Because novelty is such a powerful learning catalyst, I'm always on the lookout for unique (even off-the-wall) objects, images, and ideas that have the potential to capture student attention and help important learning "stick" in their minds.
Typically, I will choose the instructional objective or larger life lesson first and then search for a novel way to convey it to children. That's how it worked when I created the "Tower of Opportunity" to express the idea that education is the key that opens doors and when I came up with the movement, song, and story activities that would later comprise the book Rock It!.
Sometimes, though, the order is reversed. That was the case a few Sundays ago when I was watching an NFL football game and saw a fan in the stands holding up the "D-fence" sign shown in the accompanying image. For years, crowds have been chanting "Defense" to give their team an edge, and this was the first time I had ever seen an actual team-specific sign that fans could wear on one hand while they were chanting.
I knew I had to have one. My plan was to bring the sign to class to share it with my students and have it on display for the rest of the year as a consistent reference point. What was the sign going to refer to? I had no idea. So, I started thinking of a way that the sign could help me communicate something important to my kids, and after a while, I came up with the following. As you read, imagine I'm talking to a group of children.
"When I was your age, I loved to play sports. One of my favorites was basketball, and I would spend hours outside practicing my shooting. Like most kids, my friends and I loved playing offense. We loved to shoot the ball and score. Even though we knew defense was important, it wasn't as much fun as playing offense, and we didn't devote the same time and effort to improving our defense as we did to our offense. As we got older, we realized that for our teams to be successful, we needed to give equal attention to defense. Moving our feet, boxing out for rebounds, and other aspects of defense, no matter how small, aren't glamorous, yet they are necessary ingredients for success.
The same idea holds true with baseball and football, in which hitting home runs and scoring touchdowns are fun and exciting, yet they represent only a small part of the game. Success requires a serious, ongoing commitment to the little things. The fans in the stands may not notice these little things, and they certainly aren't likely to show up on TV highlight shows. But they matter.
The same is true with being a great student. In Writing Workshop, for example, you may love to come up with story ideas and love to draft. You may not feel the same way about revising or editing, but if you want to be a successful writer, you need to give these areas equal attention. Sometimes, these tasks may not be fun, and they may feel like a grind, but committing to doing them with a high level of effort and with attention to detail is necessary. These habits will stay with you and help you become successful in whatever you choose to do when you get older.
Starting today, every time you see the sign I'm about to unveil, let it remind you of the effort we need to bring to the little things, the small tasks that may not be your favorite but that are so important for your success, in school and in life."