I had a student named Daniel who is a total film buff. He loves all things cinema, including films like Star Wars and Mad Max- totally an old soul (No offense people born in the seventies, you’re not that old). So one day, as the World War II project that we do was approaching, I walked up to Daniel, and casually told him that he is going to love the next project. Then I walked away and said nothing more. Daniel asked why, and I just ignored him and moved on to another student.
Real nice, right?
For the next couple days, Daniel would not leave me alone about my short comment, and kept asking me why he will love the next project. I replied that he needs to just trust me, and that this project is going to rock his world.
He became almost angry in his frustration, and wanted to know why I couldn’t just tell him what the project is. Other students began asking about the mystery, and I told them they’d just have to wait.
Suspense was building in the classroom.
Finally the day to start the project came, and a Holocaust survivor named Diet spoke to the class about living in and escaping a concentration camp. This experience alone was riveting, and most of my students learned for the first time that people like Diet were even still alive, and more blown away that they still live in our community. When she was finished with her story, I asked the class if they had any ideas of how we could make sure stories like Diet’s could be preserved long after Diet and other World War II veterans were gone.
Most students’ initial ideas were to preserve these veteran’s stories by writing their biographies and taking their pictures. I loved their investment already and the ideas they had to serve veterans and Holocaust survivors. It was clear to me that having Diet launch the project had a positive impact and created an effective hook.
Then I looked in the back of the room and saw that Daniel’s eyes had a fire burning in them. It turns out, the moment he heard Diet begin to tell her story, Daniel began to imagine telling it on film.
And that is exactly what Daniel got to do for the next month. It shaped the way he saw school forever.
Because aside from being a film buff, Daniel is also a foster kid, and being at a new school every few months for his entire life, and being distracted by intense anger towards his abusive parents, and having teachers tell him to pick his head up off his desk every time he needed to take a nap- has made him a less-than-exemplary student.
Daniel’s experiences have led him to hate school. But projects like the World War II one has redefined this experience. Not only did he get to experiment with a new set of skills that he’d only viewed as a spectator before, but this story he got to be a part of seemed to be designed specifically for him.
And it was.
This is why the exposition, or the introduction of a story/project is so vital. It sets up an experience that has the potential to have a major impact on a student’s life. Breeding suspense prior to the project was not difficult, it just took some confidence on my part that the project could live up to the expectations I was setting. You have to believe the effort of the project will be worth it if you want your students to believe it as well. Not every project, and exposition for the project for that matter, has to be a bombastic experience that requires your blood, sweat, and your every waking minute to make it happen. However, every project should be treated with dedication and importance, because it is an integral part of kids like Daniel’s story. And for there to be a buy-in, a sacrifice on a student’s part to give their time and energy to something, there should be suspense leading up to it.