Friday, March 8, 2013

Brain Break?

If you have been anywhere near a teacher in Illinois, you know that this past week was ISAT week. A week in which students take multiple tests daily to measure how much we, as their educators have taught them. It is hard for me to explain to them why, exactly, they should do their best on these tests, particularly for the eighth graders, whose high school placements have come and gone, but I try. Many of my kids struggle- the linguistically modified version of the test does not appear to be particularly modified, and my people all read below grade level. It is stressful. But that's not really what this post is about- I'm trying not to dwell on the bs I can't change. It's a new thing I'm doing. I'll let you know how it works out.

During testing weeks, the students test in the morning and the rest of the day is truncated. The students are fried when they leave testing. Different teachers do different things with these slush days. Some show movies related to the curriculum. Others (like me) give a bigger, long term assignment for the week and lots of work time, so that the students can proceed at their own pace. However, on the Friday after testing, you can always find my students and I doing one thing: playing games.

Because my kiddos didn't grow up in the United States, they are missing some crucial experiences with Americana. They've never felt the sheer joy of bumping another pawn while delivering a sarcastically drawn out "Sorry." They've never agonized over which home to purchase in Life. They've never tried to cheat and use words creatively in Scattergories, or tried to figure out whether a classmate would deem Albert Einstein or bees are more cheerful in Apples to Apples. They don't know how to trash talk. I would bet none of them have ever threatened to flip a board game in sheer anger over the outcome of a game.

The truth is, when I stop to think about it, that I'm not sure how many "real" American kids have these experiences any more, either. Yes, my husband and I adore playing Monopoly on the iPad (it's fast! it does the math for you! you can auto mortgage), but in doing so, we miss out on the experience of actively plotting against one another. Of calculating and recalculating what to mortgage just to strategize based on the intricacies of the other's game. Games on the iPad feel cleaner, so the trash talking by extension becomes more clinical. Minimal. Cold.

Maybe I'm nostalgic, but when I think back of visiting my grandparents, we always played real honest-to-goodness playing cards. One of the few memories I have of my paternal grandfather is him teaching me how to play chess, slowly. Thoughtfully. Deliberately. Kev and I still play Gin Rummy at the highs and lows of our lives: everywhere from on our honeymoon to waiting in the doctor's office for scary news. When you are sitting and looking your opponent in the eye without turn timers and with literal objects with which you can defeat them, you gain an experience of shared joy and triumph that playing the same game on an iPad or tablet may not offer. It's more personal. You are more invested in the outcome because you've really seen every reaction to your moves.

So, we play. I get to appreciate my students in new and different lights. Turns out, the girl who cheated on a major test last week is a strategic whiz kid at Sorry, who can beat me handily twice before I even get one piece out of start. The quietest kid in my room is the best at reading people, and always collects the most green Apples to Apples cards. It might not help these peanuts pass the ISAT, but I'll fight hard for the opportunity for an occasional "brain break" any day. Playing a physically present game allows them to present their thinking to me in a whole new light.

Plus, sometimes I get to kick their butts.

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