Class, I want you to cut my hair.
True words spoken by my native-Peruvian professor of Spanish. She explained that she couldn’t be bothered to spend money on a haircut when she didn’t care much how it looked, and it was just getting too long. She pulled some scissors from her desk, asked us to push our desks to the wall, pulled a chair to the middle of the room, and sat down, brandishing the scissors toward anyone who would bravely take up her offer. It took a good ten minutes to convince us, her incredulous students, that she was completely serious, but once someone made the first snip, we each took a turn. A wonderful sense of lightheartedness came over the class as we did something completely out of the ordinary, chattering in Spanish all the while. I was evening up the sides of my profe’s new ‘do when the bell sounded, and she called out a reading assignment for the next class period. I wouldn’t be surprised if every single student came prepared the next day, out of sheer affection for that professor.
Sometimes, humans just need to have fun. This is especially true for students and teachers when learning gets monotonous, or affective filters are mortared into place, or the weather turns ugly, or midterms are looming. Some environments, like summer camp, lend themselves to engaged learning. When students play, they remember things, both academic and interpersonal. I have many memories of my profe besides the haircut, and along with each recollection of her attempts to inject some fun into an otherwise predictable routine, I remember the things I learned. I’ll never forget how to make flan or enchiladas, since she required video demonstrations of each. I’ll never forget the words of Julieta Venegas’ Limon y Sal because one of my classmates sang it to me on Valentine’s Day, as we were required to do. I’ll always remember Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz because my profe was impassioned, talking about this 17th century nun who was as feminist as they come. While not all of my recall is from textbook learning, it was all formative for a Spanish language learner.
Games are a proven way to elicit desirable behavior. If you want to avoid the mess from splashdown in a urinal, give men a target. If you want students to remember what you teach them, teach them via games. Game-based learning (GBL) is a growing approach now that technology is being integrated for educational purposes. Language teachers have some latitude as well, since a pop song might use the verb tenses you’re trying to teach, or a cartoon may use humor in ways that are new to your students, and using music or video in the classroom automatically gets students’ attention. If you’re interested in in working more digital GBL into your classroom, this blog post can get you started.
By now, the school routine is place, the weather is turning, and everyone gets preoccupied with the coming holidays. It’s possible to keep the focus on learning, it just has to be fun!