In my current location I am most often in the position of teaching a group or class for only a period at a time, and wanting to get as much instructional mileage as possible out of every minute. A good strategy I use a lot is one I learned from the DI folks called the "Teacher-Kid Game." It's also called the "You-Me Game" and there is some information on p. 15 of this document.
Basically, the teacher gets points when the students forget the rules (talk out, leave seat, etc) and students get points for raising hands, answering on cue, following directions, handing in work or whatever you set as the parameters. You *must* set it up so the students win, or it will not be motivating to them. If you ham it up -- act incredulous that they could be doing so well, express certainty that someone will mess up any minute and give you teacher points -- it gets them even more engaged. You can have some kind of handicap system -- they have to beat you by a certain margin to get the payoff. I can't describe it very well, but kids love this game. And to win, they have to do what you want them to do -- listen, participate and learn! How diabolical!
Here's a good description of the "You-me" game that I found from Your Child Can Succeed. The anecdote describes how a teacher named Patricia used the game quite effectively to "fool" the students into learning.
After Patricia had been using reinforcement for several years she developed an individual style. Once she was assigned to work with a group of seven-year-old "emotionally disturbed" children who supposedly had attention spans of less than ten seconds. Because of the their serious attention problems, these children had not begun formal instruction. When Patricia walked in and sat down, the children were seated in a semicircle in front of the blackboard, talking busily among themselves. Patricia didn't pay any attention to them. She didn't even look at them. Instead she wrote the number 4 on the board, saying "Four" rather loudly. She then smiled and made a mark on the board. One child watched her. "That's a point for me, " Patricia said. "I'm really good at this game. I'm probably the smartest person you'll ever see." She then erased the 4 and wrote a 2 on the board. "Two," she said. "Oh, Patricia," she continued, "you are so smart." She gave herself another point.
By now most of the children were watching her. She wrote the numeral 7 on the board. "Seven!" two of the children yelled. Patricia looked at them, somewhat startled. "Nobody said you could play the game," she said.
The children laughed and nudged each other.
"You think you're smart?" Patricia asked. "Tell you what" we'll have a little race. The one who names the numeral first gets a point. I'll put my points up there and your points over here. I'm warning you, though, nobody can beat me at this game.
When the game began, all the children responded. Every time they beat Patricia, they smiled and clapped. As soon as the children had more points than Patricia, she played the game of a poor loser. "Look at that big bug on the ceiling!" She pointed. When all the children looked up, she wrote a 5 on the board and said, "Five! I won." She gave herself a point.
The children started to object, but Patricia quickly wrote 2 on the board and said, "Two," and gave herself a point. "Oh, I'm just too tricky for you. I'm way ahead. You'll never catch me now."
Within another minute the children's eyes were magnetized on Patricia. She pointed to one boy's shoes. "Why are your shoes untied?" she asked. "Don't look! Don't look!" three or four of the children chorused. Not one of those children with the short attention spans looked.
Each ploy Patricia tried was met with the the chant "Don't look! Don't Look!" Finally she wrote a numeral on the board. "Nine!" The children yelled. They were now ahead of the game. They cheered. Patricia said, "Let's not finish the game. I'm tired and I've got a headache. An this game isn't much fun, anyhow." "We want to play," the children said.
As the game continued, Patricia found that the children had trouble with 13. She smiled. "I know how to get you now." Every time I want a point, I'll just write 'thirteen' on the board." Patricia got exactly two points by using 13. After that, the children identified it every time.
After fifteen minutes of "drill" the children were way ahead. Grudgingly, Patricia said, "Well, you won today, but you were just lucky. I'll get you next time."
No, you won't," they said. "We'll get you next time."
If you observed the children near the end of their session with Patricia, you probably wouldn't have been convinced that they were emotionally disturbed or that their attention mechanism was faulty. Patricia used simple reinforcement techniques to give them a reason for attending. She challenged them by advertising herself as being very smart, setting the children up to feel even smarter if they beat her. And when they did beat her she saw that they received a payoff for performing well, for staying on task, and for having "long attention spans."
Continued in Part III.
What age would you say benefits most from this sort of game?
I'm wondering how well it would work in say a 6th grade classroom where things are a little slower in tempo. Can it be just as effective in getting older kids enthusiastic in say, plate tectonics?
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