I’m a coward.
I tend to shy away from controversial issues in my classroom. I like to stick to the standards, stick to the canon, stick to what’s safe.
That means I don’t talk enough about current events with my students. It takes us all out of our comfort zones, and like many people, I like to stay in mine.
I realize it’s not the best way. Students need a safe place where they can learn to explore issues, even to get into the habit of paying attention to the news, and to discover and strengthen their own ideas and beliefs. While it’s not my place to tell them what to feel or value, I can help them to discover it within themselves.
So today I stepped outside of my comfort zone. I pushed myself in order to allow my students to explore who they are as individuals, using current events and the Book Head Heart framework as the tools.
I think it’s important to realize that students need a framework when discussing current issues. My students are polite, care about each other, and generally want to be knowledgable and feel smart about things. While that is a great start, I think they need a bit more guidance, especially with tough issues, which is where the Book Head Heart framework from Disrupting Thinking comes in.
Today I introduced that framework using Kwame Alexander’s powerful piece, Take a Knee.
I had already made an anchor chart for the wall, and then put the same information on the white board. It’s straight out of Disrupting Thinking.
I instructed my students to take notes so that they could refer to the framework later when they were involved in their own independent reading. I explained that it’s the rare occasion when I will ask them to all write the same thing at the same time, but this was one of those times when I thought it was important enough to do.
I also included the information on Google Classroom, so it is now easily available in their own notes, online, and on my classroom wall.
While they took notes, I tried to explain different aspects of the BHH framework.
I talked about the fact that the Book category can mean any text, including video, infographics, short stories, poetry, etc.
By the time we were done with the discussion, they had added one more question to the Book questions: What is the story? It definitely connects to the question What is the story about, but when they were answering the second question after watching Alexander’s piece, they had to define what the story was before they could decide who was telling it.
We worked through the rest of the ideas in the Book Head Heart questions before watching the video.
My students had a lot of questions about the piece. I teach in an international school, so a few of my students needed background knowledge about what is customary and traditional during the national anthem. Some didn’t know what it means to take a knee. Some of them didn’t recognize the faces and names listed in the video. Questions like Who was Trayvon? and What is Ferguson? were cautiously asked. I had to remind myself that in 2014, many of my students were eleven years old. In 2012 they were nine. To them, some current events stem from ancient history.
What they did recognize was the power of the poetry.
We talked, shared ideas, provided some background knowledge and context for one another, and offered opinions in a safe place before watching it a second time. That time, in addition to the content, I asked them to pay attention to the pacing, the repetition, and when the repetition pauses or stops. I asked my students to think about how those moves impact them while they experienced the piece for the second time.
After the second viewing, I invited students to watch again and again as needed, but this time using their own devices and earbuds. They were impacted and interested enough to continue engaging with the text, and they started to answer the B-H-H questions both in small group discussions and on paper.
I loved listening to their talk, and later, reading their responses.
We gave each other permission to not have a comprehensive answer for the question in the Head category about how their thinking had been changed, challenged, or confirmed. Many of them didn’t have opinions about what it means to take a knee, but they could comment and discuss how they felt about the power of poetry and it’s ability to inspire and move an audience.
One student said that while she hadn’t been paying attention enough to the news to have an opinion, this powerful piece made her feel something deep in her heart. Comments about how one person can give other people confidence to stand up for their beliefs were quietly posed, and many students agreed that no matter what their opinion is on taking a knee, it’s important to be able to talk about it and try to understand the other side.
So there it is — the Book Head Heart framework helped to organize my students’ thoughts about a current event, about a controversial topic. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t comprehensive. But it was a start. They learned a little bit about what’s going on in the world, and they learned about themselves. I learned more about who they are and how they think.
Together, we proved that the quote I hang on my wall from Disrupting Thinking is true:
We won’t always know how we will get better, or what we will get better at. It depends on the text and our purpose for reading it, but if we are thoughtful, we will undoubtedly be better.