Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Authentic Learning: Making Persuasion Meaningful for 4th Quarter Seniors



I love teaching seniors.  The final year of high school is an exciting time for students who are eagerly awaiting graduation and the opportunity to "start" their lives.  After spring break, the senioritis does start to set in, even for the most focused students.  Committing to a college, determining how to fund school, and getting asked to prom are just a few of the rites of passage my students are experiencing right now.  Each day this week, I have been engaged in countless conversations with my enthusiastic students who are ready to live these last few days of high school to their fullest, all while they attempt to avoid any sort of homework whatsoever.

How does one engage those who want nothing more than to disengage from high school academics?  The answer: authentic learning. Providing students with opportunities to use course content in a real-world situations can encourage even the most resistant students to stay focused on the last few days of high school.

This week, my senior-level speech class has spent a great deal of time talking about the art of persuasion.  From persuading one's parents to let him/her take a road trip this summer, to convincing a potential employer to make a job offer, the ability to utilize ethos, pathos, and logos are essential rhetorical skills that students will need to utilize throughout their lives.  To provide students with a real-world experience that they may face in the next two months, I crafted a new speaking challenge that asks students to prepare to present themselves in front of a college scholarship commitment, seeking an opportunity to receive funds for their post-high school education.   With an important community scholarship (that qualifies them for 20+ scholarships in our local area) due this Friday that involves speaking before  committee, students have been encouraged to prepare a short and strong oral representation of themselves, but also to complete the short scholarship application that could lead to thousands of dollars in scholarship money.

While I know discussing prom politics and dreaming about dorm life are far more exciting topics than defining rhetoric terms and conducting research, but today I was encouraged by my students revived fervor for an academic experience.  They were actively working and seeking to understand ways to effectively persuade people to take notice of them while maintaining their likability.  Certainly speaking about oneself can be challenging, but it is essential for them to learn how to convince others of their worth.  Word choice and selecting stories that make these students memorable in a crowd are crucial tactics to develop, and today they were brainstorming, sharing, and reflecting on their accomplishments and how their experiences have shaped them into who they are today.  This level of engagement this late in the high school game is inspiring to witness.

When their parents ask them what they did in speech class today, I truly hope that my students do not simply respond with the cliche, "nothing".  Instead, I hope they share with their parents that they, "Uh, applied for a scholarship. Reflected on the culmination of my high school experience.  You know, no big deal."

Here are a few samples from last year:

I cannot wait to watch their speeches this year and hope that countless scholarship opportunities come their way as a result. 
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