What is a sound more grating than fingernails on a chalkboard? The sound of a small child or teen saying, “Whyyyyyyyy do we have to learrrrrrrrn this?” Chances are, they will not take favorably to “Because No Child Left Behind has mandated us to teach this content standard this year!” One sure-fire way for teachers reduce why-ning is to make activities more meaningful and relevant for kids. Of course, there are some subjects that are easier to link to their prior knowledge, experiences, and lives, but every teacher should have in his or her toolkit some ways to make learning relevant. Personal meaning increases motivation and compliance in the classroom.
So, this week, go on and submit your tricks this Teaching Tip Tuesday on how you make boring, mandated, or somewhat difficult to make relevant material more meaningful.
Now I am not a teacher, but I have several fantasies for what this could look like in the classroom. One fantasy I have is for social studies and/or history teachers. Go on, try it out and let me know if the kids liked it. Sometimes I wish I had my own classroom…but I do not, so let me live vicariously through you!
Here’s the pitch.
I have worked with so many students with learning disabilities, low achievement motivation, emotional and behavioral problems who absolutely light up when they talk about MySpace.* So instead of fighting it, I say roll with it. History teachers could make each student pick a historical figure from the time period they are studying and the kid has to make a MySpace page for that figure. So if a kid picked Abraham Lincoln, then s/he could research his interests, what he might say on his profile, what groups he may have joined (Free the Slaves!), who he would have been friends with, and who he may have blocked from being his friend (Oh! If he’d only blocked John Wilkes Booth!).
Social studies teachers could have kids pick current event figures, like, oh, I don’t know, Barack Obama? Would he “friend” John McCain? Why or why not? What would his “status updates” look like?
11:02am Barack is…trying to pass the stimulus package
11:04am Barack is….soooo frustrated!
Or English teachers could have kids pick characters in the book they want to be! How fun would that be to see kids get excited about being a character in Shakespeare or in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying? Ooh! Ooh! I want to be King Lear!
I think it would be super fun for the kids and it would be a way to make history, current events, and old novels relevant to them. Now I realize that most schools block MySpace from their internet options.** So you might have them draw a home page on a piece of paper, or better yet, a giant posterboard to put up in the classroom. Then historical figures would be able to interact by writing down friend requests, joining each other’s groups, and blocking each other. You might do an example first to model for them what it might look like.
Let me know if you try it out, and if you hear any Why-ning!
*I have a love/hate relationship with MySpace. Yea!: social connectedness, learning computer skills, opportunities for social skills training, cyber-style. Boo!: cyber bullying, poor boundaries, inappropriate postings (by teachers and students alike). In general, I am against teachers and school staff having a MySpace page that kids can find (boundaries, people). I overheard a kid in the hallway say to a teacher, “I found you on MySpace! I saw your boyfriend! What are you doing on MySpace old lady???” P.S. She’s all of 22 years old.
**Not that they can’t get around the blocks in 2.2 seconds…