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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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Product Placement

What if I told you there was a way to engage students in real-world learning and build their confidence~ please parents (even the demanding ones)~ promote your school~ and keep school administrators happy in one fell swoop?

You would probably think I was going to follow up by selling you a get-rich quick scheme like on those late night infomercials~ right?
I know it sounds too good to be truebut stay with me for a moment.

In this blog~ Im going to share a technique with you that I discovered that accomplishes all of the above goals. Im going to walk you through the steps~ and although it requires a little more thought and effort~ the method can be woven into your daily schedule as it becomes a part of your teaching philosophy.

First~ a little background. While studying gifted education and the work of Dr. Joseph Renzulli and others~ I became fascinated with an enrichment activity called independent study. During this process~ students pursue their interests through research and information gathering then develop a product to share. The difference in this work~ however~ is that the product is shared with what Renzulli calls an authentic audience. Rather than a student presenting a report to his classmates~ who are forced to become audience members~ the project is presented to a genuine audience based on the nature of the work. For example~ I recently had a student write an e-book on sea turtles. After brainstorming~ the student and I decided to send the work to an expert on sea turtles at the local aquarium. It was a natural fit since this person has a real interest in the topic and can also provide valuable feedback to the student in regards to her product.

While helping students pursue real audiences~ I realized that this technique contained benefits that go way beyond the classroom. I noticed that students gained tremendous confidence~ motivation~ and enthusiasm when they knew their product was being shared or displayed in an important manner. When children were happy and accomplishing important things~ parents~ even those that can be difficult~ began supporting my gifted program and bragging about what their children were doing. The practice also built bridges within the community as well as provided positive advertising for the school (which makes principals hearts sing).

To produce these positive results~ you have to know how to find the proper audience for your students work. Lets go through the steps.

Number one: The project has to high quality~ otherwise~ places like museums~ bakeries~ and government buildings will not be that interested in accepting it. If its a presentation~ it should be polished and well-rehearsed; otherwise~ it will not get people talking.

Once your student has produced quality work~ think about where it can be shared or displayed. Who would be interested in this project? What professionals work with these kinds of projects on a regular basis? If its cake that a student has baked~ perhaps a bakery or grocery store. If its a mural~ maybe the local Starbucks or coffee shop. I have had luck displaying historic models in local museums or visitor centers. You have to think out of the box.

After you have a place in mind~ contact them. I know people say e-mail is not a good way to introduce yourself~ but I have had a lot of luck simply e-mailing people. I write about the students project and ask if they would be interested in reviewing~ sharing it or displaying it. Sometimes~ people dont respond. Sometimes they say thank you~ but no thank you. Every so often~ they say we would be thrilled to display your project!

This leads me to the most important step-dont give up. There have been times when I received a number of rejections or no responses at all~ but after being persistent~ have located the perfect place for a project.

Finally~ have the student write a short biography (include the schools name) and summary of the project so it can be displayed as well.
In terms of getting the project to a certain place~ I put the parent in touch with the place where the project is being displayed and have them establish a drop off and pick up time. If you have an unsupportive parent or their schedule does not allow them to help~ you can consider dropping off the project yourself.

If I were to summarize making this technique work~ it comes down to one word: ask. If you dont ask~ you may miss a great opportunity to showcase your students work. Finding a proper audience for your students project takes a little more time and effort~ but as you can see~ the results are well worth it!

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