Romeo & Juliet in WWI

I had a fun morning at Silver Creek High School earlier this month.  I sat in on an integrated English-History course taught by Jamie Neufeld and Justelle Grandsaert.  I want to thank Ms. Neufeld for inviting me to attend.

The morning I attended, students were acting out scenes from Romeo & Juliet set in WWI Belgium and France.  Ms. Neufeld and Ms. Grandsaert have put a great deal of thought into this course and assignment.  The criteria by which they evaluate students requires students to demonstrate they understand historical details of the period and the meaning of Shakespeare’s text.

What I observed is an example of what’s going well in our schools as well as challenges we face.

The students were terrific.  It was clear they spent time with the assigned material.  I noticed little things, too – the nuanced details in one of the stage performances; working in teams; the attentiveness and respect for one another’s performances; the courtesy of students who stopped by to tell me thanks for coming, and the normal high school tactic of angling for just a bit more time from student’s who may have been nervous about their readiness to perform.

Some of the students chose to video record their performances.  Some of these productions were complete with titles, credits and other production features.  The skills required to do this type of video production has nothing to do with English or History per se but are highly relevant.

In my consulting practice, client expectations for multi-media reports are growing.  A simple text report is no longer sufficient.  I am having to try to develop new skills (a challenge for someone who learned to type on a manual typewriter).  I am glad to see our students developing these skills at an early age.  This is the type of learning experience I hear parents say they crave for their children.

This also brings into focus one of our challenges.  It is my understanding that students used their own technology to make their video productions.  If a student comes from a family lacking a certain threshold of resources, they are excluded from such opportunities.

The teachers of the class are terrific, too.  A good deal of thought and planning go into a course of this type.  Beyond the content, I was impressed by the teachers’ rapport with the students.  I found the group of students to be highly respectful with a normal does of squirrelyness.  I was an instigator of orneriness when I was a student.  Now, I’m wound a little too tight and this normal energy sometimes gets on my nerves (how did that happen?).  Not Ms. Neufeld or Ms. Grandsaert.  They went with the flow without compromising on expectations.  I’m glad they are working in our classrooms.

In my conversation with Ms. Neufeld, she indicated that the integrated course led by two teachers opens up a multitude of possibilities that aren’t conceivable when working alone.

This observation points to another challenge we face – class size.  To maximize the benefits of a learning experience such as I observed requires the opportunity for detailed feedback – from teacher to student and students to students.  Individual and group discussion would be beneficial, too.

I did not count the students in this class.  I have since learned that it is more than 40.  If a teacher spends 5 to 10 minutes per student developing feedback (which isn’t much), that’s at least five hours of time for one assignment in one class.  As class sizes increase, the math is not complicated to conclude that detailed feedback becomes a challenge.

Perhaps class sizes don’t move the needle on standardized tests.  The size of a group does change the learning experience.

We have a choice as a community.  Will we provide our young people and our teachers with the bare minimum or will be provide the tools and the time to allow for rigor, creativity and fun so that we can stoke students’ passion for learning?

We have good teachers and students with great potential.  They are waiting to see what we decide.

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One Response to “Romeo & Juliet in WWI”

  1. Brad Jolly Says:

    So, we are providing the “bare minimum?” Really? When has education funding ever been higher?
    Why do Catholic schools and charter schools get better results with less?
    Yes, the class may have had 40 kids in it, but it also had two teachers, for a 20:1 ratio.
    In Singapore, they routinely have 40:1 ratios, yet they somehow do OK.
    Finally, I thank you for your honesty in admitting that class size has little to do with test results. I think you and I agree that success in the classroom has more to do with the culture in the schools and homes than with money.

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