Discussing Discussions

I missed my post last week, mostly because school has been really busy but also because school has been really busy. Did I mention yet that school has been really busy?

For whatever reason, the last two weeks have been a complete whirlwind. I'm sure it has something to do with the wonderful Greek Fest weekend, which was completely worth every bit of pain and stress I'm currently feeling. My last post on my lightbulb moment(s) was actually written over the Atlantic Ocean on our flight back to America from Europe, that's how little time I've had!

I wanted to discuss discussions a little bit. 

I had a guest speaker come to my Government class a little over a week ago. Willie Epps is an attorney from St. Louis, MO who has strong ties to Kansas City as well. I was able to connect with Willie through another past guest speaker - Judge Lisa Hardwick.* Willie agreed to come to speak to my class about the recent issues in Ferguson, MO, where he has lots of connections. You can read his bio here.

*Judge Hardwick helped out with our We The People competition last year. I'm hopeful that she'll help out again this year. You can read her bio here.

Talking about Ferguson is really tough. It's kind of a switch from what often occurs. Usually the big issue during a discussion is either that none of the kids will want to speak up or you'll have 2 or 3 kids who dominate the conversation while you fight to keep everyone else from snoozing away.

Two things changed when I started a module on Ferguson. The first is that I had Willie come to speak at the very start of the module on day one. The kids mostly knew the basics of the situation, but they did not know many of the intricacies of the protests or the police/civilian interaction. Willie, who is an attorney, was able to bring a really interesting perspective.

The whole issue of Ferguson is fascinating and frustrating and all kinds of other adjectives that eventually lead me to a dark place. The first essay my government class writes is the prompt, "How will America fall?" On my worst days I wonder if the answer to that question is right around the corner. On my best days, I remember the incredible things that occur in our country and think this could go on for a while. If you're interested in the details of this module, get in touch with me and lets have that conversation. For now, I'll leave you with a few good links and leave the rest for a future post on a future day.

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Click here for an article from Bloomberg BusinessWeek called "Race, Class and the Future of Ferguson" by Peter Coy

Click here for an article from Time Magazine (the scan is not greatest) called "The Tragedy of Ferguson" by David von Drehle and Alex Altman.

Click here for data on the controversial New York law called Stop and Frisk, which was only recently banned by a judge. Then watch this video on one man's story, which unfortunately seems to be more the norm than the exception. (Warning: Graphic Language)

Click here to read this CNN opinion piece about the larger message of Ferguson for America by Sally Kohn.

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The second thing that changed was how discussions occurred. Instead of having to drag kids into a discussion, I had to instead control the pace and passion of the conversation. I expected this second issue some, so I had already laid down some ground rules about how to talk to each other. We had discussed already what made a screwdriver good according to the Socratic way of thought* and used that conversation to establish a few rules:

*Another post for another day...
  1. When others are talking, listen. Don't think about your response while they're talking. Just listen.
  2. After every comment, wait 5 seconds and let everyone think. That allows number 1 to actually happen. This is my job to enforce even when the conversation really gets going.
  3. Establish an environment where you can change your mind at any time without judgement. We do this physically by going to different parts of the room and establishing that you can physically move whenever you want. I think this gives permission to change your mind during later discussions. 
  4.  Jump on the small things to reenforce the other rules. When a kid scoffs quietly, call them on it and make sure everyone knows that's not how the conversation goes in this class.

At some point here, I'll write about a change in my mindset that I experienced in my first year of teaching. It's related to this whole discussion idea, but for now it's almost the end of another Wednesday and I have some other work to do to get ready for class tomorrow. Ah, the life of a teacher!

Onwards and upwards!

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