Thursday, October 27, 2016

Celebrating Success

I tend to be highly self-critical. My focus is on what is flawed, what can be improved, and the ways in which we can grow based on what did not go well. In my classroom, every day, I think about what I did not do well and try to come up with plans about how to do it better.

Today, however, there was a happy moment. And I think it's important to attempt to catalog the moments that are successful along with the ones I want to change.

I was teaching a group of 9th grade girls. They were responsible for learning a Seforno & a Ramban (which I provided with English translation) regarding Pharoah's plan. What kind of villain is Pharaoh? Did he plan out every step of his mass murder of Jewish males or did he simply make plans up as he went along? The foundation for this discussion was laid in previous sessions when we talked about different Disney villains and how some of them are masterminds whose evil schemes are premeditated (Scar from "The Lion King") and some are merely opportunists (Hans from "Frozen").

I divided the students up into two groups. One group was responsible for reading the Seforno. The other was responsible for reading the Ramban. I asked that the groups help each other make sense of the assigned text and the reading questions I had written. The end goal was for each group to present in front of the class and teach the text they had read to the remaining students.

At first, the students read silently. I was concerned they would all end up working individually rather than working together. But then, after I reminded and prompted them, they began to discuss the commentaries in their respective groups. The beautiful thing was that they were talking to each other, not to me. This Socratic style discussion involved critical thinking because the students had to listen to and respectfully disagree with one another when it came to answering questions that had been posed. I stepped in to remind them to look at the text they had just read to find proof or evidence to answer the questions.

I heard things like...

"But wasn't the reason that Pharoah was against them because there were just so many of them?"
"I thought it said that they weren't assimilating into the Egyptian culture."
"What you said is over here," and she pointed at the paper, "but if you read a little later on, you'll see..."
"His original goal was to enslave them, I thought."
"If you see here," and she pointed at the paper, "it says his original goal was to make them leave, but in such a way that Egypt wouldn't end up looking responsible."

That's what critical thinking is all about. Students being able to make sense of text, help each other understand text and then use evidence to back up their points. This is a constructivist approach to learning where the students take ownership of the task and collaborate together to assist one other in comprehending, considering and eventually, pushing back against or questioning the material. Today, I facilitated learning...and I felt like a rock star.

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