Dr. Rachel Mesch, professor of English and French and chair of the English department at Yeshiva College, co-authored an article with Dr. Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall (California State University San Marcos) and Dr. Annette Joseph-Gabriel (University of Michigan) for the American Historical Association about “Teach Your Family,” a clever and innovative teaching approach they used to help their students respond creatively to the constrictions imposed on them by online learning.
As the article explains, early in the pandemic,
Rachel had an idea. Why not acknowledge the change [in her students’ lives]? Students now lived off campus, often with their families, in circumstances less than ideal for traditional written projects. If their classrooms had moved to their homes, why not make those homes into classrooms? Rachel asked students to choose one of the class topics to teach someone in their family—broadly defined—and then provide evidence of their lesson, either by recording it or by providing testimonials from a family member or roommate, along with the lesson plan or PowerPoint they had designed and used. Students shared videos of parents and siblings curled up on the couch, listening to a proudly delivered lecture. One student created a Lego model of Paris; girlfriends and roommates recorded effusive reactions.
Word of Teach Your Family spread over social media, and soon even high school history teachers were using it in their classrooms.
For a great example of how Teach Your Family worked in practice, look at the project done by Ari Rosenthal ’23YC, a biology major at Yeshiva College, as part of Dr. Mesch’s class, France and Its Others.
I researched a current event in France – the June 2020 Black Lives Matters protests—and contextualized it by exploring the literary works we had been discussing in class on French identity, namely Ourika by Claire de Duras (1823), Tamango by Prosper Merimee (1829), and Babar by Jean de Brunhoff (1931). I adapted my research into a PowerPoint presentation and then discussed my findings and analysis with my uncle, Joe Lurie. I found the opportunity to present the work I had been working on in class empowering. The feedback and nuances we discussed allowed me to rethink my analysis and refine my understanding of the limitations at play in attempting to understand French identity. I enjoyed the opportunity to present my findings over Zoom to a family member as a final project instead of formulating my findings into essay format. The discussion-based format of the final project allowed us to connect my findings to a whole range of other topics—the dialogue after my presentation lasted nearly 20 minutes!
During that 20 minutes, Ari and his uncle discussed “the phenomena that discussions on race seem to be ubiquitous in American society but less prominent in French institutions.” They also questioned what constitutes French Universalism, and they noted the uniting nature of acts of humanity. “We made mention of issues of freedom of speech, and we discussed the contemporary debate of whether to remove statues of Confederate and Colonial figures.”
What makes Teach Your Family work so well? The authors conclude that “we each found that what had begun as an expedient substitute for research papers or exams had become a high-impact practice: engaging students’ critical and metacognitive faculties, reinforcing the material, and making students more invested in the learning process,” with the added therapeutic benefit that “as a collaborative project, Teach Your Family worked against the isolation of the pandemic by giving students tools for engaging in meaningful dialogue with those around them, which often meant relatives.”