Teacher confession time: last Monday I did something that I hate doing. I brought my home life to school. More importantly I brought a horrible, no good mood into the class…a giant cloud of negativity and sadness. Kirsten, third period, destroyed that horrible mood in ten amazing minutes. It was #EduAwesome.
She strode to the front of the room. She turned off the lights. Not a single kid said a word or even did that fake gasp thing that kids do when you turn off all the lights. Then she started. She did a memorized dramatic monologue about the Christmas Day Truce from WWI. You can read her version of the event on her blog here. First she lit a single candle.
Just her and a candle for several minutes.
Then she took out a small Christmas tree and begin filling it with candles. As she powerfully and emotionally came to the conclusion, where WWI Generals started finding novel ways to get men to start killing each other again, she slowly extinguished each candle. When she turned on the lights everyone looked at each other like they had just walked into here.
It was amazing in every way possible.
- If you had a rubric, it would be off the charts
- If you had a state-wide assessment tool, it would render it useless
- It made me want to call her parents and tell them they were wasting their time having her in high school.
At this point you probably want the lesson plan right? I mean what do I do to get kids to engage in this kind of risk-taking, highest level of student performance? How do I encourage a performance that showed complete emotional maturity and mastery?
Ask me for the lesson plan and I’ll laugh. I always do. Here’s the lesson plan with those crucial three magic words.
We just finished reading the novel All Quiet on the Western Front. Teach us something about WWI.
MAKE IT MEMORABLE.
That’s it. That’s my whole lesson plan. The key is those last three words. MAKE IT MEMORABLE.
Now along with those three magic words come some responsibility… for YOU as a teacher. In Willy Wonka several kids got the Golden Ticket, but only one kid got the message. You have to have the right mindset and more importantly heart set to make this work.
- You must teach them in memorable ways to show them what it looks like and how it can be done.
- You must BELIEVE that they can do it.
- Your students must trust that you will be understanding of their risk taking. Giving a kid a big expectation like this without a detailed map and without a breakdown of points is unnerving for students. If you have not built rapport and trust with your students, then this won’t work.
- You must cultivate an acceptance of whimsy, an appreciation of wonder, an esprit de corps in your class so their classmates respond to the risk-taking and varied approaches to making something memorable.
Here are a few other examples from my English 10 Honors class.
You could hear the groans of the WWI patient from across the hall. Poor soldier.
At this point I know what you are thinking. Theriault, of course those were great those were your Honors kids. (BTW we have seven classes of Honors at the 10th grade level, we are extremely flexible in placing kids in our Honors program) So here are some examples from my CP classes.
These students created an amazing game based around the novel 1984. In this game everyone is a loser:
I also had a student who did an experiment with the Ministry of Love and the perception of time using ice held in your hand.
I want to bring up one final point. In a rush for “accountability” which, let’s face it, is really just another word for I don’t trust teachers and their GRADES to accurately measure a student’s achievement in my class, we have created a ton of “awesome” rubrics and measurement tools. The problem with a measurement tool it that it CAPS achievement. It shows a student a finite level of excellence. When you give a student an open-ended project: either an Inquiry-based Project (IBL) or Problem-based Project (PBL) or a 20%, or #geniushour project, and replace the rubric or measurement tool with the three magic words and everything that comes with those three words- you transform a ride on an elevator to the top floor to something special… something memorable.