There are a lot of explosions in my classroom. Robots explode, tiny plastic elephants explode, a Ferrari explodes. Perhaps this wouldn’t sound so strange if I taught science, but I don’t. I teach Spanish.
My class is based on stories, all told in Spanish, that get the whole class involved. Stories are about the boys, and though they are often fantastical and silly, they play up the strengths and unique interests of each boy. We recently told a story about a man who wants to buy a large house. He goes around to different places in the world where he finds his classmates excelling at their favorite activities or ambitions–one is scuba diving in Australia, another flying a plane in Tokyo, and another playing professional basketball. These stories are a highly effective vehicle for acquiring a language, but just as importantly, they provide an opportunity to value the uniqueness of each boy.
Whereas a typical Spanish class may ask students to memorize verb conjugations and lists of vocabulary, ours is a place where boys bond with classmates and express themselves, all while becoming far more proficient in a new language than rote memorization would ever allow. Stories allow for incredible creativity. Students act out the stories as we create them, and are frequently invited to create and dramatize their own stories. Dropping into my classroom, you could see 20 boys crawling on the floor like wolves or walking around as like zombies, or you may see them paired up and quietly but excitedly writing the next chapter of a story. And when the bell is about to ring and we’ve lost ourselves in a strange world, we often call for a giant explosion of everything in sight, and start anew the next day.
In addition to stories, we play fast-paced games that are highly motivating for boys. My students’ favorite game is Blind Dodgeball. This game has the same objectives of regular dodgeball, but with one important difference–half the boys on each team are blindfolded. Only the blindfolded boys can pick up and throw the balls. The student who can see must give clear directions–always in Spanish–of when to duck, where to find a ball, and how to aim at an opponent. This game is not only a powerful tool for learning Spanish, but also fosters cooperation and trust, which are highly valued at St. Christopher’s.
Working with boys takes a lot of energy, but it also gives me energy. I frequently get to laugh out loud in class, and I genuinely enjoy learning about each student, hearing his ideas, and seeing him learn.
Videos of the students playing Blind Dodgeball!