After spending nine weeks on The Holocaust (reading such mentally heavy material like The Diary of Anne Frank and Prisoner B-3087), the English teachers in my district searched for a quick writing assessment that could bridge the gap between the themes from literature read this year and the next project we had in store for them. However we wanted to use this assessment for several different tools:
- We wanted to provide them with something uplifting to give them a break from the heaviness of The Holocaust.
- We wanted to focus on making deep and meaningful connections to literature they had read this year.
- We wanted to use it as a tool to prep them for their upcoming research project – a persuasive project on a world issue of their choice.
- We wanted to prepare them for the requirements of writing short answers as freshmen.
Quite a hefty list for an assessment, but we were determined to find or write something that would work. We searched a variety of Ted Talks and YouTube videos and finally settled on something that I hope you can (and WILL) use in your classroom because for an assessment, I do have to say that my students thoroughly enjoyed this assignment. We promise we did not settle on this particular assignment because we are all from Austin. I also promise that I did not thoroughly fall in love with this speech because I bleed orange. As soon as this amazing man delivered the speech last year, it almost instantly went viral… so I can be certain that you will have student who have seen it. I had several students whose parents had shown them the speech or had previously seen the speech, and they watched as intensely as those who were viewing for the first time. A little background info: Admiral William H. McRaven is a retired United States Navy Admiral, former University of Texas graduate, and former Navy SEAL. McRaven was ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and is the current University of Texas Chancellor. On May 17, 2014 he delivered a powerful and inspiring 20 minute commencement speech to the university’s Spring graduating class that instantly went viral. In the 20 minute speech, McRaven highlights ten life lessons learned from SEAL training and uses the university’s slogan “What starts here changes the world” to encourage graduates to reflect on their own lives and use their circumstances to change the world around them. Told with humor and quick wit, McRaven came across to my middle school students as pretty cool – knowing that he was a SEAL won my boys over instantly. Yet he speaks with a fatherly wisdom that doesn’t come across as condescending or prideful. I would highly encourage all students to watch his speech… and knowing that you can now use it to make them think critically about what they have read over the year gives you the perfect excuse to show them something that will inspire them as well! Below, you will find the brief synopsis of how we broke this apart for our students. This was not all that we did each day in class – when you add in warm ups and closures and the fact that we were reviewing grammar, this was about all we had time for each day. You could certainly do two or three things in one day if needed. DAY ONE: As a class we brainstorm reviewed everything that they had read together in class and briefly discussed the biggest themes from the literature or what it was about. DAY TWO: We reviewed a basic outline for a short answer response. DAY THREE: We provided our students with the transcript of the speech and required them to annotate while watching the 20 minute speech. I required my students to skim through the speech before I pressed play, and collected the speeches and notes before they left. When the speech was over, I asked them to go back through the ten points that he made and reflect on the brainstormed list from Monday and try to jot down specific examples from the literature that they could connect with any of the points. DAY FOUR: This day was solely devoted to their short answer response. When they finished, they could work on other things, but they were allowed the entire class to write if needed. You can find the transcript and the short answer response worksheet on my Teachers Pay Teachers store and also here. I have also included a cute poster of the ten life lessons mentioned in McRaven’s speech for you to download in color or black and white if you would like for your students to have a copy! Or print just one for you as a reminder that each and every day you are changing the world!