“Get out a piece of paper,” Winston Murdock directed. When his seventh grade language arts students had complied he told them, “Make the biggest circle you can. Fill your paper with it.” Then he instructed them further, “Now make a smaller circle inside the big one.”
“If you have followed the directions closely, it will probably look like a big wheel or a big doughnut. Now, inside the doughnut I want you to write all the things that you see as good about school. List the things you like, the challenges you enjoy, the activities you look forward to. Don’t write in complete sentences. That will take too long. Just use phrases like being with my friends, working in groups, doing art projects, Mr. Murdock’s sense of humor, etc. I’ll give you several minutes to work on it. These need to be the things you see as positive about school.”
When the work time was completed, Mr. Murdock had students share a few of their items aloud. They included.
The French Club.
Being successful with equations.
Being in the band.
Knowing more about our government.
Getting questions answered.
Learning things I didn’t know.
Learning more about computers.
When we respect for each other.
“Now in the middle of the small circle write all the things you don’t like about school. I’ll give about the same amount of time to work on these.”
When time was up, hands shot in the air from all over the room. Many students wanted to contribute to the list of dislikes.
Mr. Murdock didn’t ask for those responses. Instead he asked, “Which list was easier to complete?” “The second one,” was the nearly unanimous response. “I didn’t have enough room for them all,” one student offered. “The space was too small,” said another.
Then the real lesson began. “This is a mind skill that we will be working on throughout the year. I call it looking for the doughnut. It involves learning to use your mind to look for the doughnut rather than the hole. If you look for holes in this class you will find them. Holes are everywhere. If you look for positive pieces of the doughnut you will find those. They are also always there.
“Some of you,” he continued, “might be looking for the hole in this lesson this morning. Or you might be looking for pieces of the doughnut you can put to use in this class or in other areas of your life. I can tell you this: students, teachers, your parents and other people generally find what they are looking for.”
“Here is the important part. You get to choose. In this class it is YOU who gets to choose whether to look for the doughnut or the hole. Just keep in mind the choice you make will influence what you see. And what you see is what you will create for yourself.”
“Now turn your papers over and create another doughnut. Write what you think about this last activity. What do you choose to see about it?”
Winston Murdock teaches language arts. Mind skills are not included is his specified curriculum. Nor are they tested on any of the state tests where he teaches. After telling this story at a workshop recently, a building administrator asked, “Then why is he teaching it in class?” We suggested to her that she might be questioning the wrong person. Perhaps she should talking to the test maker and asking why it is not being included on the test.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com
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