Tuned In and Fired Up: How Real Teaching Can Inspire Real Learning in the Classroom

By Sam M. Intrator (Yale University Press, 208 pages; $23.00), BUY NOW!
reviewed by Katherine Simon

These are tough times for those of us who believe that the core of learning has to do with igniting the imagination, unleashing students’ creativity, and whetting their appetite for knowledge. This kind of rhetoric seems embarrassingly na??ve these days, and ever so far removed from the serious businesses of standardized test scores and competing in the global economy. But I yearn for our society to change its vision of education, to remember that hearts must be engaged in order for minds to be put in gear. Sam Intrator’s book adds to my sense of hope.

Intrator set out to track the work of a teacher who successfully engages his students’ hearts and minds, in order to uncover the ingredients for creating classrooms that hum with energy and engagement. In Tuned In and Fired Up, Intrator offers five case studies of class sessions that engaged students deeply and inspired powerful learning. The case studies highlight, particularly, the connection between topics that students find personally meaningful and their willingness to engage themselves in intellectual heavy lifting.

In discussing these learning episodes, Intrator writes: “I believe these moments of special luminosity where students stretched upward and grew in mind and spirit are not magical, random events, but episodes cultivated by inspired, artful teaching. A teacher’s analogue to a poet’s ode or a painter’s portrait is the moment when the students are tuned in, fired up, and brimming over. . . The classroom is the heart of the educational enterprise. Our beleaguered educational system provides a slew of constraints and impediments that impair a teacher’s ability to achieve his or her goals and vision; however, within your classroom, you can inspire hope, wonder, and a zest for living and learning.”

As a school reformer, I could quibble that Intrator’s focus on the individual teacher and the classroom underplays the importance of creating systemic conditions where more individual teachers could shine. But it’s merely a quibble, because Intrator’s larger point is so timely and true: classrooms can and should be places of deep meaning and connection??”and teachers can cultivate the skills that are needed to create these kinds of classrooms. I am grateful for the book.


Katherine Simon is co-Executive Director of the Coalition of Essential Schools and author of Moral Questions in the Classroom: How to Get Kids to Think Deeply about Real Life and Their Schoolwork, Yale University Press, 2001.