Friday was a rare day in my class where my students were all working on the same thing. There are always several days in each unit where, regardless of where students are in terms of working through a given unit, they come together as a class and we work through a bigger question that is at the core of the unit. Sometimes it is through a Socratic seminar, other times a Humanities paper. This Friday it was a Structured Academic Controversy (SAC).
At this point in the semester, my freshmen are finishing up their second self-paced world history unit, a unit that covers the Industrial Revolution. Given the freedom and lack of daily structure in my class - like I mentioned previously, students work through units at their own pace - students are making strides at owning their learning. As the semester winds down, I have seen flickers of hope from students who had spent their time in my class less wisely than perhaps they should have.
But Friday was an eye opener. Students were familiar with the structure of a SAC - they had done one earlier in the semester. They are used to looking through primary and secondary sources to find evidence to back up a thesis. As I wandered class Friday, because there were so few questions, I just got to listen to a lot of conversations about what the best evidence was to defend whether or not the Industrial Revolution was good for the people of England.
Students were on task. Though not the most engaging task, the ability to work in groups to learn collaboratively as well as the contextualization I did of the task - how the question they were wrestling with for the SAC tied into the unit question as well as their in-class written final exam, a Humanities essay - seemed to engage students enough. And with no (or far fewer) hurdles than in a normal class period, the level of discussion among groups was very impressive.
As I stepped back and thought back to other years I have had freshmen, I believe that a part of the reason that the conversations around evidence were so advanced Friday was due to the level of independence and control I have given my students this semester. They have become more used to managing their time with less structure than in other classrooms. This ‘used-to-ness’ showed itself in my class Friday.
I’m excited for the thinking that I’ll get to see in class tomorrow. And I’m excited for what my students will do with their second semester of self-paced, mastery-based learning.