Effective Teaching on the Playground
Spring is here and summer is weeks away. If you teach in a state that gets warm Spring weather like Maryland, then this is the perfect post for you.
Let me tell you a little more about the demographic of my school first. I work at Southwest Baltimore Charter School, located in the Pigtown area of south Baltimore. We are a K-8 but I work primarily with the 7th and 8th graders. I teach arts integrated literacy and creative writing courses.
What I love most about my school is the fact that we are located right next to Carroll Park. Carroll park has everything a child could possibly need: A playground, a skate park, a baseball field, a basketball court, and lots of open grass and trees.
In the past, I've taken my students outside to read independently at the end of the day. But recently, I asked myself: Why should I have to wait until the end of the day to go outside? I can teach my lessons in the park! So this week, that's exactly what I did!
I'm not going to go into details about each of the lessons that I taught ...especially because if you're a teacher reading this, you don't have time for all of that.. Let me just go ahead and skip to the reason you came here! You're not interested in the what of my lesson, you need the how!
I created a list of norms that you should follow before, during, and after teaching a lesson in the park. By the way, if you don't have access to a park, think of other ways you can get your students outside of the traditional classroom. I promise, you'll be doing yourself a huge disservice if you stay in the confinement of those same four walls that you've been couped in all year!
Norms for Teaching in the Park
1. SET NORMS!!
You have to take at least fifteen minutes to set norms with your students about acceptable behavior, expectations, and non-negotiables for being outside. You cannot just take the kids to the place where they have recess and expect them to willingly do classwork. You have to create a set of norms with them so that everyone is clear about the purpose of being outside. Be sure that you allow the students to create the norms together, instead of just telling them. They will take much more ownership if they have a hand in creating them.
When creating the norms, consider this: What parts of the playground are off limits? How many people should be working in a group? What happens if we finish early, can we play?
2. DISCUSS POSSIBLE LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES
As we all know, logical consequences are unique to every situation and every child. However, discussing possible scenarios and what should happen in the event that the scenario actually occurs never hurts. In order for your outdoors lesson to be productive, you must be proactive.
3. PLAN PLAN PLAN
You have to actually plan the lesson first. I know, some of you veterans haven't planned a lesson since World War I and you might want to skip this norm.. But for the rest of us, planning is imperative. What happens if a student finishes their task early? What happens if someone decides they don't want to work with the group they were in anymore? What happens if it suddenly begins to rain? Will you be introducing something new or is this a review? How will you debrief the lesson? There is so much to consider!!
4. WHERE WILL THE STUDENTS SIT DURING THE MINI LESSON AND DEBRIEF?
If you don't have places for everyone to sit outside, stop by the local thrift store and pick up some blakets. My school happens to have benches and logs for the students to sit on but we still use blankets for the kids that want to sit in the grass instead of the play ground.
1. Monitor and Engage
Walk around and monitor your students in the same way that you would if you were in your actual classroom. If a student finishes an assignment early, you can have that student be your assistant and walk around with you and engage in CFU (check for understanding) discussions. This will help to ensure that everyone stays on task, even though they are outside.
2. Implement Accountability Methods for Each Student
It's impossible to see everything at all times, as much we'd like our students to think that we do. Instead of driving yourself crazy, walking all over the park to see who is doing what, create an accountability rubric that your students can fill out for each other at the end of the lesson. My rubric is based on my school's Habits of Scholarship. You can create your own as well.
3. Take the Student-Created Norms Outside with You
In the case of misbehavior, process with your student about which norm they are not following. It's just like being in your classroom and pointing to the norms when a student forgets.
1. Debrief the Lesson
The debrief has to happen each time. If you do not discuss what went well about being outside, what the challenges were, and let the students present the work that they learned, then unfortunately, all of the work that was done during the period will go to waste. The next day, the students will remember how they did not have to present or share out any information.. So the likelihood of them taking the lesson serious the next day, is going to be pretty low.
2. Make Time for Play
If everyone finishes their assignments and the debrief is successful, why not let your students have the last 10 minutes to relax. Be sure to plan your lesson allowing space and time for that extra 10 minutes at the end.
I hope this is helpful! I posted a video of my students and I having fun while learning in the park. We were reading some Shakespeare. I'm going to add pictures to this post later this week! But hopefully, this is enough to get you started.