Friday, April 29, 2011

Mind-Body Work with the Bad Kids

Good morning.

Every few weeks, it feels like the last day of school -- sort of. Every four weeks, the enrichment classes rotate and six new home rooms, grades K through 5, come to me for theatre. Today is the final day of one of these "rotations."

This rotation has been rough. A couple of my homerooms have presented significant behavior problems. My irritation has risen during April as I have had to enforce classroom rules and occasionally to be stern. It is my least favorite part of the job.

Still, amid the landmines there is treasure. The "bad kids" are full of surprises. Teaching theatre class, I have some freedom to try different activities -- and sometimes we discover unusual talents. For instance, a really horrible Kindergarten group that I taught turned out to be eerily good at playing mirrors.

Playing mirrors is one of the activities I might pull out to slow a group of kids down and ground their energy a bit. It is also an exercise in mind-body connection. If the children are able to concentrate at least briefly on a movement game, it is possible to transition to the lesson I had planned.

My third graders come at the very end of the day and this group has a tendency to be antsy and jokey. It was hard to get them focused before it was time for them to go. They were ready to go home. So one day, when they were particularly unsettled, I extended the physical warm-up and began doing some balancing work that required them to use breath and initiate movement from their tandien. I noticed they were picking this up pretty well, so I kept going with it to see what they could do.

Soon I had thrown out the lesson plans (we are not supposed to do that) and began improvising a mind-body unit with them. Essentially, it was a movement class using the underlying principles of tai chi, but not using those postures, improvising movements that explored balance and alignment.

By yesterday, all but two of the jokesters (I started calling them Heckle and Jeckle) had embraced the work completely. The kids were balancing books on their heads and executing all sorts of movements while keeping the books in balance, using breath and visualizations that trained them to extend their spines properly.

For teaching purposes, it helped me find ways to introduce some useful principles of tai chi and Alexander technique in a language that third graders and young ELLs can understand and implement.

This is how, ironically, teachers sometimes miss their "problem kids" the most.

In retrospect that is.Link


Mandy_Fish said...

My best teaching occurred (and my students' best learning) when I had "thrown out the lesson plans."

I laughed aloud when I read that line. It made me miss teaching.

Here's to the bad kids, and yes, they were some of my favorites. (Especially in hindsight.)

Hal Johnson said...

Wow. I think so intelligent kids lack the ability or will to focus. I hope those session open doors for them. And I love that last line.

Kathe W. said...

you sound like a great teacher! Bravo!