The Pedagogy of Biography Day

Neil Armstrong holds forth on the unique experience of walking on the moon.

Today I stopped by the Kelly Hahne's fourth grade class to see a bit of biography day.  It goes on all morning, with visits from Attila the Hun and George Washington.  I got to meet Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, Neil Armstrong, and Bethany Hamilton.  Not a bad morning!  (I didn't know Bethany until this morning, so I met someone new as well and someones famous!)

The new format for biography day is well-conceived.  The students stand around the table with one of their parents, deliver their prepared remarks, and then take questions from the audience.  The audience today, which consisted of fellow biography day fourth graders and Mr. Morganti's fourth grade plus some parents, had a lot of questions.  Loved to see that.

(I wanted to ask a question or two, but I learned the hard way to be cautious some years ago, when I asked what I thought was a good one that really stumped one of the sweetest girls at Trinity and I've never quite recovered from doing that damage.  So I just sat back and listened to everyone's questions.)
What students learn in this?

  • To read something they enjoy
  • To read a biography
  • To inhabit the life of another, factually and also imaginatively
  • To speak publicly, with notecards, in front of an audience
  • To think on their feet
Last week I was with a professional in the Durham community, a man who had spent some time with Trinity students over the last several years.  Said he, "I was very impressed with the way that Trinity students were able to speak in public and articulate."  And he asked, "How do you teach this?"

I tried to answer him, but I wish I could have shown him Biography Day.


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