Playing Around

October 7, 2009

As I read Jenkins this week, I thought a lot about what I have learned from role-play and simulation in my own life.  A little warning here: this is where I “out” myself as a total nerd.  I joined the debate team in high school and spent weekends arguing topics such as “Public health concerns justify compulsory immunization.” I debated five rounds each tournament and had to check the postings before each round to see if I was “aff” or “neg.”  I was never very good at debate because I lacked self-confidence.  But I understood the competing interests and arguments really well because I had to stand up in front of a judge and my opponent and argue (in a very structured format) either for or against each topic.

In late spring of each year, I followed the same group of kids to the state capitol to be a part of Youth Legislature for four days.  Basically, a bunch of high school kids go to the capitol and pretend to be senators, representatives, reporters and pages.  Together, we recreated the legislative session.  Each year, we elected a governor, secretary of state and majority and minority leaders for each chamber.  Rock stars emerged over the course of four days.  They were the kids who could stand up and make very compelling argument for or against legislation.  They also had considerable networking skills and buttered up other legislators to get support for their bills.

As if that wasn’t enough, I joined the Mock Trial team in college.  It was sort of ridiculous.  Basically, college students stage 3-hour-long mock trials with lawyers and witnesses.  The lawyers give opening and closing arguments and direct and cross-examine witnesses.  They are serious and poised.  The witnesses are more theatrical and funny.  I was also pretty bad at mock trial, but I still know how to object on the grounds of “lack of personal knowledge” and to ask the judge for permission to approach the bench.  I could have learned these things from Law & Order, but actually putting on a business suit (yes, we did wear suits) and living out the courtroom drama helped me understand what it’s like to actually argue a case.

All of this to say that when I first saw the words “role-play” and “simulation,” I thought “Oh no, that’s not me.”  Well, it turns out that it very much is me.  I have done lots of role-plays and simulations.  And these have been some of the most powerful learning experiences of my life.  In debate, mock trial and Youth Legislature, I got, as Jenkins writes, “a chance to see and do things that would be impossible in the real world” (p. 25).

In some respects, I feel my classroom is a big role-play.  I play a role with my students because I pretend I don’t speak English.  My students are required to communicate in their non-native language at school.  They get to use the French language to really communicate with other people. That would never happen unless they grew up in a bilingual home or lived in a Francophone country.  We don’t do many formal role-plays and simulations in my own classroom, but my students have lots of opportunities to play. I especially love to watch them play in the kitchen and  act out stories with the animals and dinosaurs.

I know I should have them do more role-plays.  For example, when we talk about flowers in the spring, my students could act out the growth of a flower.  They could also act out the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Boucle d’or et les trois ours) in December and January when they learn to tell the story in French.  They already do very basic online simulations with coin exchanges when they play Everyday Math games on the computer. Perhaps we could also do some simulations together as a class.  It would be interesting to see if and how these simulations and role-plays deepen my students’ understanding of the French and the concepts we are studying.

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One Response to “Playing Around”

  1. candance said

    Kelsey, your post really dives into the allure of role-play and simulation as a frame of thinking. I am especially drawn to your memories of Mock Trial and debate and how you are able to see these learning experiences resurface in your teaching — very thoughtful reflection.

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