Like Argentina, I had a good World Cup. Not that I was particularly invested in the tournament itself. I had a good World Cup as a motorist. This was back in the short, dark days of December when Lexonik trainers were pinballing around the country to meet the pre-Christmas sales rush. By jumping into the car a couple of minutes before key kick-offs, I played the games to maximum advantage. Driving up to Manchester during the Wales/England match, the roads were almost deserted. I spent a full 90 minutes avoiding the football, which is also a fair summary of most of my games lessons as a child.
This was back in the ‘70s, when, knee-high to a Spacehopper, I’d mostly be found occupying the left back position, chatting to the goalie, and avoiding whatever action was happening up the other end. Not that I was entirely inconspicuous. My stunning purple tracksuit saw to that. It was my favourite colour at the time, and a well-meaning aunt had duly obliged. “So, which team plays in purple?” heckled the other kids, not unreasonably. Until one day I accidentally scored a goal, after which they were too stunned to say anything at all.
For a long time, I thought I lacked the competitive gene. Yet now, many years later, here I am, heading for our local parkrun in Bristol’s Eastville Park. For those not in the know, parkruns are officially described as ‘free, weekly community events’ (not races) which take place in over 2,000 locations across 23 countries and 6 continents. The Saturday morning run (although jogging and walking are also acceptable) is held over a distance of 5 kilometres, and that’s good enough for me.
The first thing you notice is how friendly it all is. We begin with notices and shout outs. Newbies, visitors and milestone runners are all namechecked. We hear from fundraisers - today PAPYRUS, a UK charity for the prevention of young suicide. Next up, the rules. Keep to the left. Under 11s within arm’s reach of an accompanying adult. One dog max per person, on a short lead. Then all the kids, responsibly-armed adults and tightly tethered dogs gather around the designated starting point, and 3, 2, 1 - we’re off!
My initial target was to complete the course. Then to finish without taking a breather on the steep bit. Then, as IDs with barcodes are provided, to beat my previous time. And this is how it gets you.
It’s the same with Lexonik. We begin by establishing a positive, co-operative atmosphere. And then, gently at first, the competitive element kicks in. Surprisingly, this works as much in an adult training environment as it does with students in the classroom.
In Warrington, four intelligent adults radiate happiness. They’ve added to the total number of graphemes they can read in 30 seconds. In Rochdale, a member of staff basks in the applause of her peers as she shaves off a couple of seconds in her “As Fast As You Can” challenge. And in Manchester….
In Manchester I’m running a demo session with four Year 11 boys. They’re polite enough, but being Year 11s, I sense they’d rather be elsewhere. We play syllables at speed, a communal, one minute challenge. They score respectably. We repeat the activity. They improve slightly. There’s one more attempt left, and I have to pull something out of the bag. Senior Management are watching. Off the cuff, I add “By the way, I’ve just come from a school in Birmingham, and at the moment they’re beating you.”
The effect is electrifying. “Lads! We can’t let Birmingham beat us - we’re Manchester!” Their body language is totally transformed - suddenly they’re sitting forward, and sleeves are being rolled up! “We’ll go again!” For the rest of the lesson, they are on fire.
Once you’ve nailed your motivators, you’re on to a winner. Assuming there’s no local rivalry to exploit, students may simply want to beat the results of their peers in a parallel group - “He is my best friend, but I have to beat him in this score!” And, if only one group is running, inter-group challenges are also available.
As in any competitive activity, record keeping is key. Our students are very much part of this process - it’s ‘done with’ as opposed to ‘done to’. Reflecting on the power of our scoresheets, one teacher, recently trained in Lexonik Advance commented, “They know it’s something proper! They take it very seriously, and they enjoy it as well!”
Back at the parkrun, I’ve completed the course. Just like our learners, I want to know if I’ve improved since last week. My phone is at home and my wristwatch (analogue, no second hand) isn’t up to the job. I join the queue, barcode in hand. This reminds me that I need to spend my Clubcard vouchers. Or maybe I could bring them along for scanning next week, see if I can get my time reduced…