Student Knows Best

Post By Scott Corkran

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I thought I had prepared a good lesson for my 8th grade history unit on the French Revolution. Students had completed a brief reading on the Old Regime and its oppressive Three Estates system. One of their homework questions had asked for a graphic representation of that system – some type of illustration, chart, or diagram that conveyed key details with a minimum of words. In class, I guided my first two sections through my own response to that question, and they used my pyramid chart as a graphic organizer to record notes from my information. At the end of class I showed students an 1815 French political cartoon (Le Peuple sous l’Ancien Regime) that presented a caricature of the injustice and inequality in France under the monarchy.
After my second class, a student suggested displaying the provocative image at the beginning of class instead of waiting until the end. When I asked why, he replied, “Because it’s awesome!” My instincts were to save the best for last, but my student’s proposal made sense; researchers have demonstrated the supremacy of images to words for helping the brain learn. In addition, an initial powerful image or other attention-grabbing device motivates brains to pay attention to subsequent information.
I opened next period with the cartoon, and a spirited discussion ensued. When I was ready to present, students remained engaged and demonstrated their understanding with thoughtful questions and comments. I’m so glad my student shared his idea. It reinforced (in a very applicable way) what I already knew about how the brain learns, and it reminded me that, sometimes, students know best!

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