Dedication, perseverance and confidence—these are the values kids with learning and attention issues gain as they recite President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address each year at The Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont.
Greenwood is a middle and high school for boys with learning disabilities and other challenges. Since the school’s founding in 1978, Greenwood students have recited Lincoln’s speech in front of peers and families as a way to learn American history, build confidence and raise their own expectations about what they can accomplish.
Now, on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s speech, award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns has released The Address—a new documentary that tells the story of the challenges and triumphs of Greenwood students. In its exploration of learning and attention issues, the film also unlocks the history and importance of President Lincoln’s timeless words.
Check out the emotional trailer below. Be sure to share the film with your child as well.
Do you think your child might benefit from learning the Gettysburg Address? Go to the next page to read about strategies expert teachers at Greenwood School use to support students with learning and attention issues.
What strategies do expert teachers use to teach a historic speech like the Gettysburg Address? We recently spoke to Stewart Miller, Head of the acclaimed Greenwood School in Vermont, about how the school supports kids with challenges as varied as dyslexia, dysgraphia and ADHD. Below are eight strategies Stewart shared with us for how his school helps students learn the Gettysburg Address.
Learning long passages can be difficult. Greenwood teachers break down the text of Lincoln’s speech into small, manageable parts—(1) The introduction, (2) The dedication, (3) In a larger sense, (4) The world will little note and (5) It is rather.
Many students learn best when a subject is placed in the context of a story. At Greenwood, as the students learn Lincoln’s speech, they also study the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War. The epic story of the Civil War helps engage kids.
Teaching the language Lincoln used is a way to have students understand what they’re saying. One effective way to teach vocabulary is by using synonyms—for example, liberty/freedom, conceived/created, proposition/belief and endure/last.
Connecting the speech with nonverbal gestures helps students get through tricky parts of the speech. For example, the phrase “[f]our score and seven years ago” can be paired with a number of fingers. Or a student can repeat the same gesture each time at certain points of the speech.
Learn the Last Paragraph First
Students hear the first paragraph of the Gettysburg Address many times, which makes it easier to learn. Starting with the last paragraph makes students feel more confident about being able to get through the entire speech.
Many students like to see how they’re performing on camera. Using a phone or camera to record a student’s recitation can create motivation and a sense of accomplishment.
Pairing multisensory images with the text of the speech makes remembering easier for students. For instance, the phrase “[w]e have come to dedicate a portion of that field” can be visualized by a student as walking through a field quietly and feeling the wind. The more senses the student engages, the easier it can be to remember.
There are a number of cognitive strategies that can help with studying the speech. These include:
- taking a few deep breaths and relaxing before reciting,
- using self-evaluation to raise awareness about a student’s learning, e.g., “My memory and attention could improve if I…,”
- explaining to a student how attention is critical to the learning process, and
- organizing a student’s learning environment by reducing distractions such as loud noises or bright lights.
These are just some of the strategies Greenwood teaches its kids. By studying the Gettysburg Address, Greenwood students practice learning strategies they can use throughout their lives.
Now, it’s your turn. Do you think your child might benefit from learning the Gettysburg Address? Visit learntheaddress.org to get started.