“It’s déjà vu all over again”

(thanks to Yogi Berra for the quote)

Sometimes, my students discuss the events in one specific class on a specific day in their weekly journal, reflecting on how their interactions with students showed them what they need to do to improve or how the activity in a particular class or on that day was an example of the challenges they will face when they have a classroom of their own.  This week’s installment will focus on one class I taught this week and how exciting it can be when a teacher has the proverbial “light bulb” moment and realizes that he/she is “connecting” with the students.

For background on the development of the class/lecture that I will be reflecting on this week, I strongly suggest you read the following blog post from 4 February 2011:


This past Wednesday (February 8), I presented the lecture on Immigration:  Late 19th/20th Century.  It wasn’t exactly the same lecture; each year I try to “tweak” the lectures so they don’t get stale.  For instance, I incorporated more visual images to help students better understand the conditions at Ellis Island (after all, if you visit it today, it doesn’t look at all like it did 100 years ago), and I reduced the number of Ellis Island interviews in order to have enough time for discussion of the images.  But the “hook” that got students to pay attention is still there (even if, as it turns out, many probably weren’t listening).

Because the lecture focused on ethnicity and the development of the United States, after reviewing the topical outline, I asked the students two questions:  Are they aware of their ethnic background? (most students raised their hands) and How many are descendants of the “new” immigrants? (maybe half the class indicated they were).  I then proceeded to explain how the industrial growth of the United States during the late 19th century (which we had previously discussed in class) would not have occurred without these immigrants, because they provided the backbone for industrial growth.    The lecture itself focused on five topics:  Reasons why the immigrants came (both the “push” and “pull” factors—in other words, what caused them to leave Europe and why they came to the United States), job opportunities, efforts to maintain their ethnic identity, problems (including religious issues and immigration restriction), and the concept of America as a Land of Opportunity.

Title Slide for Immigration Lecture

Throughout the lecture, not only did I incorporate the words of immigrants who described their experiences, but I also tried to relate the visual images to popular culture (such as comparing the “cattle chutes” at Ellis Island to queue lines at amusement parks).   Also, I asked how many had seen the movie Titanic to explain conditions in steerage (the ones behind the gate who never had a chance to escape).  Their reaction indicated to me that it was a good idea to use these images, because they enhanced the impact of the immigrants’ descriptions.

The exciting part for me was that it was evident that students were listening, based on their reactions.  Some asked questions (which is unusual), and in one case another student answered the question, and I elaborated.  After class, one student approached me and remarked how he identified with the topic because he grew up in an ethnic neighborhood in Philadelphia like the one I described, and his grandfather was one of those immigrants.  Another has sent me a message that he wants to talk more about the topic when his group makes a presentation this Monday.

PowerPoint slide with the audio clip

And, finally, this time I remembered to turn on the audio before I played the clip with Charles Shaughnessy’s explanation of why he chose to become a naturalized immigrant.  Unfortunately, I had not done a very good job when pacing the instruction, as I was a bit rushed at the end…and, instead of making a proper introduction, I asked how many knew him (only a few hands raised) and how many had heard of Mr. Sheffield from The Nanny (most students raised their hands), then identified him as an actor, entrepreneur, and a blogger before playing the audio clip.  I could tell most probably weren’t paying attention (hopefully the film didn’t pick up the sound of students packing their materials and getting ready to head out the door), so I know next time that I either need to talk faster (then their pens really will be smoking) or reduce the number of examples.  Other than that, though, it appeared that the lecture went well, although I did notice when watching the beginning part of the video that it appears the frozen shoulder might be making a comeback (others don’t notice, but I do).  But I did find out that it helps when students can relate to the topic; now I just have to figure out how to do that with less interesting topics (for some reason, I can’t picture students getting as excited about diplomacy in the late 19th century as they were about this topic).

Coming attractions:  the first of the student teaching observations, another round of group discussion presentations, the approach of the American Revolution, and wayward clergy in colonial Pennsylvania…


About Karen

History Professor. Baseball fan. Author of two books, one of which I force my students to buy and read. You want me on your Trivial Pursuit team.
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One Response to “It’s déjà vu all over again”

  1. I enjoyed doing the Group Presentations that you had us do in your History of PA Class. It was nice to get to share our interpretations of the book and get to discuss them amongst the class as well. 🙂

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