During the 20-plus years Harriett Ball taught in Texas public schools, her methods weren’t always applauded. She sometimes butted heads with a system that didn’t appreciate deviation from the norm. However, Ball was committed to her rambunctious teaching style, which is now nationally celebrated.
As a young teacher, Ball never let standardized tests put limits on what her students should learn.
One day, as a game of naming state capitals sent echoes of cheers and shouts down the hallways of Houston’s Bastian Elementary School, the principal popped in to see what was going on.
He quickly intervened. “These are fourth graders. They don’t need to know the state capitals. It won’t be on the test.”
“Yes sir,” Ball feigned compliance.
When the door swung shut, Ball quickly resumed her lesson, albeit at a muffled volume.
She used songs, chants and games to get kids excited about learning. “I take whatever the kids are watching and make it educational,” she said.
Ball once taught math using a McDonald’s commercial tune; another time, she used a mock boxing match to help students “knock out the continents” for a geography test.
“They all aced the test,” she remembers.
Interaction is the cornerstone of Ball’s method. “They’re not just listening to me, they are responding.”
The dramatic improvement in her students’ test scores soon attracted attention.