When is the last time you took a risk? How did it work out? (WordPress daily writing prompt)

When talking about teaching risks (classroom teaching not physical, mental, or emotional safety), there is a lot to unpack. Teaching to the test, teachers paying their bills, public pressure, and school funding; there are a lot of reasons why teachers don’t push themselves to try new methods.

Sometimes, you do find a few teachers who push themselves. Maverick teachers, teachers who plan on leaving the profession and feel they have nothing to lose, veteran teachers who are bored and trying to find their love, shaking up the student engagement: whatever the reason, sometimes teachers do take teaching risks.

I took two specific risks in my curriculum. One was a sleeper success. It didn’t feel good in the moment but I saw the benefits later. The other was an immediate success.

1.Teaching with Chess

I learned about this method in graduate school and I used it myself. (I now sell it in my TPT store.) The chess board helps students understand the hierarchy of the Middle Ages and the give-take relationship between each rank. It is a fun way to delve a bit deeper into each ranks role and illustrate the points with some historical examples.

Students work in pairs and in the end, play a game of chess. Students who know how to play like the history of the game and then show off their skills to their peers. It’s fun to see often quieter students break out of the shell a bit. It also reinforces to students that learning can take many different forms.

It’s a risk because it completely deviates from the traditional methods used by most teachers. It is scary to use a game to teach serious topics. It is scary to think that if students are writing notes from a lecture or textbook they aren’t learning. But learning doesn’t always have to look this way.

We know that by doing, we retain information better. It’s hard to apply this method when studying history. Not every lesson is condusive to doing. This one however, works.

2. Teaching the causes of WWI with a game

I created a card game to help teach the causes of World War I. I wanted to emphasize the almost chaotic escalation of the war. But as students began playing, it wasn’t working. The risk I took, failed.

But I’m quick on my toes. I also know my subject matter very well. So I tweaked the game rules on the spot. I moved students from small groups to a whole group. Rather than relying on volunteers, I called on students at random. I quickened the pace as well. I didn’t wait for students to respond before the next element was introduced.

Students were hyped and felt a little crazed. They didn’t understand what was happening. They didn’t understand what this related to.

Then we sat down for the lecture portion of the lesson. And suddenly, they got it. They saw the piling up of the problems and complexity that it caused. They understood that they had been pitted against each other seemingly at random but it wasn’t actually random.

But why I say this was a short-term failure is because the intial game failed and I feared students wouldn’t remember the important elements. However, the next year, my new students said they couldn’t wait to play the game (word of mouth was good) AND the teacher who had my former students said they were so impressed with how much the students knew about the escalation of WWI. He’d never had students so invested in WWI before.

The complete bummer is, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I DID!

The risk failed, I had to change it on the fly (another risk), and I don’t think I could replicate it. Not without A LOT of trial and error. It may have been one of those teaching moments that can’t be replicated. It was a perfect storm of risks.


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