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When a student becomes the teacher

May 16, 2007 at 3:42 pm
By Marla Holt

Jack Lindberg ’08 is helping a group of local eighth graders research, write, and edit a book about the James-Younger Gang’s 1876 escape route from Northfield. The 12-chapter book will guide visitors along the trail between Northfield and Madelia, Minnesota, where the outlaws were eventually captured. Lindberg’s internship is part of a three-year collaboration between Carleton’s history department, Northfield Middle School, and the Northfield Historical Society.

What I've Learned

Because I’m working with gifted and motivated students—and only four of them—this project isn’t a very realistic example of what teaching is like. But it’s fun.

Even as bright as the students are, I have to remember that they’re still middle school students. There are times when I explain something, and they’ll say, “In English, please.” They’re really smart and they know a lot of things, but sometimes they’re not used to the vocabulary. They can’t focus for two hours straight—I can barely focus for two hours straight—so it’s important to keep things fun, to keep things fresh, and to remember that this isn’t their job.

I could just take what they’ve done and edit it myself, but that’s not the point. The point is to teach them to do it on their own. I’m there to assist and guide them. So it takes a lot of work. You have to go through things many times before they figure it out. Right now we are working on footnotes, because eighth graders haven’t yet grasped the idea of citation.

I love writing. You learn so much about yourself and what you know and whether you understand a topic well enough to explain it or teach it to others. That’s a valuable lesson to learn.

Jesse James, as everyone knows him, is a myth. He’s portrayed as a romantic Wild West outlaw, but he was really just a former guerrilla fighter who robbed banks because it was the most lucrative opportunity at the time. That’s the danger in writing this book. It’s hard to keep from conjuring up melodrama to make him more interesting. It’s been a challenge to make the topic lively while still being factual.