Saturday, March 9, 2013

Potter Series Stretches Lexile Levels

  I've been under the weather for some time, and Harry Potter has kept me company.  All seven main series books ... all (roughly) 5,000 dense pages.

There were moments when I thought the series was silly, cheesy, sensational, epic, average ... I was all over the place.  I'll leave a book review for others, adding only that the series as a whole has earned its place on my book shelf, even if it falls a bit short of the massive over-hype it has received over the years.

I'll introduce my son to this series early on, because it is a thoughtful, fun and imaginative roller coaster for the reader; however, I think the real strength of the series is in the way it secretly stretches young students.

The series is recommended for kids ages nine and up, but if you look at the Potter Series Lexile levels, they are significantly more advanced than the ages for whom they're intended.

Just as interestingly, the Lexile levels actually increase as the series progresses ... the books kind of grow with the reader, who is growing up with Harry (the main character, if you didn't know).

When you contrast the series' levels to the Lexile grade equivalent, it's clear these books will foster both imagination and reader sophistication. It's like reading President Obama's last state of the union, only with wizards, dragons, wand fights and a complex story line that twists and turns until the final pages of the seventh and last novel. Actually, Obama's speech came in at an 8th grade level, while some of the Potter books hit a 12th grade level - surely quite a challenge for a lot of the young children tackling these thick, fun books.

A quick side note on the content of these books: When the series hit there was a media splash and a lot of attention regarding possible promotion of witchcraft among impressionable young kids. I didn't see anything more harmful or much different than what's found in the C.S. Lewis Narnia series. If you are worried about this series corrupting your child, you'd better not let him or her out the front door. And throw out your TV set, and radio while you are at it. Of all the negative cultural influences out there, this series doesn't even make my radar.  I'm not a preacher, but I'm a father (and husband, my wife / editor just pointed out), teacher, spiritual person, and pretty straight-laced fellow these days.

I hope the Potter books inspire my son as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe inspired me so many years ago.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Student-Centered ... on Steroids


I was sitting at my laptop computer the other morning, when I heard the vice president of our "ad agency" call a class meeting. "Oh, I'd better go," I thought, grabbing my pen, notepad and coffee, hustling over to the conference table along with all of my students.

Our firm's VP is a sharp senior named Jesse; he works closely with sophomore Emily, our creative director. And they are working in tandem with the social media department, IT department and, of course, our full staff of artists and designers.

We even have audio engineering capabilities.

Desktop Publishing is a class I was "born to teach," as a coworker put it, and I could not agree more. As my World History courses continue to tighten up, and rely heavily on structure, this desktop publishing course is morphing into the complete opposite. We move fast and on the fly, often winging it and changing plans on a dime ... depending on the needs of our clients.

I knew I wanted to do something special with this class. As we launched into the school year my course plans shifted ... and we literally became a miniaturized, school-based version of an ad shoppe. I'm giving my kids as much room as possible to maneuver on their own, stepping in when I need to steer our ship a bit more firmly one way or the other, or to contribute to a project. I suppose besides being "Boss of the Applesauce" - my formal title - I'm the de facto head copywriting editor.

Project-based Learning in Action

We "landed" our first client the other day - our school is constructing a nature trail and my class got some work out of the project. We're doing the logo, and creating informational flyers. Bolstered by Krispy Kreme donuts, we all jumped into action after the kick-off meeting where the account executive who "signed the client" told us all of the account details.

At one point I caught our exec taking pictures of rough drafts to send to the client; I quickly stepped in and explained our product was, at that moment, far too rough to present to the customer. It's an ideal student-driven environment ... eager kids calling the shots, but I'm watching every move and stepping in to mentor and guide as needed.

Student Buy In

The kids love it. They love the trust, responsibility, and relevancy this course is offering them.

I think there's a model here worth recreating, because it's 1. giving the students practical, hands-on experience in terms of tackling real agency-oriented projects.  It's constant, concrete problem solving in action.  But 2. it also provides our school with a valuable resource.

Any class, teacher, administrator etc. needing work done can come to us and see about engaging our services.  Being a veteran ad man, I am sitting back and not yet publicizing our services. A good agency creates enough "buzz" that people start coming to you - no advertising needed.

I'm joking - to a point. Everything we've done so far is based completely on the way a real agency functions, and I could not be more proud of my students.  When given freedom, trust, and enough structure to feel secure - and yes secure to fail - students do amazing things and function at high levels.


Don Draper would be proud. Though ... he'd have to adjust pretty quickly to our tobacco-free campus.