I've found that the most inspired teaching ideas come from those true moments of desperation. A few weeks ago we were in the middle of our map skills unit and we were working on building a map of our classroom. It was painful. My kids, with their difficulties in abstract thinking, were really struggling with the idea that the big piece of construction paper was equivelent to our classroom, and that the brown squares of paper we were taping onto the "classroom" were really the tables. I wrapped it up quickly, leaving off at least a fourth of the room where the teachers' desks are. We were done.
With ten minutes until recess.
Ten minutes isn't enough time to start a new activity, it's a bit too long for a random story book, and way too short to just recap the failed activity in some meaningful way.
It is at moments like these that true teaching happens.
For whatever reason- a visit from the teaching fairy- the Saint of Desperate Teachers- I grabbed a toy sheep in our classroom and a board maker icon of a sheep. It just so happens that I had the icon already made from a previous lesson, and it was sitting on my desk. The only reason the "sheep game" came about was because I hadn't bothered to clean up.
I decided we'd play a "hide the sheep" game. Very similar to a game I'd played in my gen ed room where I'd hide an object and then the kids would have to silently look for it, following the directions "hot or cold". This time, however, I put the icon of the sheep onto the classroom map.
The kids needed to first look at the map, determine where the sheep was, and then go find the sheep. It just so happens that using a map is one of our testing standards- and one that we absolutely were at a loss on how to teach. (The year before I taught this by giving them maps when we went to the zoo on a field trip, simple and easy, but not easily replicated).
The first few times we played the game it was ridiculously painful. Because they hadn't gotten the concept that the map of our classroom WAS our classroom they could tell me where the sheep was on the map, but they'd still wander all over the classroom. They'd go to the last place I'd hidden the sheep, wondering why it wasn't there.
But slowly, after playing it every day for awhile (turns out it is a great time filler) they can now use the map to find the sheep. They are actually starting to use map skills! And, it's a quick assessment of who understands maps- the kid who goes straight to the correct area of the classroom based on the map vs the kid who still looks around frantically- shows me who understands the concept.
Most importantly, I'm really glad I didn't just give up when they couldn't play the game at first. It was ridiculously painful to watch them play, and it would have been easy to shake my head and say, "This is WAY too hard." Watching their map skills grow over the last few weeks because of this "way too hard" game has served as a great reminder of the importance of high expectations coupled with repetition,determination, repetition, and repetition.