This week, my high-school aged son has been uber-excited about his Journalism class. He's not a particularly strong writer, nor does he like to engage people in conversation (which, I think, is an essential element to reporting). He's more of a computer science and science guy, so I have been quite intrigued at this new-found interest in journalism. There's something special going on in his journalism class, though, which must be recreated in all classes, in all subjects, at all times. He has been so excited about it he talks about it all the time-so much that I think he doesn't go to any of his other classes (which is, of course, not true); he's so excited about it that he has trouble getting to sleep at night-he can't wait to get back there.
My son's Journalism class is not run like a class at all; it's run like a newsroom. Let me explain: When the students walk into class at the appointed time, they are greeted by Upperclassmen who are the managing editors of the paper. These managing editors run the class. Journalism students sit at a seminar table and "pitch" their stories; then they are assigned duties by the managing editors (remember, these are, themselves, students). The students spend the rest of the week working on completing their assigned tasks-tasks that they requested so have a vested interest in completing and doing well.
There are no grades in this class. This is not necessarily something that my son is enthused about. He understands that if he does not do his job, if he misses a deadline, if he publishes material with typos or bad information, then his reputation is at stake. People who read his material (if it is, in fact, shoddy) will understand that he is not a reputable reporter, or that he doesn't complete his work with care. He also understands that it takes a lot of hard work to recover from mistakes like this. This public pressure is a more powerful motivator than any prospect of him earning an A. My son is a good student, but he has never worked so hard for any other class.
All classes should be like this! This is a class that teaches students to take on leadership roles, to pick work and projects that interest them, to create, and more importantly, it teaches real-world skills. Here's what I mean by that (because I know "real-world skills" is a phrase overused and sometimes meaningless): The real-world does not involve people sitting and waiting for others to feed them information that they must memorize and regurgitate. In the real world, people find projects that interest them, research, investigate, inquire, then create. If we teachers can turn our classrooms into places of inquiry and creation, allow students to work on projects that interest them, students will learn skills and content, but more importantly they will not want to miss it, AND they will be cultivating skills that they can use when they leave school. Let's get our students to create!