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Why Did My History Lesson Go So Well Yesterday?

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Though I certainly have my share of “lemons,” most of my lessons generally go well. I try to incorporate lots of engaging strategies (you might be interested in the free chapter from one of my books that’s titled What Are the Best Things You Can Do to Maximize the Chances of a Lesson Being Successful?

Yesterday in World History, though, my students were super-engaged, and I’m reflecting about what things might have made the difference . I figure that if I can identify those elements, I’ll want to see how I can replicate them in the future.

It was a fairly simple lesson: Students were finishing researching The Five Pillars of Islam on the computers in the library, putting them in their own words, creating a “Foldable” (see The Best Teacher Resources For “Foldables”), printing out pictures for their creation, and preparing to present what they learned.

So, what do I think were the obvious and not-so-obvious factors that had every student focused and energized from the moment the opening bell rang to the end?

Here are some thoughts:

* Our three Muslim students were very excited about the project. They were the experts helping other students, and I think their enthusiasm was infectious. I wonder if the “universal” point is that finding some sort of “hook” that creates big time investment from even just a small number of students can be infectious?  If so, I wonder what might be a class’ “tipping point”?

* One of the things the Muslim students got really excited about was finding an error on one of the resources at our World History Class blog.  I’m not sure how to regularly incorporate this factor in other lessons.  However, their interest does make we wonder if that high-level of interest in seeking out mistakes could be used in lessons I might do on “fake news” (see The Best Tools & Lessons For Teaching Information Literacy – Help Me Find More).

* It also seems to me that, even though our school has had no incidents of Islamophobia and, in fact, Muslim students always look at my incredulously when I tell them they should let me know if anything like that happens, they are not immune from what they have seen in the media about incidents in other areas. Having their religion be the focus of a major class project might have been particularly impactful to them. The “universal” point might be we regularly need to lift-up the cultures of all of our most vulnerable students.

* I haven’t often used “Foldables” (see The Best Teacher Resources For “Foldables”), but I had students use them to create their Five Pillars project. I’ve sometimes been concerned that students spend too much time on making it look “pretty” and less on the important content. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they only spent a few minutes on creating it with construction paper and some students who were not ordinarily “leaders” were helping others figure out how to make them. The “universal” point here is that letting students be creative in their presentation methods enhances autonomy and motivation. Also, perhaps they only get focused on “prettifying” their foldable if the content isn’t interesting?

* Knowing that they were going to present to their classmates might also have increased student seriousness. Plenty of research shows that we take things more seriously if we know we are going to teach others (see The Best Posts On Helping Students Teach Their Classmates — Help Me Find More).

Obviously, you weren’t there, but I invite other thoughts about what I might have missed…

I’m adding this post to The Best Posts & Articles On Student Engagement.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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