Saturday, March 22, 2014

"They Should Be Regulating Themselves"

For a quite some time now in English 12, and just recently in AP English, too, I've been using a new discussion technique. It's a kind of fishbowl discussion, with desks arranged in concentric circles, in which the students in the inner circle conduct a conversation for a limited amount a time, while the students in the outer circle listen and take notes for a subsequent timed Q&A session during which they converse with those in the inner circle; then, the groups switch places, and the conversation continues through another round of this pattern. 

In most cases, the students formed their own groups and they've stayed in these groups so that they have a chance to develop a good working relationship because teamwork is essential here. Each group gets a grade, based on the rubric below. Those who are used to dominating discussion must hold back and draw out their more quiet group members; folks who are reluctant to speak are learning (some faster than others) how to assert themselves. (I was inspired to create this technique by recent professional development conversations with Ms Vigen and Mr Neblett.) 
Fishbowl rubric
I allow each team to use a shared GoogleDoc to prepare for the discussion in advance and to organize their participation during the conversation. They use Google's chat feature to urge some teammates to speak and others to hold back. While I use the timer on my phone to divide the session into parts, the students also use timers to pace themselves within the time-frame I've set for them. They can refer to their Reading Journals and, of course, they use their books to look up passages they want to mention during the conversation.  
The rubric in action!
The other day, in section 1A, Andrew R didn't have his laptop, and he tried using his iPad instead, which he did have with him. It ended up not being very useful (I forget exactly why--accessing the GoogleDoc, I think, wasn't working well), but he got along just fine without it. I think I asked him if he missed having access to a timer, or if not being part of the GoogleChat was a problem for him or for his group, and he said no, because "they should be regulating themselves, anyway." I was struck by just how well he'd absorbed what the exercise was meant to teach--I'm not even sure that I had realized, until that moment, that the method was teaching self-control. I had been thinking of it in terms of cooperation and teamwork and as a way to get the students to take upon themselves the task of getting all the kids to talk. All these things involve self-control, but Andrew's comment really made that clear to me. (He is, himself, a pretty self-controlled guy, in case you haven't noticed.) His words also reminded me of

  • Mr Breen's recent comments to the Upper School about giving students more responsibility in defining the culture of the school... because, as Andrew said, "They should be regulating themselves."
  • The times this last week that I've seen Jake F, Jenna L, Eric D, and Erin P cleaning up the Upper School Commons... because they were "regulating themselves."
  • How this discussion method makes me almost unnecessary because while I time the session, and tally the score, and use pointed looks, urgent hand signals, and the occasional message on a sticky note to nudge the conversation in certain directions, I really say very little, because the students are "regulating themselves."
  • This quotation from a talk by Jay Griffiths about her new book Kith:  The Riddle of the Childscape:  "The true opposite of control is not chaos, but self-control."  
I'm embedding the video of Griffith's entire talk below, because I've listened to it several times now and I'm still learning things from it.  The talk itself is a bit longer than a half hour (you don't need to listen to the Q&A session that follows), and I'd like you to listen to it. You might not agree with everything she says, and that's okay. I'm not sure I agree with all that she says. But I'm really intrigued by her ideas, and her talk relates to my previous post. One day several weeks ago, Mr Breen asked me in passing why so many kids are in crisis these days... I don't know, but it might be because they never get enough practice in "regulating themselves." Let me know what you think.

Jay Griffiths: The Riddle of the Childscape from Stuart Platt on Vimeo.

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