This summer I attended a soccer-coaching clinic and was inspired to see that the lessons educators have learned about social-emotional and brain-based learning can be applied to the field as well as the classroom. Our instructor’s theme was “no laps, lines, or lectures.” I was easily able to make direct connections between this motto and my own teaching experience.
The clinic started with a demonstration of two kinds of warm-ups:
- one group ran laps around the perimeter of the field
- the other group ran forward and backward, galloped, and skipped through gates scattered around the field
After five minutes, all of us were slightly sweaty—warm-up successful. But the second group had accomplished much more than the group running laps: they had moved like soccer players, quickly changing direction and speed while avoiding collisions. They had to made quick decisions and listen carefully to the coach as he called out instructions.
In the Developmental Designs approach, teachers often use a Do Now assignment at the beginning of the class to help students get materials ready for class and to begin engaging in the learning for that day. In a math class, for example, the teacher might display several problems and have students independently solve as many as they can in the time allotted. Or partners might make up problems for each other to solve. Students could reflect on what was easy about the problem and on what they still needed to learn. Partner work allows students to work with their peers and use critical thinking to assess their learning.
As a childhood soccer player, much of my practice involved waiting in a line—waiting for my turn to shoot, pass, or dribble through cones.
But our clinic instructor had other ideas.
- one group lined up to dribble the ball, one by one, through a series of gates set up in a line
- in the other group, players had their own ball and were told to dribble through as many gates as they could in two minutes
At the end of the two minutes, players in the second group reported the number of gates, then made a plan for how they could improve the number on the second round. The instructor continued with many variations: each gate was worth five points; some players became gate blockers so others had to dribble around them; gates were moved closer or farther apart. The exercise was fun, and we were steadily developing our skills.
The other group, however, continued to dribble, one by one, through their gates. Each group practiced dribbling, but one group dribbled in an environment similar to a game: multiple players moving about, dealing with defenders, and avoiding collisions, which required dribbling with their heads up. I noticed that all players in the line drill dribbled with their heads down—and they didn’t get much time actually working with a ball.
Why would you have students practice dribbling with their heads down when they have to dribble with their heads up in a real game?!
In the Developmental Designs approach, teachers practice bridging—helping students connect what they do at school with the rest of their lives. As a math teacher, making math relevant was often a challenge. I knew they would need to use math in the future, but adolescents live in the moment. My most successful strategy was to capitalize on projects and situations where we needed to use math for real, just not on a worksheet:
- The bulletin boards in the hallway need to be covered with paper. How much will we need?
- How much crepe paper will we need to decorate the gym for the dance?
The instructor concluded the coaching clinic with some comments about soccer requiring real teamwork. Many of the soon-to-be coaches complained that they needed more details about what players should do in specific situations.
The instructor replied, “I’m not with them on the field when they play. They have to figure it out in real time, so they practice making decisions on the spot. Soccer is a messy game, so practice can be messy too.”
I could relate to his point.
In the Developmental Designs approach, teachers use the Power of Play to help students build relationships with one another, practice social skills, and learn or review academic content. Many games provide opportunities for them to develop strategy. For example, in Team Red Light, Green Light, students are given a few short directions about the goal of the game and a couple of guidelines for how they can move. The rest is up to them to figure out. Year after year, students came up with unique ways to be successful at the game.
I have to admit, I wasn’t excited about attending the coaching clinic. Maybe I was expecting laps, lines, and lectures, too similar to what I experienced as a soccer student. But I left truly inspired.
I’m so excited to start coaching!
Erin Klug taught intermediate and middle grades in Minneapolis for more than a decade before taking a position as Professional Development Specialist and Consultant for The Origins Program.
Posted August 2014