did not have a Joke of the Day. (I had to admit that it was an oversight on my part.) That was when I first realized this simple task meant something more to my students.

At the end of the school year, I had them write letters to my next group of students. It was the typical letter to the next year’s class – what they will like about the classroom, what they’ll learn in fourth grade, expectations, etc. I was shocked to read the letters. Almost every student mentioned something about the Joke of the Day.

This experience made me realize how important the “little” things are to our students. I say “little” because the Joke of the Day seemed like something trivial to me. To my students, however, it was something much more. The jokes helped ease anxiety for some, brightened the mood for others, and simply made a few kids laugh.

I still remember, more than thirty years later, how my fifth grade teacher started each day with a riddle. They were these brain teasers he wrote on the board and gave us some time to ponder. It was so much fun trying to solve them before my classmates. I can’t tell you if I would have been proficient on any high stakes testing that year, but I can still recall some of those riddles and the sense of pride I had solving them.

It might not be a joke or a riddle. Maybe it is a high five you give students when they enter the classroom. Maybe it is asking them what they did over the weekend. Maybe it is playing kickball with them at recess. There are moments outside of the curriculum our students need – really need. Teaching is a critically important profession. Helping a student learn through quality curriculum, instruction, and assessment is unbelievably powerful and life changing. We ask a lot of our students throughout the day. Why not take one moment to tell a joke and make a student smile?

So how do you stop a dog barking in the back seat?

You put him in the front seat.

Happy National Introvert Day!

Today, January 2, is National Introvert Day. I didn’t know there was a national day for introverts. I probably should have, however, since I am an introvert myself. I would much rather spend a quiet night at home reading a book than at a busy restaurant or other social gathering. In school, I was much more comfortable working alone on an assignment than in a large group of classmates.

Last year, I read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The book discusses how introverts – those who are quiet – have to navigate a world set up and dominated by extroverts – those who are outgoing. For example, the business world views extroverts as the models of success, often promoting and rewarding the most outgoing individuals and those who are willing to take charge of almost any situation or group. (Try being a quiet, reserved person at the notoriously extroverted Harvard Business School.)

This business approach, which favors extroverts, has trickled down to our classrooms. Cain explores how our classrooms, following the lead of the business world, are structured to promote group work and peer collaboration. According to a nationwide study, “55 percent of fourth-grade teachers prefer cooperative learning,” and “42 percent of fourth-grade and 41 percent of eighth-grade teachers spend at least a quarter of class time on group work.” The younger the teacher, the more likely she is to place an emphasis on group work in the classroom.

While it is important for students to share their ideas and learn to work in groups, it is also valuable to consider how each child thinks and processes information. How can we balance the benefits of sharing ideas in groups with an introverted student’s desire to work in a quiet environment? Does engagement always need to be tied to discussions with peers or talking in a group? How do we find opportunities throughout the day to guarantee time for students to work individually and without talking? How often do we give students the choice of working with partners vs. alone?

The word balance is important in our classrooms. We need to ensure that we are thinking about the needs and preferences of all of our students. Group work is important, but you might have an introvert sitting in your classroom with brilliant, creative ideas which are more likely to come alive in a quiet environment. Cain shared a quote from organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham, who said, “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.” Imagine if Theodor Geisel, an introvert, had a teacher who never let him work alone. We might never have met The Cat in the Hat, eaten Green Eggs and Ham, or learned How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

I started giving students more choice in whether they work with a partner or individually. Yes, there are still times each day when collaboration is required, but I’m trying to create more balance. I have students sitting in groups, but they are often allowed to move around the room to a spot which is more “comfortable” for them. The interesting thing is that many of them choose to sit in a quiet spot and complete their work independently, and the quality of that work rarely suffers. Why should I stop a student from working quietly? He might just be the next Dr. Seuss.

New Year, New Blog

When I went to college my grandfather told me to take as many writing classes as possible. (I did just that, wrote for the college newspaper, and eventually finished as the Sports Editor.) He said, “Everybody needs to write, no matter what they do in life.” That was pretty good advice.

Other than grad school papers I haven’t written for an audience since my time at the college newspaper. That was almost twenty years ago. The last couple years I’ve had a growing urge to write again. Then I heard the author and marketing guru Seth Godin say everybody should blog everyday. He said on his blog, “For years, I’ve been explaining to people that daily blogging is an extraordinarily useful habit. Even if no one reads your blog, the act of writing it is clarifying, motivating and (eventually) fun.” This seemed like pretty sound reasoning, so I decided to jump into the deep end.

I’m going to start blogging today. This isn’t necessarily a New Year’s Resolution, because I’ve never had much success in that area. My goal is to blog every day for one year and see where it takes me. Some posts will be brief, and others will be longer. This will be a tool for me to reflect, explore, and share ideas about all things education.

Hopefully some read this and find it useful. Hopefully this helps clarify some ideas and motivates everybody in this blog community. Hopefully this (eventually) gets fun.

Happy New Year, and Happy New Blog!