I was recently working with a leadership team of teachers and administrators from a 6-8 middle school. After a discussion defining the desired student achievement they sought, we explored “what students needed to do” to move closer to the desired achievement. Here is a partial list of what they brainstormed:
-Invest themselves in learning
-Seek and use tutoring services
-Find it “cool” to be successful in school
-Set higher goals
-Be goal focused
-Desire to be successful and believe they can
-Be future/career focused
-Become active in the community
-Join clubs and teams at school
-Get family involved in learning/school
-Have increased self esteem and self respect
During the holiday break, I pulled a book from my “when I get time to read stack” and discovered a middle school teacher who used an awesome live event to give her students almost all the experiences listed above. The book, Ms. Cahill for Congress, tells the story of Tierney Cahill , who as a sixth grade teacher in Reno, Nevada shared with her class during a lesson on the Greeks, “all citizens have the right to run for office.” Her students who believed that you needed to have a million dollars to run quickly offered the dare, “ Well then, why don’t you prove it, Ms. Cahill…”Why don’t you run for office? You’re a fair person, you’re funny, you’d be great.” (page 4)
When Ms. Cahill accepted the dare under the condition that her class would manage the entire campaign, she set in motion a live event that caused two sixth grade classes to learn their required state and district standards plus much more. Her class that year managed her run in the primary which led to a victory and set in motion the task for her next year’s class to manage the race for congress.
Working in committees, students researched the “hows” and “whats” of the campaign. They practiced the skills necessary for answering the campaign phone, which was in their classroom. They had to explain that a math lesson could not be interrupted and the caller should call back at recess or leave a number for Ms. Cahill to call back. They learned the nonverbal skills of “ how to stand and make eye contact” when campaigning door to door”.
Here are two quotes from Tierney Cahill that illustrate the beliefs of teachers that make live events generate learning:
“ …. if they ( the students) actually participate in something that is real and they’re stakeholders because their decisions impact the direction we go, I think the learning is going to be phenomenal.” (pg 41)
“…. I knew that I wouldn’t be the one figuring out what we needed to do. They (the students) would. I would simply be the one asking all the questions. That’s how I teach.”(pg 44)
Ms. Cahill’s greatest teaching may have occurred after she conceded the election to her challenger. If you read the book, let me know what you think.
Writing in the December 15th edition of the Washington Post (Most Textbooks Should Stay on the Shelf), Jay Mathews states:
“It is often a good sign that the textbooks are stacked on a corner bookshelf or window sill, gathering dust.”…” Big books have failed to hold the attention of teenagers leafing through the pages with music blasting in their earbuds and text messages filling their cellphone screens. Facts and ideas, in my experience, are more likely to sink in if introduced in group exercises, exploiting the adolescent urge to belong. Teachers have their classes organize book clubs, recreate the Constitutional Convention, raise animals, write and perform plays, publish online magazines.”
Can you imagine how many real, authentic documents Ms. Cahill’s students read and studied as they planned and executed their campaign? I do believe that her students had many of the experiences necessary for creating great student achievement .It is my hope that 2009 will be a year where many students at all grade levels learn in Live Events.
February 18th, 2009 at 6:43 pm
Always pleased to hear your thoughts on teaching and learning. As a middle school principal, I’ve worked hard to move our educational team forward in our approaches to instruction. I’m still struggling though to get us out of the whole group instruction mode that permeates our culture the majority of the time. Of my last 55 walk-throughs, over 30 have been whole group instruction.
February 23rd, 2009 at 11:22 pm
A start is sharing your # with the teachers and your reasons to suggest why you believe the percentage of “whole group” should be less. Creating a list of alternatives that you are finding and getting teacher with the alternatives to be willing to be observed by colleagues may help get your message accross.