Tag Archives: student engagment

Evolution, Part 1

Okay, I admit it I was a lousy teacher. Back in 1977 when I started in the classroom I was just plain lousy. My English students had that numb, blank “Ferris Bueller” look on their faces even as I tried to spin my most dramatic lectures on the symbolism of The Call of the Wild and the difference between a gerund and an infinitive. Yet, some of those same students were the most engaged and productive when they were in my Drama classes or involved in a student production.

Two years later I moved to a different school and took over the Journalism classes and student newspaper, which is what I had majored in. I still had the same anesthetizing effect in the regular English classes but those same students were again engaged, active and producing award-winning publications. I mean, I was stumped. I was teaching the way I was taught to teach. I was covering what I had to cover. I was following the prescribed methods and covering the essential questions and checking off all the benchmarks and standards. What was the difference between my methods? What was the spark that fully engaged these “young skulls full of mush” and got them to push themselves, just like my Drama students had?

By now you probably have recognized what would take me a couple of more years to figure out, that the student became fully engaged when they were involved with creating something of value. Students had voluntarily enrolled in the two, very different classes, so they could produce something of importance to them. And there was the answer. Not that they were interested in the subject matter, no it was so they could produce something of importance; something that could be read or watched and remembered. Something that would leave a mark on the school, that said “I was here and made a difference.” It is the same concept that drives athletics and competition but is so often overlooked in academics.

So I changed. I started incorporating more and more projects in my regular and advanced classes that allowed my students to create something and I made sure that we would not just use it as a classroom exercise. We produced literary magazines, created TV shows for the closed circuit campus system and started our own radio shows broadcast through a carrier wave system. All in an effort to better teach writing, grammar, media and journalism; and it worked. But I wanted more.

I wanted to know what would happen when a full year curriculum was taught with nothing but project based learning. No lectures, no tests, no quizzes and especially no daily worksheets. What would happen if I had students in this environment for a full year, creating projects of value and letting them perform as if in a real business environment. What would be created, what would they learn, and could it be built upon over the years?

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