Monday, November 03, 2008

"Selling the Day" in the Classroom

It was a beautiful day for a field trip to Stearns Woods. Indian Summer had brought sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s, unseasonably warm for early November. The forest was alive with the color of yellow, orange, and red leaves that were completing the final phases of their fall color change.

My students' job on this trip was to capture the brilliance of the color change with digital cameras and use their photos to create a digital story. There were just enough science standards (photosynthesis, Earth's cycles) involved to justify the trip and the resulting project. Throughout the trip I was impressed by how engaged my students were in taking photos of leaves, dead logs, fungus, and other items from the forest. But the most gratifying part came on the walk home.

It was at this time that I heard a couple students bickering behind me. When I looked back to see what the problem was I noticed that one student was trying to take a leaf away from another. The leaf was from a gingko tree (pictured above) and evidently the student thought it was neat enough to not only bring it back to school but also keep it from somebody else. It seemed like a lot of fuss over something as simple as a leaf; however, he was not the only one. And there was a good reason for the fuss.

In preparation for the trip, I had shown the class one of these leaves and talked about how unique I thought it was, even stopping to stare at it for a brief moment. I told them that there were a few gingko trees in Stearns Woods and I challenged them to find one. It was obvious that I thought the leaf was a small treasure and through my actions I was passing on my enthusiasm for it to my students. My approach was not unique to just the gingko leaf. I have "channeled" my enthusiasm for other classroom activities on many occassions. I often begin talking about upcoming projects weeks or even months in advance. I show photos from previous years' classes and I tell my students that they won't believe what they will be able to create with the knowledge they learn from my teaching.

In a way, I feel like I've become a salesman. By the time we get to certain units, my students can't wait to begin. I'm very aware of what I'm doing when I'm "selling" the learning to my students. But today, with the gingko leaf, it really hit me how inflluential we as teachers can be when we show a little enthusiasm for what we are doing. It made me think of the following quote from Haim Ginott (shortened):
"I have come to a frightening conclusion.
I am the decisive element in the classroom.
It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration."

Keep this post in mind the next time you want students to buy into your teaching. Remember, with enough enthusiasm you can even make a leaf a prize to some kids.

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