Beach in July Theory

I began teaching in 1976.  After a few years in the classroom it began to bother me that even those kids who performed well would quickly forget all the stuff that was on my final exams.  So, I concocted “My Beach in July Theory.”  To explain…

Imagine that Student X is lying on a beach in July.  He or she engages in conversation with Person Y about life at school.  Eventually, Person Y observes, “I understand that you had Malcolm Gauld in U.S. History last year… So tell me, What did you learn?”

As a teacher, what would you want that student to say… reflexively… at that precise moment?  That’s the Beach in July Theory.  After you determine the answer to that question, you formulate next year’s class around it.  And you then return… and return… and return… to that answer throughout the course.

In my case, several years of my U.S. History course were fueled by “It’s All About Jefferson.”  Whether we were exploring Shay’s Rebellion, Manifest Destiny, or the Marshall Plan, I would often abruptly stop the action and ask, “What’s it all about?”  The pause (that refreshes!) would last until somebody blurted out the magic word: “Jefferson!”  (Note: When I started getting kids to dispute the choice of Jefferson and offer up alternatives, I knew I had them!)


Guided by the Beach in July Theory for a few years, I guess I was then naturally led to “The 10 Things I Couldn’t Bear That You Wouldn’t Know a Year After Taking My Class.”  After determining these 10 historical facts, trends, and/or traditions,  I would then make sure to repeatedly hit those points throughout the school year…. Over and over (and over) again.  The repetition helps student memory.  The more “velcroey” the “10 things” are, the more meaningful the course.  Ideally, they trigger exposures and understandings to an endless wide range of topics.

For example, one of my favorites: “One of the best history lessons in the world is a drive down Route 495… if you get off at Lawrence or Lowell and cruise around a bit.”  One year, I was driving a van load of my basketball players to a game in Massachusetts when I heard a voice (extra loud for my benefit) emanate from the back, “You know, right now I feel like I’m receiving a powerful history lesson!”  This comment was met with laughter, snickers, and impersonations of me.  I had them… and they didn’t even know it!  (Well, yeah… I guess they had me too.)

Another year, a student came into my office after a vacation and excitedly exclaimed, “Hey, Mr. Gauld, we got off at the Lowell exit just like you said and while I can’t I say I learned all that much about the Industrial Revolution, we did come across this really cool memorial to Jack Kerouac.”  Imagine that.

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld