Monday, April 8, 2013

The Power of Smedley

I know this sounds like a very bizarre topic, but bear with me - it's not what it seems.

My family has a lot of funny traditions and stories, and many involve a toy elephant we bought for my husband which he named Smedley. My kids and I love to hate Smedley, and my husband feeds into the mythology by taking the opposite point of view. The legends and tales surrounding Smedley often reach hyperbolic, epic proportions. Depending on whom you talk to, Smedley is either a compassionate philathropist with a genius level IQ or a horrible monster who "is so dumb he doesn't even know what 1+1 is".

When both of my children were in Grade 3 (in separate years), they both needed some practice on memorizing their basic addition and subtraction facts. We bought flash cards and dutifully reviewed the facts but they did not like it. Enter "Smedley Math". When Smedley appeared during their review and he trash talked them, the kids were eager to compete against Smedley to show how vastly inferior his knowledge was to theirs. They were allowed to bop him on the head every time they answered a question before Smedley did. All of a sudden, they liked using the flash cards. They know their math facts now.

Fast forward to this past weekend. My son was working on his French project, without a lot of enthusiasm. He was writing about a collection of his, and he chose to focus on his stuffed animal collection. While working, my husband suggested including a sentence "en francais" about Smedley and the project became a bit more exciting. Here's an image from the photo shoot.

Now, I'm completely at a lost as to how this could possibly translate into engagement or academic success for my students. Much of the Smedley mythos depends on our family's very quirky sense of humour and I'd be very concerned about introducing such a despicable (or potentially despicable) character as a key feature of a classroom's culture. I'm a Tribes TLC facilitator - it's about respect and appreciations with no put-downs - isn't Smedley the antithesis of all that?

My other question is: why does Smedley seem to help make homework or assignments more bearable? Is it that he permits people to express those darker emotions in a safe way? Does it appeal to our baser actions and motivations? Or is it just silly fun?

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