I looked up from my grade book and stack of essays one day during my first year teaching to witness my class of thirty students all totally quiet with their books opened to the appropriate page. After all, they had their assignments, so shouldn’t they be quietly reading and ingesting the unbelievably compelling piece of literature before them? Wrong!

They were quiet for a reason. Probably half of them were asleep, and the others were respectfully fighting back the continual head drops. Well, it flew all over me. I asked myself what kind of teacher I wanted to be right there. The answer was quite visual.

I pictured nearly every one of my past Language Arts teachers. The exact antithesis of those models was my answer. I didn’t want to sit behind a desk and discuss the excitement of literature with a contradictory monotone style. No way.

I wanted to be engaging, interesting, challenging, creative, innovative, and connected, so I hopped up, snapped them out of their boredom-induced lethargy, and implemented something I knew would surely rejuvenate them: An improvisational skit from Whose Line Is It Anyway? that was directly connected to our assigned fiction to be performed on the other side of a Sony Cybershot.

Before I knew it, the class could hardly hold back the laughter. Characters came to life. Settings were realistic with vivid colors and images. The story line was undeniable. All I had to do was insert the literary terms, and the students ran with creativity. When the bell rang, a collective “Ahhhhhh!” resonated in the classroom.

The next day I played the videos from the Cybershot as a review and as a class starter. They were enthralled and absolutely ready to dive back into the novel. I realized at that moment the exact class I wanted to be a part of – a class where literature creatively comes to life with students as the stars. A simple Sony Cybershot was pivotal. The students absolutely loved seeing themselves in action. Since that day in ‘98, I have eagerly looked forward to any new technology that would enhance the classroom learning experience. We have never looked back.

Students must be continually valued as a vital part of the collaborative learning process. The “sage on the stage” mode of teaching is not nearly as effective as enlisting an army of students, heavily furnished with a bulk of challenging standards to be mastered, to go into the digital world and assess the videos, media, applications, etc. that will so easily merge with class assignments as a tangible, real-world concept, problem, or solution.

Students then have a piece of the class ownership. They realize their thoughts and connections matter and directly apply to present day situations and personal interests. Through every validated student’s voice, the class is authentically exposed to a variety of cultures and learning techniques.

An open-project contract has been very successful in our classroom. Though we don’t implement it all the time, our students oftentimes have the opportunity to propose a creative project idea for an assigned list of standards. It goes like this:

1. I assign the list of standards to be mastered in a unit.

2. After analyzing, reviewing, and discussing these standards and their accompanying literature through a number of original classroom structures, students choose from the list of project options or they propose an original idea to me.

3. The students and I discuss the details and requirements of the project. This includes materials needed, technology issues, and possible out-of-class time needed.

4. The contract is signed. The freedom to choose how to master the standards immediately draws the students in to the standards and literature. Their own interests connect them to the assignment. This connection is the very foundation of showcasing students’ artistic, technological, and musical skills.

Here are a few excellent videos my students have created in the last year:

I am a curious student at heart, so I naturally investigate any new item that could move our students forward. However, the greatest factor in my professional motivation would undoubtedly be the privilege of witnessing high-level mastery of the assigned standards through students’ unique, creative, and talented presentations. Furthermore, the energy of a creative, energetic, and free-thinking class is contagious. I get caught up in the same energy and find myself ecstatic to begin the day’s presentations. I sometimes don’t know what to expect.

I believe a bottomless well of creativity is within every student. Today’s students, being digital natives, normally choose to express their knowledge in tech-savvy ways. They learn in a very unique way. We, as professional educators, must take note and forever be students incessantly seeking to interest our customers, the students.

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John Hardison
John Hardison is an interactive facilitator of learning and blended learning specialist at East Hall High School (Studio 113 & EPiCC) in Gainesville, Georgia. By creating a flexible class where literature creatively comes to life on a stage with students as the stars, Mr. Hardison focuses heavily on creativity, interactive structures, and student choices. In the past 18 years at East Hall High School, he has taught AP Language, American Literature, World Literature, and Applied Communications. Through original learning structures and a shared classroom concept, students are inspired to connect literature with their own talents and interests. Mr. Hardison shares his classroom concept and interactive structures by presenting at professional conferences and upon request by various schools. Look for John at ISTE and follow him on Twitter at @JohnHardison1.

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