Best of 2013-2014: Sometimes You Just Have to Be a Crazy Person…

We’ve all been there…

Students are staring off into the void…

You, the teacher, start noticing caffeine withdrawal headaches affecting even the brightest students…

They’re disengaged.

They’re sick of listening to you.

They’re sick of your unreasonable demands that they actually learn something today.

So that’s when you need to get out your crazy.

 

I’m a firm believer that sometimes you have to put on a show in the classroom.  Whether you like it or not, sometimes that’s what gets students engaged and drives the point home for them.

DISCLAIMER: Now, when I say be a crazy teacher, I do not mean be a “crazy difficult,” “crazy mean,” or mentally unstable teacher.  I mean that sometimes you need to be brave enough to do the unexpected–the unsettling or weird–to promote curiosity and thought.

Why sometimes acting like a nut works in education:

  • it’s fun.
  • It’s memorable.
  • It’s entertaining.
  • It adds excitement and energy to the class.
  • It usually adds humor to the class.
  • It makes students think about the material and life differently.
  • It has to potential to be an authentic experience you share with your students.
  • By putting yourself out of your comfort zone, more students are comfortable doing so.

Now, one of my favorite examples is from when I taught The Book Thief by Markus Zusak to my 10th graders.  My instruction was getting a bit stale.  Even though the students loved the story, I wanted to really drive home one of the major themes: that one could find beauty in brokenness and ugliness. 

I ended up checking out The Picky Girl and her AMAZING blog post on The Book Thief.  She offered some pretty crazy ideas, that I chose to emulate in my classroom.

Here Comes the Crazy:

Towards the middle of the novel, Max, one of the main characters, takes an old copy of Mein Kampf and uses it to create his own illustrations and stories.  Right around this time in the novel, I did something crazy:

I tore up a book in front of my students.

How I Went about It:

We were in the library and I had already talked to the librarians, procured a book they were going to recycle, and asked them to act shocked when I started tearing it up–it’s always fun to involve other people in your crazy.

After students were seated, I started to discuss with my students the theme of the importance of words and language in the novel.  We talked for a couple of minutes about the importance of words to Liesel, our protagonist, and to Max, a man who was saved by a book.

After a while, I started to disagree with them.  I played devil’s advocate and said that words were simply symbols, just scratches on paper.  I took my previously-planted book from the shelf and said that there was nothing special about words.

Then I started tearing it up.

Complete silence.

Shock on every face.

I started handing out pages, gliding around the room to the beat of torn pages.  That’s when they started to protest.

I kept ripping, but asked them to defend themselves.  “Why are books so important?”  “How are words meaningful?”

They started to get it, and eventually I broke and told them that the book would have been recycled anyway.  Then the learning began.

I discussed with students what inspired the “ruining” of this book.  I had them do a quick write about their reactions and how what I did connected to The Book Thief.  Then I assigned them their homework.

The Homework:

They had to take the ripped page and turn it into something beautiful.  They had to find the beauty in the ruin, just as our characters had and then explain it in tomorrow’s class.

I can’t tell you how awesome the results were.  They came in the next day with such interesting projects.  They truly transformed

 

We hung them all on the wall to remember the transformative power of words.

We hung them all on the wall to remember the power of words.

 

Look at the house!  I love it!

Look at the house! I love it!

Such a variety of ideas!

Such a variety of ideas!

The Bottom Line:  Sometimes it pays to act a little kooky in the classroom.  These “crazy” ideas and actions–like an English teacher sacrilegiously ripping up a book–can lead to some pretty balanced, engaging learning.

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