Our school’s new Peaceful Playground was installed this past summer. As part of the Peaceful Playground Initiative, I was asked to teach students during physical education classes a variety of cooperative games they could play on the new playground. I took this as a chance to embed safe, fun recess structures all our students could enjoy. We had struggled in past years to keep recess play positive and bully-free, and I felt early, student-initiated intervention could help. I added an emphasis on teaching simple, language-based conflict resolution. I discovered that elements of positive teacher language can improve the language that students use with each other as well.
My goal: students will be respectful to each other and play cooperatively on the playground. I wanted to see good manners, positive social interaction, and teamwork in groups of all sizes. I wanted to hear laughter, respectful words, and kind voices. I wanted to feel a sense of acceptance among the students, successful playing, and a general sense of being in control, physically and emotionally.
The Responsive Classroom practices of interactive modeling and positive teacher language were at the heart of my plan. I modeled how to play the games on the Peaceful Playground and how to talk through conflicts that might occur there. After demonstrating how to play a game, I asked questions like, “What was my running style like?” “Where were my eyes when I was running?” and “What did you notice about my tagging technique?”
After showing how to resolve a conflict, I asked students questions like, “What did you notice about my voice level?” Where were my eyes looking as I was talking?” and “What types of words did I use?” Each time I asked a question I got the answers I was hoping to hear.
Next, I had a few students demonstrate how to play the games and resolve conflicts. Before they demonstrated, I established a rule for student demos: they had to demo it properly, the way I had done (or better). They weren’t allowed to demonstrate anything the wrong way, or to be silly. Then I asked the volunteer modelers to demonstrate how to respond if a player breaks a game rule. They were instructed to use direct and simple, conflict resolution language: “You broke the rule.” “Your foot was on the line.”
“The ball went out of bounds.”
It struck me while arranging these activities that I was really taking the teacher language strategies I had learned in Responsive Classroom training and asking students to use the same type of direct, descriptive, specific, non-judgmental language. “Teacher language” can be “student language,” too, and can have all the same benefits! In this case, using simple, direct, descriptive language was helping us begin to learn how to resolve conflicts early before a more formal intervention would be necessary.
I chose our student demonstrators carefully; they followed my guidelines perfectly and took the job seriously. As is usually the case, the audience’s interest in student demonstrations was greater than when I demonstrated.
I also used posted daily messages to remind students of the playground initiative as they entered the gym. I don’t see each student every day, and only for 28 minutes when I do see them, so I’ve found posting messages for students to read as they enter our gym to be a great way to focus them on daily goals.
- Good Morning, Wildcats,
Last week we learned some new games for the blacktop. What is one way you can encourage your friends when playing?
- Hello, and Welcome Back after the long weekend!
Before we left, we learned how to solve certain problems on the playground by using rock, paper, scissors. Find a partner and play rock, paper, scissors with him/her. Once class began, I would refer to the posted question and listen to student-generated responses.
To measure if my efforts were paying off, I analyzed student playground behavior three times during the first three months of school, looking for the respectful behaviors I had targeted (good manners, positive social interaction, teamwork, specific, simple language used to resolve conflicts, etc).
The results indicate students are showing more respect towards each other and the adult monitors. I saw several student interactions in which a conflict occurred and students attempted to resolve it. I now believe that a redirect from a peer—the effect of simple, direct, specific redirecting language used student to student—seems to carry more weight than a redirect from an adult.
I also surveyed thirty students in September and again in November, and interviewed several. These assessments showed clear overall improvement in their perception of the level of respectful recess play. Some interesting findings in the data included students feel more negative about each other’s playground behavior before they go out to use the playground than they do after they have played together.
Perhaps they remember one bad experience they had, and just before they head out, and that memory is with them, but after a fun-filled experience, that negative memory is abated. I’ll continue to explore this and other questions as I pursue the goal of a peaceful playground.
Janelle Berry-Blasingame teaches K-5 physical education at Westwood Elementary School in Bloomington, Minnesota.