Last week, I was fortunate to experience one of the highs of my teaching career: my students participated in a live web chat with author Malcolm Gladwell.
As a part of our unit “Is the United States still a ‘Land of Opportunity?,'” my Humanities 10 students read Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success. We connected Gladwell’s concepts of deliberate practice, lucky opportunities, cultural legacy, family upbringing, and timing to the Industrial and Progressive Eras in U.S. History. Students explored how titans of the early 1900s seized the “predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities” that show “success is not a random act.”
Students carried their understanding of success over to issues of today, especially in terms of economic mobility and racism/xenophobia. They read current Articles of the Week which expanded this conversation, such Leonard Pitts’ “Miss America and Social Media’s Ignorant Bigotry” and my favorite New York TImes Room for Debate piece.
So, like most of our History units, they read, researched, debated, and wrote arguments, and, finally, to make their learning truly authentic, this time they got to interact directly with the author!
We had the “lucky opportunity” and solid “timing” to participate in this live web-chat hosted by Goodreads.
To put it simply, the students were totally geeked. I mean, when I shared the video chat invitation with my sophomores, one student–who was being totally genuine–actually shouted, “Are you serious? We get to talk to Malcolm Gladwell!” What made the experience even cooler–if I can fangirl a bit here–was that Gladwell answered a number of my students’ direct questions, one being the very girl who had gushed about the chance to talk to him.
I often hear about other savvy teachers bringing authors in to chat with their students. I admit that, until this experience, I was really nervous about the engagement of my students, flexibility of my colleagues, and investment of time and planning, but, in the end, it worked out so well that I’m definitely going to seek out opportunities like this in the future.
As a ELA conclusion to this unit, the students just began reading The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. They’re doing profound work connecting Gladwell’s ideas about success to Moore’s question of fate.
Would you believe that yesterday I had a kid ask me when we’d be chatting with the author? So, Mr. Moore, when are you free? We’re ready when you are. 😉