I recently visited Erin Jewett’s history class at Smithfield Middle School. I noticed highly engaged students actively working on a variety of assignments. After a closer look, I saw a variety of resources, projects and assignments clipped to a large dry erase board. As I explored more and spoke with students, they told me that they worked through the different tasks at their own pace and received assistance from their teacher when needed. It was obvious that they knew the procedure and routine as they got right to work when they entered the classroom.
Mrs. Jewett walked throughout the classroom helping students that required a little guidance. There was no lecture or whole-group teaching. The assignments were varied and very detailed, containing rubrics, directions and places for students to take notes. They watched videos on laptops using headphones while they took notes on the subject matter. Then they moved on to the next part of the lesson. It was obvious that this type of instructional model took significant planning in order to have all the modules in place at the start of the unit. This allowed students to progress through the assignments with time to research, explore on their own and create solutions.
Some of the activities students completed in Mrs. Jewett’s class included a World War II Leaders Interview Project. Students created comic strips where the characters were World War II leaders who were answering interview questions. Another assignment focused on Life in the 1920s and 1930s. The students completed an activity where they researched specific questions about the two decades with the ultimate goal of responding to the following: “Would you have wanted to live during this time period? Why or why not? Your answer must be at least 15 sentences long. Think about all of the different things you have learned about the 1920s and the 1930s and use those to help you come up with your answer.”
Altogether there were seven different activities that the students had to complete. This put the learning in the hands of her students. I talked with several students who commented that they enjoyed finding the information and being able to use their research in a variety of different projects.
Mrs. Jewett tried out this style of teaching last year with a few topics. She said the format worked well with her classes, and her students really enjoyed the model. She made a decision to transform all of her units this year to this new style and has had no regrets. Her principal, Mr. Eng, stated that this model allows Mrs. Jewett to work closely with the students who really need her help. I appreciate Mrs. Jewett taking a risk and trying a different approach with her classes. While she is constantly evaluating her lessons to make improvements, as all teachers do, she seems to have hit upon a model that works for her but, most importantly, for her students.
To see a video of Mrs. Jewett's class, click the following link: Keeping the Pace in Mrs. Jewett's Class.