My students are my source of inspiration. There is no denying that. And, as the years go on, I find they come up with more and more ideas, pushing me to adapt my teaching style and to consider things that I hadn’t previously.

A prime example of this came last spring, when many of us were eagerly awaiting the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. One of my high school boys decided that AoU would be the perfect field trip for us – like the one we’d previously done for the first Hunger Games movie. Now, I could have taken the easy route and denied his request, but, instead, I told him to convince me. The next day, I found a 1-paged typed essay on my desk, explaining how AoU connected with the Social 20-1 curriculum. It was a brilliant essay, full of carefully crafted arguments and plenty of supporting details. No, we didn’t end up going to AoU as a field trip, since I couldn`t justify taking everyone to a movie that only really worked for one grade level, but I did create The Avengers Initiative – a series of assignments that cover half of the Social 20-1 curriculum and one third of the English 20-1 curriculum. The assignments are designed to directly connect with concepts and skills students a required to know and have as a result of the course, but are approached through movies and characters they are naturally drawn to and excited about.

Example Assignment:

Ronan (Guardians of the Galaxy), The Red Skull (Captain America: The First Avenger), and, to some extent, Loki (Thor), all display ultranationalistic tendencies. Choose any two of these characters, or any characters from the movies who you feel demonstrate ultranationalism, and compare/contrast them with two historical figures who displayed ultranationalistic tendencies.

Had these characters succeeded, how would their victories have reflected genocides that have occurred in human history? (Chapter 9 in your Social textbook has some background information.)

Negotiation is a huge part of making this style of teaching work. As I said before, students know themselves, and I know the curriculum. One or the other of us will come up with what we think is a cool idea (i.e. Age of Ultron as a field trip) and then the discussion begins – how it connects to the curriculum, what learning will result from it – until a consensus is reached and a project is born.

Engaging in this kind of negotiation not only allows for more in-depth and meaningful projects to be created, it also provides an opportunity for students to develop skills and strategies for effective communication and cooperation, which will be essential in the workplace later on.

A number of colleagues have commented that they are amazed at how passionate I am about teaching after nearly a decade. There’s no secret to it – my students are constantly inspiring me to redevelop materials and to find new ways of teaching. By listening to them and learning what they are passionate about, I always have new ideas to consider; my students often bring up possibilities I normally wouldn’t have pursued, but that have ultimately made my job, and their learning, much more interesting.   By understanding that my students are a wonderful source of inspiration, and regularly engaging with them in the negotiation process, I have been able to stay connected with students over the years, which has bolstered my passion for what I do, and encouraged me to keep going.

Students end up with truly interesting assignments, and I am always inspired – clearly a win-win situation!

If you are interested in learning more about The Avengers Initiative, feel free to e-mail me: tarafry@banburycrossroads.com!

 

Coming Soon: Let Go and Let the Kids Part 3: It’s Worth the Effort!

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