If you were to ask most people to describe what a classroom looks like, they’d likely say that it’s a room filled with students sitting in desks facing forward to see the teacher who stands at the front of the room. That image is generally true although my weekly classroom observations this week revealed something quite different.
In Mr. Paul’s English class, students were organized into book groups. In Ms. Kadoch’s class, students were working independently or getting one-on-one attention. In Ms. Socken’s class, students were working in small groups. In Mr. Sotto’s class, students were debating in teams. In Mr. Komlos’ class, the students were engrossed in a roundtable discussion.
A teacher colleague of mine used to say, “the one who’s doing the work is doing the learning.” In the classrooms that I observed, the students were definitely doing the work and doing the learning. However, what also impressed me was the masterful skill our teachers possess to structure a debate that works, formulate a question that sparks fruitful and sustained discussion, cultivate the skills in students to work on their own, teach students how to collaborate, and empower students to lead discussions. Below is a window into the artful teaching and productive learning that are taking place at TanenbuamCHAT.
Mr. Paul’s Grade 11 Book Clubs: Students are reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The novel is about the lead-up to and 20 years after a flu wipes out 99% of the world’s population. The novel takes place in Toronto. The students were asked to read a Canadian novel and take thorough reading notes focusing on character development, theme, mood and symbols. They were also asked to look at writing style, the human condition and their own personal biases about situations in the novel. The group members then discuss their findings. The assignment shows students that they are capable of doing close readings of text and have student centred lessons.
Mrs. Kadoch’s non-credit Learning Strategies class meets three times a week. Students use this structured spare very wisely to catch up on work and study for upcoming assessments. This week, most students are immersed in preparation for upcoming essay submissions. Students are actively using the POWER strategy to Plan, Outline, Write, Edit and Review their papers.
Ms. Socken’s Grade 11 Drama students are finishing their Improv unit by creating satirical sketches, in the style of Second City or Saturday Night Live. They began by brainstorming contemporary topics worthy of being lampooned, such as the self-absorption of reality TV stars, the proliferation of fake news on the Internet, and what it’s like to visit a restaurant these days, when everyone has a different dietary restriction! Over the next few classes, students will develop and polish their sketches for their final performance, which is designed to make the audience laugh a lot, cringe a little and hopefully emerge with some greater insight about society and ourselves.
Mr. Sotto’s Grade 10 Rabbinics engage in a debate in their unit on Tzedaka. Students studied the problems of evil in Judaism as well as its various theodicies and approaches to human advocacy in the world. They watched “Pay it Forward” and discussed the ideals and realities of tikkun olam. Lastly, students read an article on tzedakah as a form of social welfare by Byron Sherwin and weighed in on the positives and negatives of the Jewish approach to social welfare in the context of evil and the film analyzed. They had to argue one side of the debate, evaluate the Jewish duty of Tzedakah, and weigh in on its imperfections as well as its strengths and beauties.
Mr. Komlos’ Grade 12 Canadian & International Politics class read an article by Matt Lebovic from Times of Israel entitled “Pro-Trump Jewish students grapple with social ‘death sentence’ in post-election isolation.” The article describe the experience of pro-Trump university students who are hesitant to admit that they voted for the president-elect out of fear of facing allegations of bigotry, misogyny, and homophobia. The students discussed the merits of the response to the pro-Trump supporters. “Are there opinions that others can hold that would lead you, as a student, to ‘unfriend’ them? Is there any red line that a friend could cross over that would jeopardize your friendship with them?” The debate was lively and explored the limits of liberalism and the politics of pluralism and forced students to introspect on principles they hold deeply.