BARF Your Way To A Better School Year September 20 2010

You'll be relieved to know that the "BARF" I'm referring to is not the unfortunate result of a virus or food poisoning. Instead, this kind of "BARF"ing will help build community in your classroom!

What Does It Mean?

Those involved in education seem to love their acronyms. Off the top of my head, I can think of SST, SPED, ESL or ELL or ELD, OEA, NEA, PUD, and RTI. In my classroom, I like to use "SQUIRT" for silent reading time - Sustained Quiet Uninterrupted Independent Reading Time (It sounds funny in a sentence - "You can SQUIRT anywhere in the classroom, as long as you manage yourself.")

BARF is an acronym that also sounds funny in light of its meaning - Be A Real Friend! An important message that covers a multitude of relationship issues and skills, containing many layers worth discussing with your kids. What does it mean to be a "real" friend? What does a "real" friend look like, sound like and behave like? From there, classroom standards for behavior - Rules - can be set up by your students regarding how they want to be treated - and, consequently, how they are expected to treat each other.

Building Community With Humor

I get the same feedback from students year after year - "Mrs. Wilson is strict...but she's FUNNY." As if my sense of humor and my silly tendencies excused the strict boundaries set during the year. I used humor on purpose, because the chance of students internalizing information increases with laughter, which is an emotional connection.

However, the fact remains that what's funny to some people isn't funny to others. Too often, kids are taught that humor is making fun of other people, which to me is definitely NOT funny. Teasing is probably fine at home in the context of family life, but it doesn't work in a classroom - too much can be misinterpreted, and kids can get hurt. Sarcasm is also, at best, tricky with kids - they're too young for it, they don't get it, and most importantly, sarcasm can be hurtful.

That's why. over the years, I've limited my humor towards the silly end of the spectrum. I've compared the physics of rocket propulsion to eating too much chili, and my intestines producing air that has to be forced through a small opening (in this lesson, students are learning about rockets AND digestion). When I'm giving the spelling test Friday morning, I make up funny sentences for each word. I talk like a "valley girl," fake cry, and pretend I'm a cheerleader. All of this off-the-wall behavior builds rapport with kids and - I truly believe this - helps them learn.

Have Fun With Acronyms

How funny and unusual your acronyms are depends on your tolerance level for kid humor. I happen to love poop jokes and toilet humor, so I would say that my tolerance is high. I would probably use other bodily function-oriented acronyms to build classroom community, like BURP and TOOT.

One of the nice things about acronyms is that they're essentially simple acrostic poetry. Don't make up the silly community-building acronyms all by yourself! Here's a lesson plan to help:

  • Introduce "BARF" and discuss the implications of "BE A REAL FRIEND" - what does a real friend look like and act like?
  • Discuss with your whole group what kinds of behavior is expected of them while they're at school. On chart paper, make a list based on their responses and your input. Some of these might include "don't take other people's stuff without asking" or "keep your hands and feet to yourself."
  • Give your kids the challenge of putting one of the ideas from the list into their own silly acronym/acrostic. It doesn't have to be related to a bodily function, but it has to be silly in nature. Set some ground rules that include words that you absolutely won't accept (POOP, FART, etc). Have them write a rough draft or two on notebook paper.
  • Once they have a workable rough draft, hand your students a piece of poster paper (about 11"x17") so they can create and decorate their acronym.

Review each one with your class and hang them around the room to remind everyone of the kinds of behavior you all expect from one another, with a few giggles thrown in for good measure!