What do Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel (the Columbia “memory” neuropsychiatrist), MacArthur Genius Grant winner Danielle Allen, and Aspen Institute CEO (and Steve Jobs biographer) Walter Isaacson have in common? They want to teach 7th grade. Well, not exactly–they don’t want to go daily to a classroom and confront a bunch of snarling, overtired, distracted, sugar-saturated 12-year-olds on the cusp of puberty. No, they like the offices they have. But they are happy to lend their expertise to the teachers who actually have day-to-day interactions with the kids. So Amplify, an independent educational subsidiary of News Corporation, has developed a digital curriculum for sixth, seventh and eighth grade English Language Arts classes based on lessons of each of these prominent thinkers. With the help of Common Core curriculum experts, Amplify has tapped Kandel and company to create a full year’s worth of English Arts lessons focused on personal narrative (voiceovers provided by actors Chadwick Boseman and Elizabeth Olsen), fiction, poetry and other texts.
So what’s the benefit of the dramatic readings and Academy Award eligible story animations that populate the program? According to Amplify, “school-based pilots have shown that when students watch a dramatic reading of the first chapter of a book, they’re more likely to go on and read the entire text.” And although the SAT is eliminating the essay requirement of the test, students still need to meet Common Core requirements which include grasping difficult literary concepts, perspectives and points of view. The digital curriculum (available on every digital device out there, $45 per student) allows teachers to track each student’s progress and the class as a whole. The whole thing sounds winsome, a vocabulary word that, like the essay, is slated to be removed from the SAT.