Saturday, September 24, 2011

Brown Eyes Are Better Than Blue Eyes!

Elementary School Memory

When I was in 5th grade and learning about the Revolutionary War, my teacher gave us fake money and charged us taxes for things like having a messy desk, not following instructions, not completing our homework, etc.  Then she started taxing us for things we needed, like using the pencil sharpener, going to lunch, going to recess.  The taxes got so ridiculous that I and a handful of my classmates rebelled.  We tried a few tactics to get rid of taxes, but it just made things worse.  Finally, I wrote a “Declaration of Independence” and had everyone in the class sign it, so then she got rid of the taxes.
 
I don’t remember many specific details about elementary school, but I have always remembered this unit, and I have been fascinated by the Revolutionary War time period ever since.  It was such an effective tactic for her to re-create certain circumstances and have us experience these injustices, or in our case “taxation without representation,” for ourselves. 

Risky Business

I am impressed by how well the lesson worked.  How did she know that I (or someone) would create a Declaration of Independence?  How did she know it would happen precisely at the end of the unit?  What if no one had done it?  What if we all just sat there and paid the taxes and never complained?  Teaching like this is so effective, but also difficult and risky. 

A Class Divided Experiment + To Kill a Mockingbird

 That is what I thought about while watching A ClassDivided.  Jane Elliott took a great risk by teaching about discrimination by separating the class by their eye color, but it was extraordinarily successful with her students and with the prison workers.  I would love to be able to teach a unit like this in which I can transform the classroom by creating new rules and allowing students to experience something for themselves rather than just read about it or listen to it.  This would be a great lesson to pair with reading To Kill a Mockingbird.  Perhaps it could even be tweaked to include people with green or hazel eyes to represent that in-between social class, like the Ewells.

6 comments:

Nicole Lysle said...

Your elementary school memory sounds like it was really effective! I think that activity would be a lot of fun to use in the classroom and it really engages students and gets them excited to learn. I think that if students experienced learning more often in ways like this, they would definitely be more enthusiastic about it.

This type of teaching definitely seems risky which is why I would be very nervous to incorporate it at first. How will I know if I am being effective? I don’t want to waste any valuable learning time for students. I think it all comes down to what we have discussed so often in class: the fact that you have to go out of your comfort zone and take risks to become that truly effective teacher! This is something that I would love to continue working on so that I can create lessons and activities that leave a lasting impression in student’s minds such as Jane Elliot did.

Arlen said...

It was need to read how you remembered the unit from elementary school. To me that is more proof of how effective experiential learning is. I agree with you that it is risky. I think that a teacher has to be confident, and give it considerable preparation so as to be prepared for possible "blacklash" as Dr. Shannon put it. I think it can be and should be done, and recognize that it would take confidence to implement this.

Noelle Buckman said...

I would be so excited to be in an elementary classroom where teachers took risky steps to make an effective lesson. It is completely worth it!
Jane Elliot is a very risky person in that aspect, but she does her job so well! It would be very neat to participate in her experiment. It was crazy to see how the students took on the roles of superior or inferior so quickly and without much thought.

I hope to be a risk taker and a teacher that will go out of her way to make sure the students leave with an important memory of their learning. I hope to be able to leave a lasting impression on my students as well.

Travis H said...

Your school memory seemed like it was an effectual lesson. I mean you still remember it today and I can see how it would be useful when talking about the American Revolution. It is interesting how experiences stick a lot better than by reading or watching. I think that activity is just one of the few you could do with your class in order for them to understand. I also think that is kind of uneasy doing those kind of activities. Do you think it is worth the risk? Personally I do. I think it is way more important to try and leave an impact on a student rather than leave them with information that they are going to forget in a day. I think the activity she did would never be allowed in schools today as I posted on my blog. Too many students would complain to parents and administrators and your job may be hanging by a thread. I think that there should be more lessons like the one Elliot demonstrated. Just like reading should invoke a feeling so should demonstrations. You can tell that the kids in the experiment were hurt after being ridiculed all day; therefore, they know now that when they ridicule someone else that those people feel the same way they did in the experiment.

Sarah said...

I have always wanted to implement simulations in my classroom (like your elementary Revolutionary War experience). For example, I think it would be cool to act out the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird before the students actually read the end of the novel.

Encouraging to see that these kinds of things do work!

Gabrielle said...

I was thinking the same thing about pairing To Kill a Mockingbird with the Jane Elliot lesson. I think that it would give them more understanding of the book and they would be able to think more critically. I loved watching the video and I would love to try to pair it with the book but I think it is a little to risky.

I also like that you remember so much from early schooling. That was a really cool lesson that your teacher did with taxes. I probably would not have been the person to write up a declaration of independence, but I like that you had the courage too.