Teachers: How to Handle Noncurricular Games

Teachers: How to Handle Noncurricular Games

Teachers: How to Handle Noncurricular Games

For Marissa Dickinson, one of the guiding rules of her fourth-grade classroom was simple: Everyone would be treated equally. That didn’t mean that most of her students couldn’t choose their own games, and that she herself could’ve created her own rules.

But when Ms. Dickinson, a teacher in Evanston, Illinois, couldn’t distinguish between objective sports like sports games and emotionally charged games like school dances, the game’s community fell apart. The teacher moved her students into opposing corners with empty seats, the classic gambit for preventing disruptive behavior. “We did that for a year until students were so frustrated, they didn’t think to leave the room,” she says. “I kept thinking, ‘Oh my god, I’m so lucky to have this job.’”

It’s a lesson most educators have taken to heart after a string of high-profile school shootings, but that doesn’t mean schools don’t still struggle with potential conflicts on noncurricular activities. What are educators allowed to do with games in classrooms? Can teachers compel their students to follow their rules or risk student calls to the principal? What should educators do when students refer to a game as a problem, since the intent is to promote cooperation?

In a large multi-city school district, “if we have bad behavior, it can cause the school to be judged negatively,” says Karen Fisher, the district’s assistant superintendent of elementary schools. “When children are missing school, teachers are worried because they see that the children aren’t learning. … For that reason, we need to ask parents to communicate that we need to respect the kids’ emotions and the teachers’ constraints.”

Some teachers have found that attempting to hold games to rigid rules can do more harm than good. “It comes down to, ‘What are we trying to get accomplished?’” says Kim Knowles, a guidance counselor in a New Hampshire middle school.

“Some students like to organize their own extra-curricular activities, like after-school clubs,” says John Roche, a middle school teacher in New York City, “and they feel comfortable doing that if it’s solely organized and controlled by them.” And even when those games take on an adversarial tone, they can still be beneficial. “A huge reason [students] get organized is to keep the bullies from bad-mouthing them,” says Ms. Knowles. She adds that, if not handled carefully, the games can also serve as a productive outlet for students to vent frustration.

Some teachers have found that attempting to hold games to rigid rules can do more harm than good. “It comes down to, ‘What are we trying to get accomplished?’” says Kim Knowles, a guidance counselor in a New Hampshire middle school.

In addition to holding events to address unwanted behavior, experts urge educators to keep in mind that games with a specific purpose – like keeping students focused on schoolwork during breaks – may be okay. “Games that function as, say, a pep rally or creating community, can be fine,” says Angela Davis, a former elementary school teacher and writer. “It’s things like Thanksgiving games or town hall-style events, where there is no specific community purpose but the players get together and tell their stories,” that could be problematic.

Copyright (c) 2014. Channel 3000

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