What’s in a Pitch? 

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Guest post by Emily Hyland, fourth-grade teacher at Rippowam Cisqua School in Bedford, New York. Mrs. Hyland is one of the teachers in the school's first Innovation Cohort, led by Sparkitivity's Kathryn Haydon and RCS's Innovation Director Miles Cameron, to create a grass roots move toward deeper learning throughout the school. Teachers were trained in the Torrance Incubation Model to help them easily integrate high-level creative thinking into their content areas and deepen student engagement. 

“Alright, alright, let’s settle down. I’d like to get started. Actually, today, I want to tell you about a new contest we’re going to be holding here in the 4th grade.” A melody of outbursts follow. We willingly forget for a moment about our class rule of one voice speaking at a time. 

“A contest!”  

“What kind of contest?”

“How do you win!?” 

“What’s the prize?” 

“Who will vote for the winner?” 

“Will it be fair if we can vote?”

“Well, it seems the author of the novel we are reading forgot to give names for the chapters. I’ll be holding a contest to name each one. Is anyone interested in submitting?” A few hands go up. 

“Alright, well you don’t all have to submit today for chapter one but the winner will get their chapter title published in our classroom.” A few more hands go up. 

“Great, we have some friends interested. I’ll hand around a submission form. We will all get to vote on the winning submission. As judges you will be asked to consider accuracy and cleverness in your decision.” Two more hands in the air. I place a Post-it on the interested contestants’ desks. 

This conversation is an excerpt from the beginning of a language arts lesson on Natalie Babbitt’s timeless book Tuck Everlasting. Before starting in on chapter two, I wanted to assess who could succinctly capture the main event from chapter one that describes the home of the main character, Winnie Foster, described by Babbitt as a “touch me not cottage.”

Rather than start with a lesson about summarizing or identifying a main idea, I held a contest. It required no physical preparation on my part (other than a stack of Post-it notes); however, the submissions, and conversations that happened as the students were considering their submissions, were very telling about what each child remembered from the previous day’s reading. 

Last school year, I was lucky to be a part of the founding Innovation Cohort at my school, Rippowam Cisqua in Bedford, NY. Among other things, the cohort worked alongside Sparkitivity's Kathryn Haydon studying the Torrance Incubation Model (TIM), a simple yet effective framework for lesson planning consisting of three straightforward stages: heightening anticipation, deepening understanding, and extending the learning. From this work sprung wonderful conversations and a deepening of my conviction that we must always put ourselves in our students’ shoes as we lesson plan. Long story short: if it would bore you as an adult, it will definitely bore them as nine-year-olds. 

But, as I took what I had learned from the cohort back to my classroom, I began to think about what an intimidating task lay before me. After all, as a fourth-grade teacher I am responsible for everything from reviewing parts of speech in grammar to reinforcing the times tables in math. How on earth could I make it ALL interesting and fun?  

I cut myself some slack and decided to just focus on the idea of “What’s in a pitch?” or as the TIM model would put it, heightening anticipation. I would focus in particular, each day, on the first minute of each lesson, those few seconds when a child, just like an adult, decides “I’m interested” or “I’m out.” 

By awakening children’s creativity immediately, and as often as possible, suddenly you can hook even reluctant students. And if you’re lucky, the child who maybe doesn’t yet love to read does enjoy a good healthy competition and suddenly they’re happily summarizing a chapter in a book. Not to mention that this approach to learning--and lucky for me--teaching, becomes a little more fun. Who wouldn’t sign on the dotted line for that? 

Sources: 

Babbit, Natalie. (1985). Tuck Everlasting. New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux.

Torrance, E. P.,  & Safter, H. T. (1999). Making the creative leap beyond. Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Foundation.