Before Jessica Renner led her Fairbrook third-graders through a reading passage focused on vocabulary and understanding characters, she asked them what behaviors they should avoid. Students piped up with answers like talking, getting up from their seats, or not paying attention – in the game, they call these misbehaviors “spleems.”
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While going through the 15-minute lesson, Renner occasionally gave a “spleem” to one table or another (never an individual) for talking or not reading what they were supposed to. But because no table got more than a couple of spleems, they all got a reward when they finished – a student-led game of Simon Says.
State school board member Charlotte McGuire, who watched the lesson, said she liked how it encouraged each student to be responsible for their behavior, but also for each table to work as a team, making sure their classmates stayed engaged.
“We’re teaching the students the skills necessary, the life skills, to handle anything that comes at them,” said Shaw Principal Susan Peveler. “And to understand that my actions, my behavior, has impact on everyone else in the world.”
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Students on Fairbrook’s fifth-grade leadership team said the games and rewards from “Granny’s Wacky Prize” bag are fun. They said when your friend is the one at your table misbehaving, it’s sometimes hard to speak up and get them back on track, but they said PAX helps them with the confidence to do that.
Shaw fifth-grade teacher Jen Volk said the game helps the students focus, “and then so many more kids get the lesson the first time.” Mangan said in one of the first full years that Fairbrook used the PAX game, student office referrals for discipline dropped from 79 to 30. She said academic performance is up as well.
DeMaria called the game impressive, and the social/emotional growth it addresses “tremendously important.”
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It’s that classroom environment that allows learning to take place,” DeMaria said. “If kids are distracted and not engaged or they’re distracted by other students, that erodes the opportunity for learning. … We want to make school engaging.”