Friday, September 8, 2017

Perspective-Taking through class "Pinwheel" activity


In previous work in Emily Mikuzis’ senior English 101 class, her students worked on exemplification—making a claim and supporting it with examples rather than reasoned evidence.  In this case, students are using the guiding question “To what extent has your education served you?” with examples from their own experience.

To prepare for this lesson students read and annotated an excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” which focuses on his experience in education—specifically compliance versus critical thinking.  Students prepared by annotating form 4 different perspectives, color-coding each: urban student, suburban student, urban teacher, suburban teacher. 

They used Coates’ description of his neighborhood for the experience with urban schools and their own experiences with suburban schools.  Understanding that this pulls on some biases, the class had a conversation on empathy, per  While this is a limitation of the activity, the class talked through the nuances of each, handling it compassionately.  For example, one student pointed out that just because someone has a certain identity, it doesn’t mean they only have one perspective or a common perspective. 

Students worked independently first, then in small like-groups, then together in a “pinwheel” activity [from Sarah Wessling on the Teachers’Channel].   One member of each “perspective” sat in the “hot seat” and answered questions posed by the “provocateur,” who had prepared based on a question writing workshop held by the whole class on the previous day.  Therefore, groups were aware of some of the questions, but they could not prepare for all.  In the “pinwheel,” the provocateur also asked follow-up questions to continue and push the conversation.  Students referenced the text directly but also made inferences based on their perspective.  This is a much smaller group discussion than a Socratic with only 6 students in the group to encourage all students to participate while the outer group participated in a real-time backchannel on BackChannelChat.com

After class students debriefed.  Students expressed the difficulty in looking through others’ perspective, but they also appreciated that it slowed them down, forcing themselves to rethink what they would say.  They also really liked the backchannel because they could speak from their own life perspective and experiences, which allowed them a comfortable place to share.  In the end they felt it helped them take different perspectives in addition to simply analyzing what the text means.  After this practice activity, students will return to this activity in a few weeks, focusing on multiple authors and putting them “in conversation with each other.”

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