I observed teacher Ron Schultz lecture his sixth-grade students about the nature of history. He stood in front of the room, gave notes, and asked and answered questions. He appeared well prepared and was enjoying his students—and they were enjoying him. For homework, he assigned a one-page worksheet describing Sherlock Holmes as a detective. The students were expected to locate and highlight passages about Sherlock Holmes’s skills and relate them to the tools of historians.

When I spoke with Ron about this particular homework assignment, he immediately indicated that it was way over their heads. I asked, then, why he gave it to them. After some conversation, he realized this assignment would have been better taught in class, because it not only would have engaged his students in the historical process (the Sherlock Holmes connection), but, more importantly, he would have been able to work alongside them.

His students might have addressed this task in a myriad of ways. They could have worked in pairs or in groups to connect the relationship between Holmes’s tools as a detective with those of historians. They could have determined their own conclusions and shared them with the whole class in an attempt to reach consensus. They could have used their cell phones to text message one another or to seek the advice and opinion of people beyond the classroom. Questions to seek understandings and higher-order thinking undoubtedly would have arisen. It might well have turned into one of those magical hubbub classes, full of energy, focused noise, and engagement, rather than one characterized by the restless behavior that often occurs during lecture-style teaching.

Discover other such ideas in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting Students to Learn that you can purchase from Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Middle-Room-Frank-Thoms/dp/0615358918

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