Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #177
To earn the WEM award, I had to answer several questions in essay format. Here is one of them that I found particularly interesting.
How do you strive to make learning hands on in your classroom?
1. I strive to make my curriculum active, hands-on, and continuous for every single student. I start each semester with an assignment called, “111 Things About Me,” where students list 111 things about themselves. Over the first week, I pour over their lists, getting to know them. This information is as vital as the core standards I teach, for it serves as a way for me to connect the curriculum – whether it be To Kill a Mockingbird or how to write an APA research paper – to the lives of my students. A student once listed that she was an introvert. Later that semester when it came time for a free reading project, I recalled that fact about her and suggested she read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. The student thanked me on her final course evaluation for suggesting this book, for she finally felt like someone understood her. Best of all, she wrote, someone finally helped her understand herself!
Another way I make learning hands-on is through giving students choice over many of the texts and subjects we explore. This is true for every class I teach, whether it be my remedial reading class, Lit and Lang 9R, or my most advanced College in the High School class, College Comp 2. In my remedial reading class, I have a free reading unit. While students read their self-selected books, they create a blog devoted to the book where they track the development of their characters, summarize chapters, design creative assignments related to their books, and finally write a final book review. One day when students were working on their blogs, my principal, Mr. Zutz, came in for my walk-through. In our post walk-through conference, Mr. Zutz said that every one of those reluctant readers he visited with in class were eager to tell him about their books. He stated that he thought they were so motivated to read their books and share them with him because I had allowed them choice over their books.
In College Comp 2, I have students write what is called a “multi-genre research paper” where students research a self-selected topic and then analyze it through several different genres that meet their individual strengths. Only one of the genres must be the traditional research paper. The other genres can be lists, letters, fiction, poetry, scripts, artworks, and so on. I’m astounded by the ownership of their topics. I had one student who loved the TV series, TeenWolf. She was thrilled that she had permission to research and write about her favorite topic. Her final draft was 93 pages long! She had a personal narrative about binge watching the entire first season at a friend’s house. Another genre was a 30 page original script of an episode she wrote for the final season. A third genre was a persuasive essay arguing why MTV should renew it for another season. Finally, she wrote a research paper delving into the folklore of lycanthropy and werewolves throughout the middle ages.
Finally, I strive to make learning continuous through the texts we read in College Comp I, namely The Element, by Ken Robinson, which causes students to reflect on what their passions are. I have students do a project on how they might find a way to turn that passion into a career or – at the worst – a hobby for the rest of their lives. Then in College Comp II students read So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport, which argues that it is actually bad advice to simply follow your passion. Instead, you should focus on developing the skills you have a talent for and let that guide you to a meaningful career. Over the semester I invite community members to come in and talk to my class, sharing with them how they came to be successful. Students see – from the readings and from the speakers – how life isn’t over if they don’t have a clear-cut passion. Instead, they are given encouragement to develop their talents and skills as life long learners.