Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Human Bingo and Hopeful Signs of Spring

One afternoon in the spring, we play Human Bingo in the third grade. Everyone has a "Bingo" sheet on which a grid is printed and in which each square has a statement like “Has seen the new Harry Potter movie” or “Was born in Boston.” The goal is to find people who fit the descriptions in each square and have them sign your sheet - and each person can only sign one square per sheet. It's like controlled mingling, and it would be great at cocktail parties, but with 25 eight-year-olds I try to corral the energy somehow. As a way of keeping the class under some semblance of control, I challenge the students to see if they can do it without talking. (I have learned the deceptively easy trick that rules are more apt to be followed I disguise them as games or challenges, instead.)

This classroom has been a tough sell. The teacher seems to like me personally and certainly appreciates what I've been trying to do, but she has been unrestrained in her skepticism. And often with good reason. We seem to take two steps forward and one step back with this class, but we keep trying. I suspect that this counts for a lot - or at least, that's what I tell myself.

The game begins, and the scene is impressive as a largely-muted classroom is filled with third graders milling about and signing each other’s Bingo cards. After 10 minutes, it gradually starts to get louder, suggesting that a growing number of children have finished, so in a voice barely above a whisper I quietly ask how many have Bingo. Without warning, there is a sudden and overwhelming roar, then a piercing chant of, “Bing-go! Bing-go! Bing-go!” I cannot overstate how suddenly and how much it resembles a mob scene. Startled, I rush to calm them down and move on, thinking that the outburst has overshadowed the activity as the teacher - with a smile-like expression on her face that I can't quite read - moves to calm them down.

The next morning, I talk to her about the activity to try to gauge her feelings about it. I'm fully prepared to apologize for the chaos, but to my surprise, she feels delighted with the way it went. Not only were the kids celebrating success, she explains, but they also had fun. She goes on to tell me that both Jordan and Gwendolyn, two girls who have been on the forefront of an emerging anti-Peace Games insurgence, referenced Peace Games lessons in a recent writing assignment. “It’s starting to click,” she says. “I’m starting to see changes.”

I am stupefied, wondering if this is the same woman who not two months before had given me a stern talking-to about our persistent lack of effectiveness and wondering if these are the same students who have been unrestrained in their disdainful moans every time they see me walking into their classroom.

Instead, I just say, “Wow.” And make plans to go back next week.

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