Recently, for one of my students, I set up a timer to go off throughout the day as a periodic reminder for him to “check it out.” In social situations, this means that he will remember to look around at what’s already being discussed before he begins a new subject. During lessons, this means that he will remember to look at what everyone aroung him is doing before asking me what to do. During play time, it means that he will thoroughly observe a situation so he doesn’t misread it; so he doesn’t get mad over a misunderstanding. In other words, “check it out” means to be aware.
We ask kids to do this a lot; scenarios in which we tell students things like, “He wasn’t taking your pencil, he was picking it up for you. If you would have waited a couple more seconds before yelling you would have seen that” come up pretty often. In being reminded to remind my student to be aware, I have been reminding myself to be aware as well. “Check it out” is one of the most valuable personal lessons I’ve learned as a teacher as well.
Here are three ways that I try to Check It Out every day:
1. When I hear talking between students during a lesson, I listen for a couple seconds to see what they’re talking about before asking them to be quiet. If they’re talking about the subject at hand, I encourage them, and open up the discussion to the whole class. Since I started doing this, I’ve been blown away by how often it is either about what I’m teaching, or has been sparked by it and has veered in a new direction that the whole class can learn from. In my experience, when kids are talking to each other during a lesson, they are making connections more often than not. Recently, I heard one of my students started talking to her friend about The Little Mermaid, but instead of saying, “We’re not talking about The Little Mermaid right now, I asked why she was talking about The Little Mermaid and she told me the storm in our weather lesson reminded her of the storm in the beginning of the movie. Excellent. I’m so glad I didn’t shut that down.
2. When there is a disagreement between two students, which may include yelling, I listen before I intervene. I just listen a little bit to try to get an idea of what’s going on. It’s easy to instinctively scold the angry student who is yelling or whining and to tell them that their reaction is unecessary and to get that student to “calm down” or “knock it off,” but a lot of the time, the focus might need to be placed on the child who is being yelled at. This child is often a silent perpetrator and in simply addressing this child first, the angry student may begin to calm down on his/her own because (s)he sees that the problem is being addressed. I’ve had this work for me on a few occasions.
3. These days, I address all major social disagreements with a class discussion. If three kids come in from lunch really, really angry, I don’t tell them that “lunch is over and now it’s time to work” because no learning is going to happen when students are still fuming over something that happened outside. Whatever they are mad about is important. If they’re mad about someone cheating during tag, it’s important. If they’re mad about a kid cutting in line at the water fountain, it’s important. If they’re mad about someone making rude comments, it’s important. These are all kid versions of adult issues that we get mad about in our worlds every day. By addressing the anger, allowing each child to speak, and asking the class to help offer solutions, we are teaching them how to be happier human beings. Advancing their emotional education is just as important as delivering the curriculum. In my experience, some of the most impactful learning has taken place when a lesson was postponed to address a social issue.
If we focus more on the schedule on the board than to our students’ daily spontaneous experiences, we’re missing a lot of really valuable opportunities to teach. It all matters, it’s all important. Check it out.