How much can 11th graders handle?

Phil Zimbardo's TED Talk on the psychology of evil and heroism is powerful. I'm thinking about using it for a unit on Cause and Effect as it addresses the issue of root cause as systemic or individualistic. Please watch it and let me know (via the poll above or in comments) whether you think it would work for 11th or 12th graders (17-18 yrs old)
Thank you very much!!!

Mindy and some of her former students recently published Transparent Teaching of Adolescents, a discussion of effective teaching strategies for high school. Join the conversation!


How Improv can Help Students Transfer Skills

Improv is one of the best ways to see the brain working-making connections and inferences, based on understandings and knowledge.

Whose Line is it Anyway? is a show that fully rests on its participants' ability to improvise scenes, characters, and plotlines. No scripts, no memorization. On Bloom's taxonomy, the results of this type of performance are indicative of the highest intellectual behaviors, namely creating, analyzing, and applying.

While there are a few regular participants on the American version of the show, most notably Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles, and Wayne Brady, guest participants keep things fresh. What makes this show work, though, is the fact that its primary participants have the ability to access and recall information at lightening speed. Their respective repertoires, particularly Mochrie's ability to synthesize literary and cinematic genres, Stile's ability to portray and/or mimic a character or actor, and Brady's musical adroitness, reflect a vast amount of knowledge. 

In this video excerpt, the structure, "Scenes From a Hat", finds guest Robin Williams joining the crew. As you view the video, pay particular attention to the scene "World's Worst Subject for an Interpretive Dance".

In this particular scene, participants have to make choices that convey at least three of the facets of understanding (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005,pp. 85-103) in order to satisfy the prompt: interpretation, application, and empathy.

In order to provide his interpretation, Ryan conveys his understanding of the concept of interpretive dance (a style that seeks to express human conditions or situations) and does so through his empathetic subject, diarrhea, as the expression.

He makes this choice in three seconds.

It is this ability to reach into the brain's already existent body of knowledge to express that knowledge in a new and different way that we want students to be able to do, isn't it?

The biggest issue is not that we're not teaching students the "What" of the curricula or the standards. We've got that handled! It is that we sometimes forget to teach them how to use what they know in different situations, what Wiggins & McTighe refer to as "transfer" (p. 78).

Much like the muscles in our body that we have "train", we can also train the brain to more effectively and expediently find/locate/access information already stored . And we can do it using these improv structures.

Consider also the collaborative potential, which requires acute awareness of a situation--a valuable skill for a reading passage or math problem and a standard for improv performance. Robin specifically seizes upon Ryan's choice of a body function to express a body non-function--impotence.  Most likely, he also does this in three seconds as well, but he appropriately and professionally "holds" for laughter and applause.

Then, Wayne immerses himself in the scene by acknowledging Robin's perspective as the "penis"and he, Wayne, as the "owner"--three seconds. Robin has to acknowledge the shift to one of collaboration, which he does when Wayne touches him, and the two then convey a dual connection to dance by applying a (albeit not very graceful) ballet-type exit. 

Can improv be used in the classroom? Absolutely. It may require a bit of establishment of protocol (e.g., in our Theatre classes we had the No P-Rule: No Profanity or Pornography), depending on your level of students. But imagine this:

Explaining a concept to students and creating "Scenes From a Hat" that would require them to use their knowledge of that concept. Recently, for example, I observed a Biology Class that discussed endocytosis and exocytosis. Imagine students prompted with something like, "World's Worst Cell Membrane". In order to satisfy the prompt, they'd have to access their understanding of the fluidity of the membrane and seek to do the opposite.

What I'd recommend (based on my experiences with varying degrees of student confidence at doing these sorts of things) is putting students into two or three groups and having them do a few rounds of the structure using scenes or props that you have selected. That way, the sense of "all eyes on me" isn't so profound.

Then, you can have volunteers do a few rounds for the class on the "fun" topics, followed by the "real" concepts you want to them to understand. What naturally occurs is that those observing soon turn their thinking towards the prompt as opposed to just "watching". That is, they begin to make the choices they would use IF they were performing.  What I would inevitably hear from those observing to those performing was "Why didn't you___?"

The ability to think quickly, coupled with the kinesthetics of this approach, will most certainly have all students authentically engaged, and if you develop your topics well, also conveying a depth of understanding.

"Scenes From a Hat" is only one of many structures. Taking a few moments out of your day to watch a few videos from this show will no doubt give you some more ideas!

 Mindy Keller-Kyriakides is the author of Transparent Teaching of Adolescents: Defining the Ideal Class for Students and Teachers.  Become part of the conversation!

Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2005) Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


Leggo My Ego!

Do teachers carry some innate sense of ego or self importance?  Do we over-reach our authority, reflecting our own personal “agendas”?

I’ve struggled with these questions for the past week or so from a recent Twitter conversation. First, because it connects to my thesis on teacher identity and secondly, because I then wondered to what extent I’d allowed my own self-importance to take precedence in my choices for curriculum or coursework. Was I a complete egomaniac?  It’s taken me a while to reply because I prefer to reflect on things before replying, so here goes!

As a first year teacher, I know I did that. My choice to have students perform and produce The Tragedy of Macbeth was a rookie mistake and completely self-absorbed. I wanted to show off, basically. Annnnd I did. But not before most likely crushing a few students along the way by pushing them into something well beyond their abilities. Thankfully, it turned out beneficial (the students were proud of their work), but I hadn’t considered their input enough.

At the end of my second year, I began to see that high school students, when given options, were so much more enjoyable to work with! So, we had a brainstorming session about the upcoming work and vision of the Theatre department. We worked together to determine the best way to change the course and curriculum to better reflect their abilities (going forward) and the abilities of their classmates coming into the department.

Garnering student feedback was the single most humbling thing I ever did.

Teenagers will tell you how it is. They won’t hold back. What they wanted, they said, was more responsibility and freedom.

     “Okay…so, what do I do?” I asked them.

     “Give us the general idea, and if we have questions, we’ll ask.” They said.

Our Book! : )
As a result of giving them a bit more responsibility and freedom, we learned together how to forge a classroom that understood the power of mistakes and used failures to move forward. Oh, they did do some silly things—such as painting purple designs on the walls of the school—but overall, it was a successful endeavor. We were a risky bunch!  Plus, when their teacher made mistakes, it was hysterically funny.

One day, as we all stood around a mis-constructed set unit that was too high to be used, solely based on the teacher’s lousy (or lack of) measurements, we were silent for a moment, hands on our hips. Then, we burst into laughter borne of humility. Wiping away our tears, we moved forward as always.

My answer then, to my former Twitter-follower, is “Yes, you’re right in that we generally push our methods. However, we also have the ability to learn to do otherwise! That’s why our book is not written solely by me, but along with my students.  They were truly the authors of their class experience, so they share in its royalties.  I may have been possessed of some sort of ego at first, but they sure fixed that!
It makes sense, then, not to ram an opinion down someone’s throat without taking the time to get to know them and how they tick and what they think. The irony of this conversation and its reliance upon hasty generalization is not lost on me. Where you wished to take me, sir, may not be where I would have gone.

The Conversation:
He:  Read this. Perhaps you wld intrupt them and give a blessed assignment? Blog Link

Me (after reading article): Would endeav. to guide them into even richer experience They did gr8t but how much more could've been accomplished w/ guidance?

He:  Don't you see? The adults "guidance" has a goal. Where u wish to take them may not be
        where they wld have gone

     “Would endeav. to guide them into even richer experience." this is the adult ego/self importance I speak of.