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Best of the Week 2018-2019: Teaching to the Future


Students in Mrs. Suzanne Fairfield's US History class have been learning about the turn of the 20th century, with a specific focus on how the United States was built by immigrants through innovation, determination and courage. The lesson not only demonstrated how immigrants during this time period created a foundation for the United States to flourish, but it also highlighted how they had to rectify many problems and challenges they faced in order for future generations to evolve. An additional component to the lesson encouraged students to imagine themselves as as an immigrant coming to America for the first time one hundred years ago and to express it in a creative way rather than simply writing an essay.

"I asked the students to express the immigrant experience at the turn of the 20th Century. Instead of having them write a traditional essay, I wanted them to demonstrate their comprehension in a more creative manner," says Mrs. Fairfield. "In education, there are multiple types of intelligence. Sometimes writing with pen and paper doesn't always work toward the strengths of students. I wanted the students to delve into their individual 'celebrated intelligence' to demonstrate their thoughts and talents at the same time."

Students drew cartoons, wrote short stories, poetry and newspaper articles and even compiled photographic essays to showcase their talents and reflect on their experiences coming to a new country where freedom is celebrated. Donald Armentrout '20, in particular, wrote original lyrics to a song in just one class period. "Once I assigned the prompt, he was instantly inspired and his writing became contagious," says Mrs. Fairfield. "Though reluctant at first to outwardly express his creativity through song, his classmates were incredibly supportive of him. He demonstrated true courage as he performed his song and his 'brothers' showed true compassion as they encouraged him to perform."

Not only did Mrs. Fairfield hope that her students would use this experience to express themselves and their talents with the class while understanding a pivotal part in history, but she also created an opportunity for them to look at history through differing perspectives and to formulate an appreciation for those who built this country despite the obstacles and challenges they faced.

"Students have to learn to incorporate others' perspectives with critical thinking in order to truly understand the things they learn. Finding answers and truth in a textbook isn't enough. I wanted my students to use additional sources like photographs, maps, personal journal entries and poetry to get a well-rounded understanding of how these immigrants felt during this time period and then share their interpretations in an unconventional way," says Mrs. Fairfield. "I want students to be inspired and encouraged to become go-getters, risk takers and leaders, like the immigrants from the 20th century, not just in the classroom, but also out in the world."

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