Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hop Scotch and Other Learning Games/Tests

Can you remember, as I can, certain rights of passage in childhood? These were little milestones of accomplishment that you looked forward to and/or back on with some pride or shame. These were usually physical tasks that proved you were "growing up" i.e. making your own bed; not just drying the dishes, but washing them; mowing the lawns and trimming; washing the car; cleaning your room or the garage; biking to school alone; being the ball monitor; being picked for a playground/recess sports team or being the captain; kicking a homerun in kickball; beating all comers in tetherball and hop scotch; dancing a square dance with a girl you asked etc. These are all from a bye-gone age now I guess. These were before TV and video games, DS and nintendo. They were alot more physically challenging and involved kinesthetic kinds of learnings/tests with more gross motor coordination as opposed to fine. Fine motor coordination came along later.
Recently I had the opportunity through some lesson plans I had to follow, to teach/observe a couple of these "games" as scheduled P.E. assignments. Usually kids concoct their own games and favorite pastimes during recesses and they have their own evolving and ever changing sets of rules depending on the participants, pecking orders etc. You see this when you are "on duty" and it is best to stay out of the "squabbles" that develop. However, P.E. used to be a time when new games were taught and new skills were introduced and "mastered". Not so much anymore, I'd guess.
At one school the kids enthusiastically voted to play "in-line soccer" rather than run around the track four times for conditioning for future physical fitness tests. This game is supposed to teach soccer skills such as trapping, passing and dribbling. Not! Mass confusion, mob the ball and kick each other's ankles. Some more timid kids were understandably reluctant to join the fray. I was to offer them "laps". After several injuries, tears etc. we gave up and went in with one room team claiming the sportsmanship victory (moral) with no malingering, complaining etc. It would've been better to play two half/pitch games with positions etc. Oh well, no training, charting plays etc. as ground work so...this is what you get.
At another school, after one lap around a mini field, a third grade was supposed to have "hopscotch relays" as a lead up to real Hop Scotch (at recess I guess) I have yet to see hopscotch played at recess anymore. I've seen wicked games of 4-Square and tetherball but not by the rules I learned and taught when I was a regular student and teacher. Some kids were so out of shape, leg muscle-wise, that they could hop on one foot/leg for 3 squares in a row. Some changed feet mid-hop (which isn't really a hop) There were no "laggers", in fact, they didn't even know what they were. (laggers were thown into a square and then you had to hop over that square and pick it up on the way back standing on one foot) Way too hard for this group. No practice and no desire to learn or try it. How sad.
In tetherball (ball on a rope attached to the top of a pole) with a circle marked on the playground with pie-shaped zones to not step in when hitting the ball on your side. Too complicated? You're right. Forget it for our kids now days. Just wrap the rope/ball around the pole as fast as you can in your direction and don't even pay attention to your feet positions. We had even introduced a "referee" to start the game with a "drop ball" (jump ball) against the pole and then they watched for foot infractions, hitting the rope etc. This was a real challenging game and took timing and coordination and mindfulness of more than one body part.
Could it be...that since there are so many more "paper-pencil" tests in the classroom that the traditional outdoor playground tests (games) have been de-emphasized or even eliminated? These games helped relieve stress and redirect aggression that might be seen in the classrooms. (like what I see almost daily) Kids are not now leaning to "play by the rules" unless they are supervised in some sort of league or coached in a sport after school. Some don't get to do this and takes it's toll or their physical development and interpersonal skills. These are so necessary at the younger ages. One school had a P.E. Teacher (full time) that the classroom teachers sent their kid to, but he was more or less for "baby-sitting" with massive groups of kids of all ages and skill levels. Not good either.
Recently in the L.A. Times Opinion Section there was a short article by Camille Esch. She is an "Irvine Fellow" at the New America Foundation who specializes in Education Policy. I know of U.C. Irvine and their ground-breaking conferences and curriculum for teachers. I went to their Writers' Workshop Conferences twice as a master teacher. What I brought back from those week-long experiences was a love of journaling, writing on my own and allowing my students to do the same freely. We'd divide into small groups and read what we had written to each other for positive feedback and criticism. We also socialized and I - learned - how - to - line - dance - western -style. It was very physically and socially challenging for me, but it helped my writing and teaching. I went back the next semester and taught my students how to line dance, and journal.

I digress, but to prove a point. Her opinion article proposes that teachers be evaluated (partially) on their own students exam scores, pre- to post. The antiquated practice now is to only evaluate their "process" and teaching techniques and practices by subjective observation, not their "results". It is done by their "principal" mainly, not by peers or mentors. It doesn't cover outdoor education skills or results. It doesn't test the "whole child/teacher". This, to me is very incomplete and short-sighted. The article does qualify the results with the extenuating and overwhelming influence or lack there of, of parents, family, homelife, community motivations. Some students have a "headstart" in these departments but that would also affect their pre-tests. Growth could still be shown for an academic year with one teacher. Maybe some students would just learn how to hopscotch, play tetherball or start to develop the muscles and coordination to do such large/gross muscle tasks that would then lead to more refined coordinations and concentrations of learning skills such as "classification, catorization, organization, etc. Worth a try? RRR

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention a few other popular playgroud games of skill: Hand ball, both American and Chinese; Sock Ball and Dodgeball. These are all played with the fist or hand and use upper-body, hand-eye coordination. They are quite aggressive with lots of changing rules. Chinese Handball hits the ground first, then the backstop or wall with a volleyball. Sock Ball is like baseball only with a bigger ball and you can hit the runner when he is off base. Dodgeball comes in lots of versions including my favorites; zonedodge, zilchdodge and UNO. The latter is played indoors with a softer ball on rainy days. Silent Ball is another favorite indoor, throw and catch with a balloon ball. It is all done from the desk top with absolutely no noise or conversatiion and no touching the floor. Just thought you'd like to know these important things. RRR