Hark the Herald Angel Sings
Now that my students are a week into using my slightly informed version of the Harkness method--a discussion based approach to student learning--I am ready to reflect on my own implementation and student implementation. Oh, and since we've been reading A Prayer for Owen Meany with the Rising 9th Graders, the post title aptly fits.
The key discovery of this first week is that I don't trust my students--at least generally, I don't. My Rising 9's who were accepted to independent boarding schools have made trusting them easier than the unplaced Rising 9's who will attend public school in the fall. Our Rising 8's make it extraordinarily difficult to trust, and the Rising 7's are strong, but young (I normally teach high school during the year).
Certainly, in order for me to succeed at the method, I must learn to trust them. But it seems complicated. In order to trust them, they need to know what they are talking about. In order to know what they are talking about, someone needs to teach them. In the past, that someone was me imparting the knowledge base on the student.
In an effort to understand how to implement the philosophy, I purchased Respecting the Pupil: Essays on Teaching Able Students by members of Phillips Exeter Academy faculty. The title is important--Able Students. What if they aren't able enough to make this Socratic approach work?
Too often I find myself abandoning my line of questions to show them some interesting motif or symbol. But I'm slowly improving. I catch myself now, forcing myself to ask a solid, if not leading, question.
Boys will be boys, is one way of saying that often groups live up to the stereotypes. So, students will be students, whether they are in a public school in the Connecticut suburbs or whether they are urban students with lofty goals of fleeing public schools for hoity-toity boarding schools even deeper in the Connecticut suburbs.
They don't finish their reading which makes participation difficult. If all are not participating, the discussion feels disjointed, almost chaotic. Or, they finish the reading but only at a cursory, hey I got it done didn't I, level. Their active reading makes little sense and shows no sign of mental action despite the many markings.
They are shy and too talkative. They lose focus and talk over each other. But when they click, it is fantastic to watch!