Autonomous, Relevant Learning and Good Conversation
This week, I asked students to connect the literature we study in class to the modern world. We had amazing, open-ended conversations about climate change, artificial intelligence, social media, school, supercomputers, war, income inequality, and the best bands and television series of all time. I like to push pause to let my students learn about a topic of interest and then have a conversation about anything and everything, including the news, science, the economy, history, human behavior, family, race, gender, and at some point, we devise a plan to solve all the world’s problems. I like to start the conversation with that joke … ok, let’s change the world, but in all seriousness, if we don’t light that fire, who will?
Before I let them run free on the world wide web, ultimately choosing their own source, I act as an internet tour guide, showing them the websites of my favorite journals, podcasts, news sites, and videos. I’ve also scanned and uploaded my favorite essays from different anthologies over the years to a shared folder and keep an up-to-date list of my favorite podcasts. After students present their summary to the class, I will ask some broad questions, and mention anything related to the topic that might be of interest to my students, including television series, the news, current legislation, pop culture, music, history, and of course the literature in the curriculum.
The idea is to take a break from serious analysis of structure and rhetoric, and just exchange thoughts and opinions. The objective of The Hope Project is to not just discuss things like injustice, violence, poverty, and pollution, but to inspire students to be get excited about inventions and innovations that chip away at those problems.
The greatest writers and thinkers didn’t just read novels and poems all day. They had exciting experiences, read all different types of writing, engaged in exciting conversations and arguments, and laughed about all of society’s absurdities. They were familiar with the latest movies, art, scientific discoveries, business ventures, and public policies. Our students come into our classrooms with so many unanswered questions about the world as it is presented to them on so many screens. English class can be a retreat or an escape from the madness of media, but it can also be a place where students learn where to find high quality ideas from the brightest minds of the living.
Our students need to learn how to disagree and come to terms with someone who has a different opinion or point of view. They also need someone to steer them away from the addictive soundbites of social media to higher quality information so they can ultimately know how to educate themselves.
Giving students choice and the opportunity to discover quality websites might just make their learning experience meaningful and give them the chance to find a new interest and direction in life. Going to school should be just like eating – go to a restaurant and pick from the menu or cook up your own dish.
Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers
English language arts teacher