Our “Incidentally” column shares English Teaching Resources & opinions about the state of education, from a teacher who has worked the systems for almost 25 years.
L.L. Barkat is K-12 permanently certified, holds a Masters in English & American Literature from New York University and a Master of Science for Teachers from Pace University, and has taught at every level of education preceding graduate school.
From college teaching of business and group dynamics to elementary teaching at a troubled urban district, from high school teaching at a private Hebrew day school to high school teaching at a leading U.S. public school, then on to K-8 of home educating two daughters (who are now enrolled in accredited distance learning schools for 9-12), Barkat has managed to form a few strong opinions about education along the way—and a whole lot of love for learning that she now pours into the business of Tweetspeak Poetry.
She used every last bit of string. Hangers. Stuffed animals. Ribbons. Blocks.
Whatever could be hung was strung. Whatever could be stacked was stacked. The dining room was a mess. A huge web of seemingly disparate connections. But to my daughter, aged 3 at the time, the “mess” was a grand sculpture, dynamic and intriguing (if not a little, um… obstructing… for the mother of the house).
Did it test my patience to have Charlotte’s Web plus The Guggenheim in my dining room, when I turned the corner from the kitchen? It did. (At least the part of me that could only imagine what this all meant for the future of house cleaning, as well as the question of where dinner might be placed in the scheme of things).
Recently, this same home educated daughter (now 16) was asked to “weigh in” with me, for an article at a major magazine that I didn’t get invited to write for until I was past forty. She and her sister are endlessly creative, thinkers to the nth degree.
Now I understand (partially) why.
And I am not going to stop talking about this: the power of legos, play doh, blocks. Yes, even in the high school English classroom. For, while it would be a source of pride to claim my children are geniuses, it simply isn’t true. Due to our approach to home education, they were (and are) allowed to spend hours on end in play.
In his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Dr. Stuart Brown explains the genius phenomenon: the verdict is in, and it looks good for those who spent their childhoods (and still spend a portion of their adulthoods) in play.
That Lego there? Seriously. It could earn you six figures. It could shape your brain and make you smarter than the next guy.
One of my favorite stories in Brown’s book is about Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Brown notes, “You might say that JPL invented the Space Age. No matter how big and ambitious the goal, the researchers could always be relied on to say, ‘We can do that.’”
But then something happened. Researchers began to retire. New hires from top schools like MIT, Stanford, and Caltech were missing something. It is well worth reading the whole story, but here’s the bottom line: when JPL delved into the issue, they discovered *play* was not at play in the new hires.
“Those who worked and played with their hands as they were growing up were able to ‘see solutions’ that those who hadn’t worked with their hands could not.” The discovery was stunning. And now? JPL queries applicants during interviews, wanting to know… what was your play quotient as child?
Maybe that Lego won’t actually earn a kid six figures some day. Maybe it will simply develop “key cognitive functions such as attention, language processing…and more.” The very things we English teachers are pining over, as we watch declining attention and language skills and wonder where in the world we are going wrong.
Set it right today. Don’t make them *work* at English. Let them play.
Teaching Tool: Lego Stories. No really. Try it. Give the kids Legos. Even if they are high schoolers.
Here at Tweetspeak, we’ve heard about insurance adjusters who play with toy cars to figure how to settle a claim. Why not let your students build their own stories, without you telling them what to build? Just ten minutes at the beginning of class (or two hours, if you are home educating!). Remember, play is more powerful if it isn’t weighed down with guidelines. Let the only guideline be: here, take some Legos and do something by yourself or with a partner.
Of course, kids really need more than ten minutes at play. How can you promote change in your district (college), around the issue of sustained play? Can you sometimes extend the ten minutes of classroom playtime to a half hour? Remember, the brain-sculpting play that is effective is three-dimensional, not screen-based.