Posted in Class Discussion, Education, Humanities, Teaching

Allowing Discussions to Grow and Develop Organically

My mind can sometimes seem to me like a wild and scary place.  One minute I’m thinking about the newest City and Colour album while in the next moment I’m contemplating the number of tiles on the floor in my classroom.  In this respect, I’m very much like my students.  I can’t sit still and I have trouble controlling my thoughts and how I share them.  Some people might label me an oversharer, but when a thought pops into my mind, I often feel compelled to reveal it to others.  I allow my life and thoughts to take me where they will like a meandering river.  I don’t feel tied down nor inflexible.  I like to have fun by bringing happiness and laughter to others.  It’s hard to stay serious or upset when the person next to you is talking about his belly button lint.  I go with the flow of my ideas.

As a teacher, I try to incorporate this same mindset in the classroom.  While I generally have a plan for each period and class, I’m also open to letting conversations or activities grow and develop as they may.  Sometimes what I think will be a short discussion ends up turning into an insightful debate on a topic that lasts three times as long as I had thought.  And, that’s okay with me because allowing students to direct the learning and conversation fosters a strong sense of community and engagement within the classroom.

Today in Humanities class, my co-teacher and I lead a lesson on human migration and how it impacts the Middle East Region.  Following a word study pair-share, whole class discussion, and individual visualization activity, I lead the students in a culminating discussion regarding how the ideas of immigration, emigration, migration, and refugee impact the various countries of the Middle East Region.  While I had three guiding questions projected on the whiteboard, I allowed the discussion to grow and meander as the students’ interest changed and developed.  Some of the boys talked about how losing citizens as refugees can negatively and positively impact a country.  When Syria’s citizens fled the country en masse as refugees, the economy suffered as there were less people spending money; however, as one student pointed out, it also meant that there were more resources available for others.  Another student brought up the idea of oil and other natural resources the Middle East Region provides the world.  If people are emigrating in large numbers from that part of the world, how might it impact the availability of oil to the US and other countries?  This lead the conversation towards big ideas.  While my original intention for the discussion was to help the students understand the pros and cons of human migration in the Middle East Region, because I allowed the students to direct the discussion, we were able to delve into more complex ideas.  My closing thought for the students today at the close of the conversation was something like, “Our purpose for today’s lesson was for you to begin to see that the outcomes and impacts of human migration are much farther reaching than just numbers and populations.  Leaving or entering a country for any reason can greatly affect the world.”

Wow, I thought, after today’s discussion.  Something amazing happened because I gave up control and let things happen as they may.  I let the thoughts of my students flow and meander.  Awesome!  The boys seemed to really be engaged in the discussion and topic covered today.  Hopefully, they took away a few big ideas or nuggets of knowledge to help them broaden their perspective of the world and their role in it.  Had I tried to contain the class discussion and focus on the guiding questions alone, I worry that the final outcome might not have happened.  By allowing the students freedom in how we wrapped up today’s lesson and topic, they were able to think critically about human migration and its global impact.  They were making sense of the complex puzzle of our world: Everything is connected to everything else.

Sometimes, allowing my class to function like me, free-flowing and a little crazy, is a good thing with positive and amazing results.  Although not every class discussion gets as in-depth as today’s, by being open to new ideas and fostering a sense of critical thinking in the classroom, I truly believe that the students will feel challenged and encouraged to think outside the realm of “normal.”  The world’s greatest inventors and thinkers came about because they thought outside of what was possible.  If I want to help my students grow into effective global citizens that will make the world a better place for all people, I need to allow for freedom of thought and expression in the classroom.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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