Making Lessons Meaningful
Ask any teacher. What is the most common question students ask?
Why do we have to learn this?
In junior high and high school you have to add a whining voice or a sneer…and two more words to the end of that question…
Why do we have to learn this stupid stuff?
Now you’re moving closer to the dilemma that teachers face everyday. The most effective assignments are meaningful to the students. What’s even better than that? Classroom assignments that are meaningful to both the students AND their families. If you can lasso a lesson like that you are sitting on a throne right on top of the learning pyramid. Yay you!
Let me describe three lessons I’ve run across in the past couple of years that fit smack in the middle of that category. As a grandparent who also is a teacher, many school projects the grandchildren are assigned are routed in my direction for guidance and encouragement. Here are three of my favorites. My hat is off to the teachers who planned these lessons.
Let’s Talk About Love
A few years ago my seventh grade granddaughter, Taylor had to build a poetry folder. She had to select a topic and find poems of all kinds to include in that folder. Her idea wasn’t unique. The topic she chose was Love. I wondered how many hundreds of seventh grade girls over the years had chosen love as their topic?
But the assignment was well constructed and this made the project so much more meaningful. Yes, the students had to gather love poems and tell why they selected those particular poems. But they also had to write their own poem about love. Additionally they had to ask two other people to write love poems that they were to include in their portfolio.
This opened up all kinds of meaningful dialogues about love between my granddaughter and me. I wrote one of those love poems. I wrote about what love is and what love isn’t. I told her a story about the boy I secretly “loved” in high school and how I ended up the maid of honor in his wedding…and how I survived that to love again. We had so many great conversations as we worked on this project together. I know those conversations will stay with Taylor forever. Thank you to Ms. Shannon King from Liberty Junior High for that great lesson.
Looking into the Future
Many teachers wisely look into the future to come up with an authentic assignment for their students. When my grandson was a junior, he had to write an essay that he might later use as a college admissions essay. The teacher required them to describe themselves and their talents. What made them unique?
My grandson, Austin came to me for assistance with this task. He doesn’t like to write and he especially didn’t want to write something “bragging about himself.” Those were his words. He chose to write about his background in sports first. (High school boys like to talk about sports as much as seventh grade girls like to talk about love).
Then he hit a wall. After he wrote about his experiences in sports he didn’t know what else to say. He counted the words and found his essay wasn’t long enough. He stewed. He was completely unaware that he has leadership skills. And he didn’t have a clue about his greatest talent. He has a unique gift for making others feel valued. He brings people together. I watched him do this his whole life. I had marveled about it to myself many times.
Why had I never put this into words before? Why didn’t he know that about himself? That assignment gave me a vehicle for putting this into words. He was amazed at the things I was saying. I gave him many examples from his life to make my point. He listened and nodded. You could see it was the first time he recognized this ability within himself.
I know this is another conversation that will stay with a grandchild long after I am gone. Thank you to Ms. Erin Schneider from Lakota East High School for this authentic assignment. This essay helped him craft future college essays. In only a couple of weeks he graduates from high school and he was accepted by the college of his choice.
Looking into the Past
The most recent authentic assignment happened this past week and was a reminder and the motivation for me to write this post. Memorial Day is just ahead. My eighth grade granddaughter, Kiley, was given an assignment by her language arts teacher. Each student had to find out about a relative who had died before they were born. They had to interview family members and ask them a list of questions to learn about their deceased relative and give a speech about them. What a great way to draw families together to discuss their shared past.
This was an especially significant assignment for Kiley. My youngest daughter, Kelsey, died of cancer at age 16. She happened to pass away one week before my granddaughter, Kiley was born. Kiley is her namesake and was given Kelsey as a middle name. Kiley has heard stories about Kelsey all her life. However, she dutifully wrote up her interview questions and I filled them out completely. She even remembered a couple of stories I had forgotten to include. She asked me to repeat those stories to her. We did a lot of gathering photos and she assembled her display board. She emailed me a picture of her poster before she glued things down.
She made it through her speech but her voice quivered a quite a bit. When her chin started shaking she said to herself, “I can’t cry in this class. There are too many boys in here!” Everywhere she looked kids were getting tears in their eyes. She had to skip one of the stories she wanted to use, but she made it through. A success!
But the greater lesson is what she learned by preparing the speech. That is the hallmark of an authentic assignment. Meaningful assignments grow the student. They are memorable in a significant way. They open channels of communication. We think about those assignments for years. I can picture Kiley decades from now helping her own grandchild with a speech. I’m sure she’ll tell her grandchild about her quivering chin in her speech when she talked about her Aunt Kelsey whom she never met. Thank you to Ms. Brooke Schreiber from Liberty Junior for your meaningful lesson.
Thank you to all the teachers who take the time to create authentic assignments.
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