Teach Like a Gatsby

Today I got to help out with the Language Arts department as they put on their annual Gatsby Party.  They throw a “party” for their classes that are reading and studying standards using The Great Gatsby.  They try their best to recreate what would be a party put on by Gatsby.  This includes gaming rooms, a dance hall, a speakeasy that you need to have a password to get into, and even a special Women’s VIP Lounge that also included a high stakes poker table and a bootlegging operation (that was the part I got to help with).

The purpose of all of this is to help the students make sense of the story and apply what they are reading or what they have already read to an experience.  The experience is one that they will have a hard time forgetting and this will help in the learning process.  I had heard about the party last year but did not see it until this year when I was given the opportunity to help.  I was amazed by all of the work that the teachers and students put into the party and how many students were dressed up for the party in mostly era appropriate attire.  There were various groups of students who had roles to play, from bouncers to Gatsby himself, and they helped create an atmosphere that would bring the text to life.

As soon as I stepped into the hallway, which was decorated extremely well including a chandelier, I immediately thought about the book Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  In the book, Dave Burgess discusses how passion and creating an event in the classroom can help engage learners and make them feel like they are a part of their learning and not just a passive bystander.  The fact that the students have an experience to use to understand the text and relate it to, means that they will have an easier time learning and then applying that learning.  The students can also see the passion that the teachers have and that passion becomes infectious.  Various teachers were in full character mode and made the students feel like they were actually in a 1920’s era party put on by Gatsby.

In Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess talks about how Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Asking/Analyzing, Transformation and Enthusiasm can help turn a disengaging lesson into a truly powerful learning event.  By crafting engaging lessons we can help our students be connected to their learning instead of the disconnection that they feel so often.  When students have to sit through a lecture, complete a worksheet or do something that does not force them to think and apply the learning to their lives, they feel like they are watching the learning instead of experiencing the learning.

One thing that I am very proud of is that I was told by my students many times that they could see the passion that I had for what we were learning and that I also had a passion for how they were learning.  I enjoyed so many aspects of science and loved using science to study the world around us.  I tried my best to always show that passion that I have and help my students get some of that passion too.  While I did not do some of the things that Burgess talks about in his book, I can easily see myself doing stuff like that when I make it back into the classroom.  I feel that too many times students do not feel like what they are learning is interesting or engaging, it is our job to help them see this and to create an experience that they would enjoy and not one that they would dread.

For more information about Dave Burgess and Teach Like a Pirate, check out #tlap on Twitter and follow @burgessdave.  I highly suggest reading his book and watching some of the videos on YouTube if you can not go see him in person, something that I hope to be able to do soon.

An example of his talks is seen below.

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If you are interested in the Gatsby Party, you can check out #ahsgp on Twitter and see some of the tweets from today.

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