Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Classroom Community Day Seven: Home Team Advantage

This activity I've shamelessly stolen from Mini-lessons for Literature Circles by Harvey Daniels and Nancy Steineke (2004, pg 43-7).

Start with the sports page in your local paper and announce the standings of a few of your home teams.  Point out to students that the teams typically do better at home than away (unless they are incredibly good or incredibly bad).  This begs the question, why do teams win more games at home than away?  Give students a few minutes to work with a partner or a group of three to list as many reasons why they think this is the case.  Then as a whole class, compile a master list.

Daniels and Steineke's major goal with this lesson is to discourage put-downs, and the big moment in the lesson comes when the teacher tells the students, after compiling the list, that "one of the most important ways to keep the home court advantage is to avoid using put-downs.  From now on, if anyone hears a put-down, just gently say 'home court' to remind that person to stop" (pg 44-5).  It's a great idea.

But it can be taken so much further.  Many of the items from a class list can be adjusted and implemented in the classroom.  When I worked with teachers in South Africa, they had this thing where if a student did well, the teacher would say, "give it to him."  On this cue, the 48 other students in the class would rub the palms of their hands around, one on top of the other a couple times, finally letting the top hand slide in the direction of the student.

I thought it was pretty lame the first time I saw it.  Especially in the context of corporal punishment being used by teachers so often to punish misbehaving and even simply forgetful students.  What student would care about this meaningless motion when they feel too unsafe in their classroom to learn?

But you should have seen the face of the student on the receiving end of that praise.

I'm not suggesting anything quite like that.  It would be too easily ridiculed in most middle school classrooms.  But supporting the idea of praise and encouragement between students is certainly not a bad idea.

Daniels and Steineke designed this as a mini-lesson, but I devote at least a full class period.  Once you've made the list, discuss with students how these could translate into the classroom.  It might be interesting to see if they see themselves as all being on the same team, or if the grading and the current schooling system creates a more competitive attitude.  Ask students what they can do on a daily basis in the class to support a home court environment.

Daniels and Steineke suggest as a variation on their mini-lesson asking students to create posters displaying some of the elements of a home court advantage along with how these would look in a classroom.  Despite the feelings of the rest of my 2005 pre-service teaching book club, I think this is a great activity, would use it to wrap up the discussion, and put the finished posters up in the room for the remainder of the school year (while still alternating other displays in the classroom throughout the year, because us secondary teachers don't do it enough).

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