Saturday, October 22, 2011

Connect the Dots. La. La. La. La. (Welsh)

Make it Real and Make it Matter
Michael Welsh, author of Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance, could not be more on point with his opening statement of “students – our most important critics – are struggling to find meaning and significance in their education.” (5) Welsh further elaborates by pointing out the fact that “meaning and significance are assured only when our learning fits in with a grand narrative that motivates and guides us.” (6) How many times have you heard in the classroom “why do I need to learn this” or “when will I ever use this in real life”? For whatever reason, it is absolutely important for our students to find a purpose in their education. Students opt to quit school, maybe not because of the difficulty, but perhaps for the inability to see the purpose behind the curriculum taught in the classroom. I know it is rather challenging to justify subject matter on a daily basis. However, it is absolutely imperative that every so often we remind students why they are in school in the first place – to receive an education that will provide them with skills and social opportunities needed for the professional workplace. I went to a history professional development a year ago. One of the speakers was a Brown University professor named Luther Spoehr. His major message was to “make history real and make history matter.”  Every opportunity I get, I always emphasize this phrase in my classroom. Just recently, my class learned about Rhode Island’s major role in the slave trade- we drew a visual for a quote by a middle passage survivor (Odaluah Equiano), read the narrative a young African boy brought to Rhode Island as a servant (Venture Smith), watched a clip from the movie Amistad, and learned about two prominent Rhode Island families (Brown and DeWolf) who made money off the slave trade. This entire unit was structured in a way so that slavery and the slave trade became real to my students, not just a sad story read out of a textbook.

A Vision of Students Today
Before even reading Welsh’s article, I viewed the video “A Vision of Students Today” as part of a media literacy piece in a Northern Rhode Island Collaborative grant I am a part of called “Teaching American History.” Not only are northern Rhode Island history teachers of any age group taught relevant content for our subject matter, but we are also provided with training on how to incorporate more technology and social media into our classrooms. Before we even began our training, our professor from Drexel University told us a story – “If Paul Revere was brought back to life, he would be absolutely petrified. He would see cars, skyscrapers, and people in exotic dress. However, the one place he would feel safe would be a school, because the physical structure has not changed since he was a young boy.” That’s a pretty scary statement if you think about it. So, as part of this grant that dealt in part with media literacy, we were trained in how to use blogs, Glogster (a website where you can create a collage poster of yourself), and EModo (an educational Facebook for teachers to connect with their students). Unfortunately, my school has all these sites blocked (which is something we have to battle with as teachers). For those of you who have not seen the video, it is extremely powerful:

I know I have wasted money on textbooks I’ll never use again. Or never opened in the first place. Then, when I would go return them, I’d get 20 bucks or I was told the school is getting a new edition and mine was outdated. Awesome.

Diane and Jim’s Socratic seminar last class really sheds light on Welsh’s idea of “the only answer to the best questions is another good question.” (5) Socrates really challenged his students to become better thinkers, not by supplying them with the answers, but probing and asking continuous questions to enable his students to gain critical thinking skills. Sometimes it’s hard as the “expert” in the classroom to not jump in with our knowledge, but I guess this is why most lessons begin with essential questions (again, like Diane and Jim’s presentation last week). I think Socrates would have been pleased!

Connect the Dots
Hopefully, as educators, we can continue to connect the dots and fill in the holes for our students to make sense of their education. Students, especially at the middle and high school level, struggle to find meaning in their classes. It is our job to help our students “recognize their own importance in helping shape the future of this increasingly global, interconnected society.” (7)


  1. Tina, It's interesting to me, since MA, or at least AHS went skills based, I haven't heard, "When I am I going to use this in life?" I never have to justify what I am doing in class. However, students do complain about what we read, despite my best effort to find interesting works, and to make works interesting. I would ask them what to read, as Wesch seems to be advocating, but they don't know. I think that it is our job to push students past the boundaries of their lives, make them see more, to make them think more.

  2. How many times have you heard in the classroom “why do I need to learn this” or “when will I ever use this in real life”?

    The kids NEED to know this! They ask all the time, and it shows that not only do they care, but they want to know when in their life they can apply these concepts.

    Jenn, do you have skills based standards??