Today I won the hearts of my third graders at Wang Yang School. Towards the end of the day, the majority of my curious third-graders had wandered back into the classroom to find out what Teacher Bai-Khao was up to. They quickly lost interest in me since I was sitting at my desk correcting notebooks for grammar and punctuation mistakes (thrilling, I know). The boys were soon preoccupied playing Snake Xenzia on my cellphone and the girls were organizing an alphabet game I recently played in class. I was immersed in my work until an eruption of giggles beside me forced me to look up. One of my students was doing some sort of optical illusion trick with her arm to make it appear shorter, much to her peers’ amusement. Smiling, I said “Watch this!” and did that silly finger wiggling trick. You know, the one that makes it look as if your two middle fingers are connected and they move in unison while the rest of your fingers interlock, palms facing opposite directions. Seeing the pure amusement on my students’ faces urged me on, and I swiftly “removed” my thumb with the oldest trick in the book, the one I’m pretty sure at least one quirky uncle in every family has mastered. Shrieks of laughter ensued, and as a grand finale I grabbed a pencil and turned it into a wobbly, bendable piece of rubber. By this point the kids were just astonished at what they were witnessing. I looked around at my faithful audience; some contorted their fingers all sorts of ways to replicate my finger tricks while others attempted to “bend” their pencils. Just then the bell rang and they made their way to the door, still bewildered at what they had just seen. I smiled and promised the most persistent student, fingers still interlocked as he stood in the doorway, that I would teach the trick when I return on Thursday.
The thing about magic tricks is that they are all a matter of perspective. Once my students figure out how to make their own fingers move and their own pencils bend, the illusion will vanish. I’ve been thinking about this concept in regards to teaching. Last week I was struggling (more than usual) with the challenge of teaching multi-level classes. The material I was covering bored some students while it left others completely lost and I myself was lost for solutions. Then with a change of perspective and a few teaching tricks (scaffolding small group activities, for example) so vanished this illusion of challenging, multi-level classes. It was an exciting breakthrough and though I’m certain this issue will continue to pose challenges, it’s good to know I am employing some effective techniques in the classroom. Now if only I could figure out that coin-behind-the-ear technique.