9 October 2014
Kiefer had (intended) to complete his own student interviews today, so I took over most of the planning duties for Thursday (while he took over Wednesday because we’re doing some rotary book sharing; or were—Tim found us a second textbook to use for the rest of the semester). For the Economics classes, I was given the opportunity to lead a discussion article centred on federal minimum wage debates.
The students in both sections are given the opportunity to choose and prepare these articles once a week in small groups, but this week I was able to take over. Still, the article discussion classes follow a very specific structure:
1) Individual Reading
2) Group Reading
3) Unfamiliar Terms/Concepts
4) Knowledge-based/Comprehension Questions
5) Discussion/Poll/Opinion Questions
So, before you give me too much credit for the quality of the assignment, remember that I’m following a strict structure. Instead of reflecting on the design process, I want to spend a few minutes considering the methodology behind this five-part engagement with the articles.
The main impetus behind this kind of structure seems to be in-depth immersion and agential reading practice. The students first engage with the text individually. This ensures some level of comfort during group reading. They can tackle difficult words, phrases, and/or concepts before exposing themselves on a more public forum.
The group read gives the teacher some insight into the reading levels of different members of the classroom. Moreover, the first person to volunteer to read in Mr. Rudan’s class is given the option to choose who will read next or to send the reading to her/his left or right.
Forest Hill is considered by some to be the ESL “hub” for the TDSB. Consequently, even the majority of students in mainstream classes speak English as a second language. Thus the ability to question unfamiliar terms openly is a valuable instrument for maintaining an equitable and efficient classroom. Students are not judged for not knowing, and those who do know have, in my experiences so far, been kind and charitable when helping out their peers (though they also enjoy the glorious position of being “in the know.”
The dual-reading + skimming for difficult terms structure means that by the time students are asked to answer questions or discuss controversial topics, they’ve had significant exposure to the material and engaged with the text on different levels. The result has generally been consistently lively discussion regardless of the group of students or the time of day—as it was when I presented my article.
The grade 10 students were equally lively and engaged when presented with our lesson on residential schools. Kiefer and I opened with a video from the 100 Years Lost project (an extremely valuable resource for all history and social sciences teachers. I would highly recommend ordering a copy and providing a donating to the organizing foundation). We chose only a 5-minute clip that introduced with emphatic rhetoric themes of cultural destruction, mental and physical abuse, and aggressive assimilation. The students responded positively, albeit in a charged and negative fashion, that is, they were interested and involved, and rightfully angry at the practice of residential schooling.
The students were quite literally disgusted by many of the facts and figures presented in our opening quiz (provided in the Thomas Moore Slideshow below). Especially resonant was the fact that these children were forced to practice Christianity and to take on Christian names. Audible protests erupted from the class.
Equally as shocking to them was the picture of Thomas Moore after he left the Residential school. “He actually looks White!” one student exclaimed. Though the class frequently erupted in chatter, it was primarily focused and centred on the pictures and questions we provided. Their initial assumptions, as well (i.e. that “Thomas” was a girl) were particularly productive and useful in instructing them on the effects of ethnocentric and xenophobic biases. They quickly came to realize that their initial shocked reactions indicate some level of cultural ignorance, and that, if left uncheck, those biases lead to systems like residential schools, that try to erase what I’m tempted to call the Freudian unheimlich (“unhomely” or “uncanny”), which roughly constitutes an Other which is both familiar and different simultaneously, thereby inducing discomfort in the subject. Of course, those concepts are slightly beyond the grade 10 level, but it provides an interesting entry point to residential schooling and racism, nonetheless.
While students considered the Thomas Moore pictures, we distributed a handout where the students were to answer a series of questions testing knowledge and communication, but mostly inquiry skills. The aim was to push the students to question the link between these heavily staged photographs and the atrocities described in the original video. The linked file also contains a small writing assignment for students to express at length some of those ideas, though we have bombarded the class with writing assignments of late, and chose not to distribute the writing piece.
In summation: 10/10 would teach again.