When the game doesn’t work

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post called Practice (you can see that post here). The gist of the post was based on a quote I saw in the book The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Here’s that quote again:

The gist of the entire post revolved around building in more opportunities for “game day” experiences for our students. I had a really interesting follow up about that post with a person who works at our school. The question was about how the the “game day” experiences impact the painfully shy or anxious student.

I think those of us in education just had a current or former student come to mind. That kid who never wants to talk in class. Who would never want to share a presentation. Who would never read their writing no matter how good you tell them it is. I definitely have that student in my mind!

This is such a great point. As this person shared with me, no matter our experiences, we probably all know people who are really good at the day to day tasks of their life, but the moment that they have to be “on stage” they just fall apart.

Now, I have to admit, when I wrote this post, I hadn’t read all of The Power of Moments, but what I later came to realize is that maybe it isn’t about creating huge “game day” type experiences, but rather we want to think about ways we can create more peak experiences.

The following pair of graphs come from The Power of Moments, and depict a student’s experience. The graph on the left might represent a typical student’s day-to-day emotions at school. What do you notice? Pretty flat, right? But the graph on the right represents the day-to-day emotions of a student who gets to participate in a bigger experience. This one represents a student who participated in a project called The Trial of Human Nature (I’m not going to go into the details of that experience here, if you want to know more you’ll have to read the book).

What I think I was trying to say in the previous post on this topic was that we need to create more of these peak moments for our students. But as I look back at the post, most of the ideas I suggested involve tasks that border on performance. Not all our students are completely ready for that. Now, there is an argument here to be made for pushing kids outside of their comfort zone, but I also think there’s an argument for letting students work to their strengths. When we have those painfully shy students, asking them to share their invention at the convention or speak about an area of study with adults they don’t know may generate a level or stress in our students that prevent learning. Think about it, stress is a reaction of our lower brain, and when we are living in survival mode, we can’t access the prefrontal cortex. In other words, when you’re stressed out, you don’t learn very much!

This is where some student agency might come into play for these peak moments. What if our students are working in groups and decide that they want to create an informational video about their research. If there’s a shy student in the group, they can still help with the research, be the person behind the camera or directing the action, and then become the master at iMovie to edit the video together. When the video is shared, they get to take just as much pride in the performance as the students who are front and center while not moving too far out of their comfort zone.

Or maybe your class is doing a wax museum project (always a crowd favorite for parents!), and there’s a student who can’t manage the task of speaking to people he doesn’t know. Learning how to research the topic is really what you are probably looking for. Couldn’t that student do the research, then create a blog post? Maybe they then use an animation app to take a picture of their person, and then animate that picture to have their own voice reading a brief introduction. They still do all the same work, without the super stressful public performance. And the technology might act as an accelerator for kids in the learning process by increasing their effort at perfection, which in turn creates a better project.

Ultimately, what I think I was trying to get at in my previous post, was that we want to create more peak moments for our students. Those moments are exciting, which in turn activates a part of the brain that helps make memories. When we create joyful learning environments with peak moments, our students will be banging down the door to get in to school each day. As I’ve heard Dave Burgess say, would your students want to come to class if they had to buy a ticket? We want them to be begging for what we’re offering. And while we can’t offer peak moments every day, we have to be intentional about building those types of moments into the learning environment in a way that students see that what they are doing today will build to a peak moment in the future (and here’s a suggestion – our kids probably don’t see a test or a quiz as a peak moment).

What peak moments have you created for students this year? As you wrap up your school year, ask your students what are the most memorable moments of the school year. Those peak moments will give you ideas of they types of things you might want to create in the future!

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