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RIDE supports several blogs throughout our website where Rhode Islanders and RIDE staff share their thoughts.

On this page, we have collected all of the blogs on our site - many of which share posts from Rhode Island educators other than RIDE staff. Blogs are listed in alphabetical order:

  • Commissioner's Corner: Blog posts and messages from the Commissioner to the Rhode Island community.
  • District Teacher of the Year (DTOY): Posts from the Rhode Island District Teachers of the Year, past and present, who share about instructional successes and challenges they encounter in Rhode Island classrooms.
  • Equitable Access to Excellent Educators: Rhode Island educators and RIDE staff explore factors and perspectives on the importance of ensuring that all students are taught by high quality educators.
  • Leadership: Reflections and insights from RIDE’s Leadership Fellow and other district and school leaders on the challenges and opportunities of being a school leader.
  • Rhode Island Poet Laureate: Reflections and poetry focused on teaching, learning, and the experience of education from Tina Cane, Rhode Island Poet Laureate.
  • Rhode Island Science Education (R.I.S.E.): A communication blog to update stakeholders in education and in the community on important developments, events and accomplishments in science education in Rhode Island.
  • Student Voice: Because student voice is an essential component of our discussion on education, RIDE will post essays written by students from around Rhode Island.

Click on a category below to filter by a particular blog:

‘Make it Matter’ – The Key to Student Engagement

Posted by: Kamlyn Keith on 3/9/2018
Lisa A. Johansen, 2017 Coventry District Teacher of the Year
AP United States History, America and Government Teacher
2012 Rhode Island History Teacher of the Year

Every teacher wants to be a rock star… to break down the difficult concepts and mold young minds to connect with their learning. When I was a younger teacher, I was no different. I remember one particular class when I was positive that I was getting the job done. I was explaining American Imperialism perfectly, yet looking around the classroom told a different story. Students were not making the connection. I noticed their collective lack of focus: some students passing notes (today they would be checking their cell phones), others engaged in side conversations, and several students, eyes glazed, gone in their daydreams. It was not exactly the most constructive learning environment.

After some reflection, I realized it was not a lack of focus plaguing my class, but plain disinterest. I was so focused on getting the instruction across that I had forgotten the most crucial part of the lesson: the why. Since then, I often ask myself why am I teaching this? Why do I teach these obscure facts, especially in social studies? Why should students care about the Platt Amendment? One reason is because my students will be tested on it. They will be asked to compare the Teller Amendment and the Platt Amendment, and know the importance of the Foraker Act. But teaching to a test does not conquer disinterest; it is not a sufficient why. I had not taken the time to help my students see that the learning I was asking them to do connected to something beyond the test. Without that connection, learning lacks meaning. Without meaning, students often struggle to find the motivation and energy needed for the hard work of learning.

Student portraying Alexander Hamilton and reading a speech
A portrayal of Alexander
Hamilton by a sophomore
student, as he reads an
original speech

Students seldom realize that history is part of the “humanities” – that social studies has a human element, the “story behind the story.” I realized I needed to connect students to that human element to make learning about an event, organization, or otherwise faceless historical happening more meaningful to them.

Over the years, I have asked students to investigate the lives of individual soldiers during wartime, conduct interviews with survivors of the Holocaust, participate in simulations, and analyze primary sources to create original scripts and reenactments of historical events. Just as journalists may criticize the human interest story as “soft” news, these activities do not necessarily get students ready to pass the Advanced Placement United States History exam. However, these activities do connect students to the human element of history and get them engaged and invested in the content.

Of particular interest to my students was the story of the Little Rock Nine. At first glance, my students were not thrilled to learn that they would be required to read an additional book outside their textbook. However, when they were informed that the main character and author of the book, Dr. Melba Pattillo Beals, was still alive and writing two new books, their attitude changed. In 1957, Melba Pattillo turned 16 (the same age as my students), and that was also the year she became a warrior on the front lines of a civil rights firestorm. Following the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, Melba was one of nine teenagers chosen to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School. Throughout her traumatic ordeal, Melba was tormented by her schoolmates and their parents, threatened by a lynch mob’s rope, and set on fire in the ladies’ room” (description from Warriors Don’t Cry). In the memoir, my students read how nobody came to Melba’s 16th birthday party. That fact really resonated. Hooked and engaged by the human element, my students celebrated her courage by throwing her a belated 16th birthday party. After the party, I contacted Dr. Beals and we sent her pictures, cards, and letters. Her response to my class both inspired and delighted my students.

Student celebrating Melba's 16th birthday
A junior student celebrates
Melba's 16th birthday
after reading her memoir
"Warriors Don't Cry"

Melba’s story made learning about the Civil Rights Movement more meaningful and more personal. The content was no longer just sterile facts and events that my students needed to remember for a test, but rather became part of their memory through this new meaningful connection. As a result, the students were ready to do the hard work required to pass the Advanced Placement exam. They wrote the essays, analyzed documents, read the difficult text, and most passed their exams. Students are not afraid of hard work; they just need to be inspired – and the results are often off the chart.

Truth be told: though each teacher wants to be a rock star, we recognize that the real rock stars are our students!

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