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Friday, December 21, 2012

Writing to Change People's Minds

Twas 2 days before Winter Break and all through the class……
Usually this time of year there are so many distractions that it is hard to believe that there is any meaningful teaching/learning going on.  This year it seems especially true, we have students who are wound up for the holidays, terrified that it is the end of the world and still reeling from the effects of the Newtown tragedy and Super Storm Sandy (no relation).
Is it any wonder that teachers would just love to plug in a movie or phone in a lesson?  In fact the opposite is true, now is the time that teachers reach into their bags of tricks and work to provide the most engaging lessons of the year.  I happened to be invited to just such a lesson yesterday in Joe Pizzo’s ILA class in the Black River Middle School in Chester, NJ were students were actively engaged and excited to learn.
Joe’s students were starting a new unit on persuasion (Imagine that!  Before a vacation!).  He invited advertising and media producer Mr. Rea, a parent, to come and show students how ads were created and how they are written to “change people’s minds.”  What a great lesson!  The students were all fascinated and had so many great insights regarding each of the commercials he showed.  We were all riveted as Mr. Rea explained the production of commercials for Volvo (seen in the Superbowl!) and Coppertone (filmed in Costa Rico!) and dissected the components used to appeal to their intended audience.   The students were highly engaged in the activity, peppering Mr. Rea with questions and observations.  He demonstrated how company’s ad campaigns range on the “rational” to “emotional” spectrum  and how the components of the commercial – images, music, script, etc all contribute.  Of course, Mr. Pizzo expertly tied in all of these aspects with the components necessary to write a good persuasive essay.  Students will begin their practice of these principles as they create their own 60 second commercial for their newly assigned free choice reading.  I could tell that they were inspired and their minds were reeling over the possibilities.  This “book report” was now building persuasive writing skills, integrating technology, connecting career opportunities and had captured student’s imaginations.  I cannot think of a more powerful, relevant and authentic way to teach students how to develop the “power of persuasion” than to tie in the everyday media whose job it is to “change people’s minds.”  Using a member of the community to teach it?  Priceless.

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