Playing Into Their Hands

Sitting in a circle, fourteen teachers speak our names in rhythm with quarter notes: Lau-ra. Blue. James. Blue.  There is nervousness, laughing; one tries to show off and flops, another gains confidence after a timid first attempt.  We are teachers, so playing the student’s role forces them out of our element.

This week I was privileged to be able to assist Michiko Yurko at a workshop of Music Mind Games, the cooperative theory games I use in my piano lessons with great success.  During our orientation, I took great interest in this list of answers to the common question, "Why games?"

  1. It’s easy to hold students’ attention with a game; everyone loves them.

  2. Students relax and learn faster.  As Michiko said, "When their minds are open, you can stuff all kinds of things in."

  3. Memory training happens naturally.  As a musician, you need to have an excellent memory, one that serves you even in a chaotic situation.

  4. Students learn to work together cooperatively.  There are lots of implications here for careers, religion, and even personal relationships!

  5. Students feel progress and a sense of accomplishment, whether or not they win.

  6. Students are empowered to learn rather than to be taught.

  7. Students are happy to repeat games, which is fundamental to learning.  Every teacher would love to phasing herself out, looking on while students work on their own; playing games enables her to do that.

  8. Games engage multiple learning strengths; visual, oral, kinesthetic.

  9. Games are adaptable to different ages as well as different subjects.

  10. Games create a manageable sequence of skills.

  11. Games allow teachers to personally relate to each student – instead of thinking about a class, you’re thinking about a person.

  12. Games allow teachers to evaluate comprehension and track progress without testing.  Students learn from each other, and teachers learn from their students.

  13. Games are fun for teachers, too!

As I took notes and listened to her talk, I realized these were all things I was aiming for in classroom teaching, too.  Why can't I play grammar games with my literature classes, or brainstorming games with the budding authors in Creative Writing?  I suppose because it would take a lot more work than the traditional methods.  Maybe I can come up with just a few for this year.  Any ideas?