A couple of Easters ago someone gave me a metal egg with chocolate inside. It was my first year of teaching. I came back to school to teach a novel unit that required students to write a reflective, imaginative memoir as a character in novels they disliked. Most of them disliked reading (full stop) – particularly the boys.
One morning I was out walking when something caught my eye. Long grass with the most delicate Santa Clauses – will o wisps. I gathered them up and took them home. I was in the middle of lesson planning to inspire these Year 10s to write memoirs as characters.
It was ambitious of me to think that I could incorporate experiential learning into my lessons, as a first-year teacher, particularly as the school’s pedagogical model was Explicit Teaching. It was all: I do, We do, You do.
But I gathered the students up to give them a little pep talk holding this metal egg in my hand. I asked them to guess what was inside.
I told them that every story should hold a surprise that delights the audience – this is the message that I have been told countless times by master story tellers and I was simply passing it on in hopefully a memorable way that imprinted upon their minds. I opened the story egg and let the will o wisps fly around the room. It was a demonstration and an experience. And my students produced some lovely work. Most of them wrote intently with great purpose. And it carried over into the poetry unit.
Employment ads for teachers often say something like: must be familiar with contemporary pedagogical strategies. My interpretation of this is that they want someone who is familiar with the latest teaching and learning strategies to create engaging lessons and learning opportunities.
Well, I’ve watched teachers proudly trot out activities they have been satisfied with for years – and they are pleased to admit this. Tried and tested. Except that students of today aren’t the same as the students of just five years ago when there was no Snapchat or Instagram.
In 2005, I wrote a proposal for a website to engage new audiences. I found this lying in a box today while I was cleaning out rubbish.
And this is a story I noted:
“Digital natives teaching Gen X teachers in the classroom”
Teacher confiscates student’s PSP in class.
Teacher: “What do you want to be when you grow up Finn?”
Finn: “A gamer”
Teacher: “Check the dictionary, there’s no such thing Finn.”
Finn: “But Coca-Cola, Pepsi and PSPs aren’t in the dictionary either”
Teacher: “Um … no, but they are not …”
Finn: “You’re not going to tell me that THEY don’t exist either!”
The bell rings. Finn turns to go back to his desk and the teacher looks at the classroom full of children playing computer games, talking on mobile phones and listening to iPods.
And this is the situation that teachers face in the classroom today. I think teachers need to surprise students in the same way as creative story tellers do.