Eighth-grade students at River City Scholars took on the role of attorneys in June, giving opening statements, rebuttals, and closing arguments in a case they re-opened from 1955.
Working with a local attorney, the students lear ned how to argue to convict or acquit the accused.
The class was part of an experiential learning assignment that put the students in the story as they re-opened the Emmett Till trial. In preparation for the assignment, the students’ social studies class studied the era of American history that stretches from the post-Civil War period through the time of the Civil Rights movement. The students learned how to write an argumentative essay using claims, evidence, and reason. The students also read the historical fiction novel "Mississippi Trial, 1955" to learn specific details about the Emmett Till story. They then formed teams as attorneys representing the prosecution or defense in the retrial.
After weeks of learning about the Constitution and Constitutional amendments, the scholars were given a case file with records related to the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955. They spent two weeks preparing their cases.
“I had the opportunity to sit in on both classes to hear them present opening statements, rebuttals, and closing arguments to convince the jury of their positions,” said Holly Hillary, principal of River City. “I was extremely impressed by their passion, insight, and behavior during their mock trials. It was very apparent to me that a great deal of hard work and preparation went into this project.”
The assignment was not just learning about the trial, though.
“The students learned a lot, but more importantly they made a connection with their learning to the real world,” said Tamela Brown, dean of middle school at River City, who taught the class. “We saw the quality of work improve, the level of motivation increase, and student excitement about learning raised. River City middle school is excited about using this learning approach more often with their scholars in order to improve student achievement.”
Through projects like these, Brown says, education is taken to a whole new level.
“This process puts scholars in real-world roles, and allows them to demonstrate their cross curricular learning through a project in a real-world context, then invite professionals into the classroom to affirm and provide feedback about the students work,” said Brown. “This requires the 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, problem solving, and innovation.”