I was an 80s aerobics junkie. In high school, I woke up at 6 a.m. to exercise with a TV program. In college, I was in the front and center of classes at the recreation center. I loved the classes, the workouts, and the legwarmers.
Since the 80s, I have done lots of things to try to keep in shape but have really let exercise go over the last five years. So this year when I learned about a local “Women’s Boot Camp” that takes place at 5:30 a.m. every weekday, I signed up!
I made it through my first week of boot camp and learned lots. I learned a bit about good nutrition and some things about exercising. But, I have been most fascinated by the way the trainer runs the class. As I participate each morning before sunrise, I am shocked at the similarities between boot camp and Reading Workshop.
I am comfortable admitting that of the 30 participants, I am one of those who struggle the most. During the timed mile this week, I was 29th. There seems to be a huge diversity of exercise experience in the group — those who have been in shape their whole lives, and those who are getting back in shape like I am. I have not exercised consistently for five years, so it is a hard hour. Every day. Every minute.
Reflecting on the first week of boot camp, I am realizing some things about how and when reading workshop works for all students — especially for those who struggle. I have been more patient with some of my students’ behaviors during this time as I reflect on my own feelings and behaviors in the midst of boot camp. Here is what I’ve learned that I hope impacts the way I teach my own students.
I always have those students who don’t seem to know what they are supposed to do next. They seem to be looking around at what others are doing every time we change activities. Well, I found myself doing this exact thing during this week at boot camp. Because I was one of the lesser skilled campers, I couldn’t seem to keep track of all of the directions at once. Believe me, I tried. It was just too much information and I was focusing on my breathing. I am pretty sure my trainer would think I wasn’t listening. But in fact, I listened hard. I just couldn’t keep track of it all when so much was new to me. So, my strategy was to watch others. Now, instead of feeling annoyed at those students who “didn’t listen to directions”, I am beginning to see that following others is a smart strategy when you aren’t quite sure what to do.
I Have to Do It for Me (Learner Identity)
Camp was hard this week. No amount of money or chocolate or books could have paid me to get through the week. I got through it because I decided I wanted to do it. I owned the challenge because I had set it for myself. And I made progress because of that. I can see that it can become a routine for me if I keep it up. I see the potential of the camp as something that I might someday enjoy.
Using Smart Language: “If You Don’t Like to Jump”
The trainer who leads the boot camp is quite skilled at making it okay for all of us. Remember those girls in the aerobics videos who were doing the easy version of the exercise? Modifications are critical, but our trainer introduces modifications as a choice, rather than a modification. He says things like, “If you’d rather not jump today, you can do this,” or “pace yourselves.” He values the fact that we can and will pace ourselves and choose the right option for us at the right time. I don’t need the modification every time, but when I do, it is nice to have it. When I don’t, it is nice to own the decision. The language he uses helps us learn to pace ourselves, pay attention to our own needs, and take appropriate challenges.
Catching On to New Skills
There were several activities throughout the week that took a great deal of coordination — jumping over cones, completing figure eights, etc. I have done these things before in my life but I am not naturally coordinated. It took me lots of time to catch on to the way my feet were supposed to move. But, I found that by the time I had figured it out, time was up. As the week went on, steps repeated so it became a bit easier. However, this experience reminded me how important time and predictable structure were for our kids-both of these give them a chance to be successful. I can’t expect kids to be experts at something on their first try.
Frustration Is Sometimes High
On the fourth day of camp, I had a fifteen-minute stretch where my frustration level was higher than it had been. I was almost angry. It has been a hard first half and my body had had it. I was able to pace myself through it. But had I been pushed beyond my limits at this level, I probably would have had unkind words to say to our trainer and the people around me. Frustration is part of learning, and kids handle it differently than we do. I have to pay close attention to students who tell me they can’t do something when I know they can — is it that they can’t do it now because they are at their limit?
The Jumping Girl
On the first day of class, as I was struggling to keep my feet going in the right direction, I noticed that one of the girls jumped and leaped for every squat that we did. I didn’t feel compelled to jump along with her. I was working at my limit and she was clearly in better shape than all of us. But then I noticed a few other people jumping as the week went on. By Friday, 4 or 5 people were jumping. Now The Jumping Girl is my inspiration. Maybe I can join the jumpers one day. I am okay where I am now, but I have a goal to work toward. I can see that she is pacing herself just as I am and I wonder if I keep working if I can do what she does. Her needs are being met and so are mine. I appreciate having the variety in the class, and it’s a reminder of how all needs can be met when competition is not part of the goal.
Short Periods with Others of Your Ability
We have center-type activities during most days of boot camp. We go from station to station to complete a circuit. I am not sure how he grouped us, but lots of the people in our group are first-time campers. This is comforting to me when the work is hard. It is nice to be in a group for a small portion of the day — for that very hard work with weights — that is working close to my level.
Finally, Using the Restroom During a Minilesson
I hate when students take restroom breaks during minilessons. I want them to use the restroom at recess, lunch, or on the way to art. But this week, restroom breaks have saved me. Sometimes, during the workout, if I am going to get through it, I need a quick little break. I feel the need to leave the situation and come back to it. A trip to the restroom is more socially acceptable than laying down on my exercise mat for a few minutes. It isn’t necessarily a restroom break that I need. I just need to give myself a one-minute break from the situation so that I can come back ready to finish the workout. I am going to pay closer attention to those students who use the restroom in the midst of minilessons and reading workshop. Do they need a break? Do they come back with a bit more energy once they’ve left the confined feeling they may have in the classroom?
I am finding the whole experience fascinating from a teaching perspective. As adults, we don’t often put ourselves into situations where we struggle. For some of our students, school is a struggle every day. During my first week of boot camp, I have learned that an hour of working hard takes a tremendous amount of physical and mental energy. I have learned lots of strategies that help me move forward. And I have noticed many ways that the instructor runs the class so that our own goals are what are valued. I own my work there. As I look forward to week two of camp, I know it will be hard. But I know what I am working toward and how to pace myself to get there. I hope I can do the same for the struggling students in my classroom each day.