COOL CLASSROOMS: Putting zing into Zen

Vivian Lybarger practices her skills with chopsticks as she leads a class discussion.

Though marketed to middle-schoolers, this book appeals to readers of all ages.

The yin/yang symbol has transcended cultural boundaries.

Another District #51 Extended Learning session is now one for the history books. The five-week summer session was designed to get students’ scores in core subjects up to or beyond proficiency.

After more than a month with veteran teacher Vivian Lybarger, some students may think their classes ended too quickly.

Lybarger, who has taught for 27 years, finds creative ways to hook the interest of reluctant readers. Her approach to some required reading this summer is an example. Students had to read and analyze Zen and the Art of Faking It, a story of an Asian boy who devises a clever way to make a name for himself in his new middle school.

As part of the culminating activities for the book, Lybarger presented students with their very own Zen gardens and let them practice eating cereal with chopsticks. 

She also gave them magnets that she had painted with the yin/yang symbol. She discussed the various contrasts of yin/yang such as male/female, light/dark and hot/cold. 

She emphasized the dividing line between the two, gently suggesting that the line can be a reminder to choose a middle course in the tumult of adolescence.

When one student created a minor disruption, Lybarger took a Zen approach to resolve the issue.  She calmly persuaded him to choose school-appropriate behavior and then flowed right back into discussing the book.

Zen contains a quotation from I Ching, a book of philosophy that was part of Taoism in ancient China: 

“When the way comes to an end,
then change—having changed,
you pass through.”

It’s a good bet that students who have passed through Lybarger’s class will pass through their next grade … and the next …  and the next….  In the blink of an eye they’ll be inviting family, friends and favorite teachers to their high school graduation ceremonies.

It’s also a good bet that Lybarger gets lots of invitations.


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