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Learning at its Best

Mirroring Back Student Words–in Realtime

We’ve adopted another Detroit school into the Detroit Future Schools (DFS) family and we could not be happier with our new bundle—and neither could the students.

“Can we think like this everyday?” one student asked after a DFS lesson was co-taught with the classroom teacher and myself.

“I like this kind of learning.  There’s usually no connection between what we do in schools and the real world,” said another student.

“Man, this was fun!” shouted another student.

So, what got the students all excited to learn?  A simple debate protocol that has become a staple in some DFS classrooms.  We post a statement on the board and ask students to pick a position and self-facilitate a conversation between themselves.  The objective?  To reach a consensus based on seeking truth, not to be right.  The statement on the board during this lesson:

Everyone has equal access to the American Dream. 

The students had been reading Jubilee and starting a new novel, The Street.  The theme for this unit focuses on how the environment impacts the individual and vice versa.  The teacher had articulated some difficulty in getting the students to engage deeply and for an extended period of time.  It was after hearing this that we co-developed this lesson plan.

However, this wasn’t just any debate.  As I’ve written in past blog posts, what makes the difference during these debates is the live transcription of the student speech that we immediately use to evaluate the process of the student debates/discussions.  How were some students persuaded to change positions?  Who used strong arguments?  Was there any use of specific evidence?  How did we bring the world into the classroom?  What is the difference between opinion and fact?

Every time the live transcription of the debate happens (via projection if I’m typing it or using a document camera, like an ELMO, if I’m handwriting it), students, during the debate, will comment on the fact that their words are actually being documented.

“Oh, man!  She’s typing everything we’re saying!”

“Hey—will you type if I cuss?”

“Be quiet!  She’s writing down that we’re shouting!”

There is something that validates their words and actions by documenting it for all to see.  It’s not a memory and the data does not lie. Jake really jumped over the table.  Tiana was trying to speak but Mona interrupted her three times.  Mitch cussed three times during the debate and laughed about it with three of his friends in the back of the room.

In one classroom, when students were asked if they would like to have their transcript shared with the community (meaning printed and sent out to parents), the students collectively cringed and said no.

“That’s embarrassing.  We couldn’t even listen to each other.  If I read that—I wouldn’t send my kid here.”

This led to a conversation on how we could take our community in the classroom more seriously and students articulated clear action steps they could take to quickly improve their discussions.

Just like in life, sometimes all we need is someone to hold a mirror up to us which forces us to do some real thinking, learning and growing.



3 thoughts on “Mirroring Back Student Words–in Realtime

  1. Hi Ammerah, This sounds so exciting! Maybe you can post some of the evidence of the debate so we can see and feel it more?

    I miss you!


    Posted by Kirsten | January 23, 2012, 9:00 am
  2. Awesome. We mirror back more for self-regulation than for instruction, but the two ought not to be separate. Thanks for sharing the strategy and your excitement about growing a community of schools, not just a network.

    Out of curiosity, how do your schools find one another?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 25, 2012, 7:25 am

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