Beat the Clock, Beat the Class: Building Skills with Healthy Competition

In schools that use individualized curriculum, students take responsibility for their own learning. But that doesn’t mean they should be deprived of the advantages of working together as a class. Diana and Marla discuss the competitive activities they use to hone students’ skills and brighten their days. They answer questions about how to keep competition healthy and how group activities mesh with individualized studies.

Classroom

Multiplication dice drill

Diana

I was looking at some things that I miss from having a conventional classroom. Being at the board all the time and teaching can get tiring, but I miss that constant interaction with the students and also seeing the students’ progress more on a daily basis firsthand. I get to see so much more, I feel like, if I interact with them every day at the board, and in class time, and things like that, but I do appreciate what I see in my students: the way they take responsibility for their own work and go ahead. It’s a challenge for me to learn to know how to bless their efforts instead of discouraging them.

Classroom

Flashcard race

Marla

One of the things I do—I do like to do it with them one-on-one too—and that is just see how many cards they can get in one minute. I have stacks of cards, like here’s multiplication—these are addition and subtraction—and so, I know how many are in a stack and so we just repeat the stack and see how many you can get. If they can get in the 40s in one minute, that’s good. In the 50s is very good. And if they can get up to 60 in a minute, that’s excellent.

Doing the one-on-one, that then removes… They’re just trying to beat the timer. And so, they’re not competing against other children and sometimes they do better. I came to realize some of them were not getting their math facts and so I started doing the one-on-ones and seeing how many they could get in a minute and they sped up just like that. I mean, the difference was pretty amazing. And so, I feel like these core years when they’re learning their math facts, they need to be drilled over and over and I try to do it. I don’t always have time, especially on days when I’m by myself like I am today. But anytime they’ve got free time, I just call them up here and we’ll go through the flashcards. It’s random, totally random, but I think it’s core that flashcards—you just have to do them every day in order for them to get their facts.

Diana

Sometimes I have other plans for them, like they’re not used to doing as much oral reading and flashcards and things like that. So I’ve learned if I can tell them, give them a heads up that they can plan that into their schedule. They’re okay with it better than if I just all of a sudden announce we’re going to have oral reading right now. And they just feel like “(gasp) I don’t have time,” because they feel so pressed because they are responsible for all their work, and getting it done, and they see what they need to get done.

And how does that work when they’re not in the same place?
Diana

Most of my students were at the same place. If they’re not, I’m used to having several grades and we did a lot of things together either as a review or a prep for when they get to it. So that’s what I do here as well. Like if they’re a few lessons apart, I figure the reason we’re doing oral reading is for comprehension and learning to read more smoothly, so they’ll benefit from it, whether they’ve read the story before or not, or whether … Like if we do the nine times today versus the eight times flashcards, they need the practice anyway.

How do you harness the power of healthy competition?
Marla

Number one, the teacher’s enthusiasm bleeds into the children. And so, first of all, you have to get them excited about it. And then, I don’t know, I just kind of like to have fun with it. I’ve never really had too much trouble, I guess, with them getting ahead, I guess. And this year, yeah, they get into it and I just have to laugh because some will put their entire body into it sometimes. And then there’s some that are so fast that by the time one sucks in their breath to say it, the other one has already spit it out.

Classroom

Flashcard race

Marla

Beating a time or beating your friend, one or the other, that’s all it takes. And for little people, the rewards they get for whatever can be so small for them to be happy with.

Classroom

Handing out stickers

Marla

Yeah, just beating somebody is a reward.

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