In the Classroom: English III

English teachers Jim and Megan share their experience with a collaborative student-directed learning project they used in their classes.

One of the best things about life at WMS is the way that we teach each other. This environment cultivates learning and curiosity in every member of the community, so it’s not unusual to find students teaching students, and teachers teaching teachers.

It was with this in mind that English teachers Jim Norton and Megan Killigrew started The Walden Project. “Walden is an older piece of literature,” says Megan, “and while the philosophies found in the book inform a lot of what we do at WMS, especially in the Sustainability Studies department, it’s not the most accessible piece for students. By sharing the wealth and distributing the information among our students, we thought it would allow students to cultivate a greater understanding of this really influential philosophy by applying it to something more modern and of personal interest.”

The class read the first chapter of Walden as a group, to set the stage for a common understanding of Thoreau’s work. They then split the class into groups of two to four students and assigned them specific chapters of Walden based on shared themes, so that each group would have a cohesive narrative. The groups were then charged with the task of teaching a 45 minute lesson on their chapters of Walden to the whole class in a creative way.

Groups took the class outside to literally illustrate the differences between the indoor classroom and the outdoor classroom. They lead guided meditation sessions, incorporated TED talks into their lesson plans, and made comparisons between transcendentalism and Taoism, or the problems that Thoreau faced and the problems that currently plague the modern food system.

The assignment reached its culmination when Megan and Jim presented their work to the assembled teachers at Wednesday morning faculty meeting, teaching their fellow teachers a new way to encourage student engagement with material.

Leave a Reply