I recently sat down and chatted with Mrs Natasha Derry, a new teacher in the English Department at St Andrew’s College this year, and she talked about a lesson sequence she had just finished as part of lead in to teaching the play Twelve Angry Men.
One of the wider goals of the English Department in 2014 was working on the listening skills of students and so with this Yr12 class Mrs Derry decided to combine the intriguing story of Cornealious Michael Anderson with a radio broadcast on the internet from the website thisamericanlife.org. By using a radio broadcast, albeit from the internet, instead of a video clip from the many TV news articles that ran about Anderson, students would need to actively engage in the listening process. Helpfully, the website also provides a transcript of the radio interview which in this case allowed students the benefit of listening and reading to review what they had heard.
The blurb for the radio item said:
Mike Anderson was 36 years old, married, a suburban father of four. He owned a contracting business and built his family’s modest, three-bedroom house in St. Louis from the ground up. He volunteered at church on the weekends and coaches his son’s football team. All pretty normal, right? Except for one thing … which surfaced one day last summer.
That one thing was 13yrs ago had he been convicted of armed robbery, before posting bail pending the outcome of his appeal. When the appeal was rejected he expected to be collected and imprisoned for 13yrs. Due to a clerical error this never happened, and it was only when they came to “release” Anderson, was it discovered he had never served his time.
The students listened attentively to the 16mins in the radio broadcast, before being asked to decide whether Anderson should still serve his prison time, and to reflect their decision by standing in different areas of the room. Each group had to elect a foreman such as a jury might have, who would then represent the group, explaining the basis of their decision.
Mrs Derry was very pleased at how much detail the students recollected from the radio broadcast, evidenced by the inclusion of facts and opinions expressed during the interviews. She also showed some visuals of Anderson in prison garb and with his family as well:
Throughout this activity, the message being reinforced was how much power individual jury members have over the outcome of a court case and therefore the life of the person on trial. By contrasting the different views of the students on Anderson’s situation, Mrs Derry was able to prepare them to critically think about the play Twelve Angry Men
As we discussed this use of internet based radio broadcasts, we considered what the next steps were in consolidating the themes. One outcome from this was the possibility of leveraging Skype in the Classroom to bring an expert on the law “into the classroom” with a number of District and High Court judges as possible candidates through connections with the College.
I hope this comes to fruition as it would again highlight the important role that technology can play in making the learning authentic through connecting texts with real life events, people and experts – all of which are important factors in engaging our students.