Fostering Uncommon Experiences in your Classroom


The last few days I have begun to read the book Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost your Creativity, and Transform your Life as an Educator.  I was struck by a section of his book that made me think about how I teach and my classroom environment. To be honest, I would have to say that every chapter of this book has made me re-evaluate my teaching and my classroom environment. Dave Burgess makes this statement:

I am selling education…a life-altering product that can transform the human spirit and literally change the world one student at a time.

As educators, we are sellers of wares that will change the lives of our students. That phrase above, got me thinking about the product that I am selling to my students. Is it something that I am proud of? Is it something that, in the words of Dave Burgess, “something I would sell tickets to?” Then I began to think what is it that makes a product that we are selling life-altering? I came up with this idea. I think the lesson has to be special. Something that students are drawn to like a moth to a flame. You and I both know that every lesson can’t be extraordinary. But, there are aspects of lessons that can be inserted that will help make them special.

One aspect I use with my gifted students to kick off a unit is the hook. When I start out any lesson, I try to use something that my students can relate to. Sometimes its a picture, a short video clip, music, art work, section of a book, or something I pull off Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. I try to use anything I think my students can relate to. That way I can go back to that hook and link everything we do in our unit to that hook. The hook is important. It is what gets the students interested in the unit. It opens the door for you, but you and I know once the door is open its our job to keep the journey exciting.

An activity that I like to do is called “Caption This.” I saw this on Facebook a few times. I will show a picture to my students, and ask the students to write down something they think could be going on in the mind of subject. For example, here is a picture that my wife took of me at the Viet Nam Memorial. I would ask the students to imagine what I was thinking, or feeling in that moment. I am always amazed at what students will say when they Caption This. When I put a picture up on the board, I ask my students to write something on a post-it note. Once everyone has had the chance to make a caption as a class we sort through the answers and see if there is a theme, or a string of similar thoughts. I try not to all students to discuss the picture before hand. Once we are done with our conversation I link the picture or whatever I have up on the board as an intro into their new unit. Sometimes I will copy out the picture or artwork and at put the post-it notes on it somewhere in the room. If I have a video I will make a QR Code and post that somewhere in my room so students can access it.

me at the wall1

Another aspect that can make a lesson special is built-in Project Based Learning Classroom, which is the same thing that Dave Burgess calls “Life Changing Lesson” and that is shedding some light on how this material we are selling to our students relates to them, and the real world.  This is important. This kind of thing goes beyond answering questions on a test near the end of the year. It’s about how to use this information in real life. If you can’t defend what you are teaching other than telling students it’s on the test, then you need change your focus.

Students learn best and remember more when they are excited about learning, and they can see how it is used in real life. They need to see connections to themselves. Our job is to get that excitement back into our students. I know my gifted students sometimes feel like their talents are not utilized in the classroom. I feel it is my responsibility to teach them, and to cultivate their talents so they are prepared for the real world.

For me, using hooks and Real World Learning or Life Changing Lessons can make a lesson special. The students will be engaged and learning, then we as educators must bring the energy, and activities to link the hook to the lessons of the unit to the final assessments. I know some have called it edu-tainment. I call it uncommon moments. It’s those moments when students care connected, and learning from what you are selling them.

I want to leave you with this quote from Dave Burgess: “Provide an uncommon experience for your students and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude.” I know I have a lot of improvement in this kind of thinking. But how are you doing in it? How are your providing uncommon experiences for your students?

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