Thursday, May 15, 2008

Connected at the Wii

Having participated in job interviews recently, and having talked to friends in the business who have participated in job interviews recently, I've come to the conclusion that one of the most important questions a teacher needs to be ready to answer is the one about reaching the student that has fallen behind. We all have them. The kid with bad attendance. The learning disabled kid who can't seem to function in class. The smart kid who sits reading Kafka but refuses to turn in any work.

I finally have an answer on how to reach some of these kids. So, go on, ask me: Chicago Teacher Man, how do you reach the student that has fallen behind and make sure he passes?

Simple. I challenge the kid to a session of Nintendo Wii.

Well, OK, I've only done it once, but it's worked so well that I'm considering buying one of those machines before the end of this school year to make sure every single one of my slackers passes.

A few weeks ago, one of my students started talking about Wii. Having recently played it for the first time, I told him how much cooler it was than I had previously thought. And the thing is, Wii is a lot of fun. Unlike most video games these days, the Wii doesn't require you to memorize a million sequences of button-pushing on the joystick just to serve a tennis ball or swing a baseball bat.

"Tell you what," Wii Boy told me. "I'll bring in my Wii and we can play."

"Bring it on," I said, hoping he would but not really expecting him to.

A couple of days later, on a Friday, he walked into my classroom half an hour before classes started. He had his Wii. So we set it up, hooked it up to my LCD projector, and played for the next 20 minutes. My first period kids came in, baffled.

For the rest of the day, during my free periods, I kept playing. Against the young teacher down the hall who caught on really fast and kicked my butt.

Wii Boy is in my seventh period class, so by the time he came back I was a wee bit tired. After class, he hung around. "What about your eighth period class?" I asked.

"Oh whatever," he said, "I'm failing anyway. What's one more absence?"

"Alright," I said, shutting my door, turning the lights low, and firing up the Wii. For the next 45 minutes, this kid thoroughly killed me at all the Wii sports, plus a sword fighting game. In a way, I guess you can say we bonded. But really, there's more.

Pre-Wii, this kid
  • either didn't come to class
  • or slept in class
  • or goofed off
  • and never, ever turned in any work
  • claiming that he hated school
  • and the only thing he was interested in was alchemy.
Yeah, alchemy.

But in that Wii afternoon, I noticed something interesting. He turned into a very serious teacher, explaining the games and giving me tips and even cheering me on when I got a point. And I thought, damn, why can't I be that kind of teacher, someone who patiently explains and gives tips and congratulates students when they succeed?

After that day, he's shown up. Even turned in work. Seriously. The class had a pretty major personal essay to write, and I knew he wasn't working on it and I knew he wasn't going to try. So I took him aside and figured out a plan. I had seem him doodling, so I suggested he draw the essay as a graphic novel. And he did. It was six pages long, with some interesting details and funny moments.

Lately, he's been talking about bringing in the Wii again. "Don't worry," he told me after class today, "we'll make a Guitar Hero out of you yet."

Thanks, Teach!


Anonymous said...

That's pretty cool! I guess there are some unconventional ways to reach out to a student and have him/her change for a while.

Hug Girl

Bill said...

That's weird. I almost bought a PS today for my classroom. Great minds must think alike.

appopt said...

In this case, the great minds would be you and my student. I just went along for the ride on this one.

rich the photo guy said...

"...I was a wee bit tired..."-appopt

BAD pun alert!!!!!

Jay M. said...

This is a really great anecdote. I feel that a lot of the kids out there just don't have the opportunity to express themselves in the ways they're able to.

The Wii thing was a great way to get him to open up to you a little more, and I really like the idea of allowing a graphic novel as a writing assignment.

Let's be honest, not all of these kids are going to grow up and have to write up progress reports and team evaluations. But if you can reach out to a kid with artistic talent (which seems to be highly overlooked these days) and encourage them to work at it, maybe you can open a few doors for them that they didn't see before.

Thanks again!

appopt said...

Thank you.

Seems Wii Boy is doing well in other aspects of his life. He proudly announced that he just got promoted to cashier at the supermarket where he works. "Do your supervisors really trust you like that?" I asked.

"You realize I act completely different outside of school," he responded. "This is just the me at school." Lucky me.

Matt from '07 said...

sitting there reading kafka (or vonnegut) but adamantly refusing to turn in any work. i am quite sorry that i was one of those. but that was just who i was at that time. things are a bit different now though. well, the grandoverseerpickle re-hooked me onto our blog, and i have just nearly read every post of yours. good luck in india. oh and i thing you should change the blog name to international teacher man.