What Classrooms Can Learn From Reality Shows



What Classrooms Can Learn From Reality Shows

by Barry Saide and Kevin Parr

Most of our classrooms do not mirror the reality television show ‘The Voice,’ but maybe they should.

The Voice’ is a reality TV series in which contestants have blind auditions to see if one of the celebrity music artists pick them to be member of their team. The celebrity then act as coaches, select the music for each vocalist on their team to sing, discuss how to interpret and perform each note, and alternate between honest critique and unbridled optimism leading up into each singer’s performance.

What resonates so much about ‘The Voice’ is how the contestants are initially chosen solely by their sound. A contestant’s looks, costume, dancing, or any affect they may don don’t help their chances. The purity and potential within each voice is what turns a coach’s chair around. Part of the excitement of the show is the startled look of pure joy on a coach’s faces when they see who the voice is attached to. How often would we get the visual wrong if we closed our eyes and listened to the music during the blind audition rounds?

Unfortunately, as educators, how we see students sometimes gets in the way of what we hear (or don’t hear) in them. Here are a few things we can listen for to ensure every student turns our chair:

  1. Start With Student Passions

Students regularly share stories that reveal their interests in and out of school. Unfortunately, after listening to these stories teachers often dismiss them and move on with the pre-planned curriculum. Teachers are, however, changing this conversation by adopting Genius Hour which provides students time to pursue their passion and share it with their peers. Students don’t have to be the best readers or have the highest math scores to participate in Genius Hour.

Every student is passionate about something. In fact, many students who appear to be struggling on paper can grow beyond our expectations if their work is framed in a context that is meaningful to them. We must begin by focusing in on students’ passions instead of any weaknesses their data profiles may present.  

2. Emphasize Social And Emotional Skills

As teachers, we have the tendency to listen and look for student misbehavior. Whether it is because we hear about a student’s prior negative experiences in school or we are just inclined to do so at times; we often look for the bad in kids instead of the good.

Yet, if we are really listening for reasons to turn our chairs for students we would listen for positive behavior and celebrate it. Furthermore, we must also acknowledge that despite our best efforts, students will make poor decisions. When they do make mistakes we must recognize them as signs that there are skills to be learned and as areas for future growth. If we listen closely, however, we can hear potential in students’ behavior and watch their growth as the year progresses.

3. Celebrate Growth!

It is so easy for us to focus on student outcomes (or lack thereof). By doing so, are we sometimes missing the mark on where students start, and their developmental growth to get there? Singers grow into their voices, just as children grow into their studies. Shouldn’t we be turning our chairs for students who demonstrate growth, not just mastery of skills?

Additionally, isn’t part of our role as educators to share these examples of incremental growth and explain to the families of these students that we all need to celebrate their children’s successes? It’s the acquisition of many little wins students have that sets them up for the rock star finish. Each child should feel like their coach chose them, believes in them, and will support them in their development.

As teachers, we inherit a team each year. Every student on our class rosters deserve to be on our team. Like ‘The Voice’ coaches, we need to look at our team members as unfinished products who are looking for an outlet and an opportunity. Students give us these indicators every day; it is our job to listen and turn our chairs. In the end, just like contestants on ‘The Voice,’ our students are willing to do the hard work if only they had someone to invest in them.

Barry Saide and Kevin Parr are two educators who have been recognized as ASCD Emerging Leaders. Saide is a fifth grade teacher in Bernards Township, NJ and Parr teaches fourth grade in Wenatchee, WA.  Connect with Barry on the ASCD EDge social network and on Twitter @barrykid1. Connect with Kevin on the ASCD EDge® social network, through his blog, or on Twitter @mrkevinparr.