To the Editor:
In his Aug. 12, 2009, letter to the editor responding to my Commentary “Boredom in Class? Try ‘Outrageous’ Instruction,” (edweek.org, July 13, 2009), Walt Gardner correctly writes that it takes more work to teach an “outrageous” lesson, or one that uses dramatic technique as the primary method for delivering existing content. Indeed, trying to teach such a lesson every day would be draining. But that frequency is not what I proposed.
Mr. Gardner accurately notes toward the end of his letter that I proposed teaching only two such lessons a year as a starting point, to which he expresses pessimism that doing so would have any sustained effect. I can only say that I typically observed classes for from three to four weeks after the individual outrageous lessons, and could still see a dramatic change in the relationship between the students and the teacher, and between the students and the content. In addition, when teachers gave a test at the end of a unit in which only the first lesson was taught outrageously, those classes did better than when all the lessons were taught conventionally.
While there clearly was a residual effect, I cannot say as a researcher whether there would be a cumulative effect three to four months later. Nor do we know what the overall positive cumulative impact on school and classroom culture would be if all teachers in a school gave two such lessons per year. But it would probably be considerable.
Of course, the alternative is to be cynical and not change, and continue to teach resistant, bored students every day conventionally—which is indeed a draining experience. So I would suggest that educators take a chance, teach two outrageous lessons this year, and compare their findings. I suspect that they will experience exhilaration—which is indeed an exhausting result, albeit a good one.
Professor of Educational Leadership
San Francisco State University
San Francisco, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the September 16, 2009 edition of Education Week as ‘Outrageous’ Teaching Has a Residual Effect