It’s already happened. I bumped into a random person, in this case one of my neighbours, who asked about what my students were studying. “They do have a theme question already,” I said. “It’s, ‘Why do people judge other people and themselves?’” After a short pause during which his eyes first widened and then went slightly unfocused while his jaw dropped slightly, he said, “Seventh graders came up with that question?” “Yup,” I responded. His eyes came alive again and his hand went to his chin as he began to see the possibilities in the question, and to talk excitedly about his thoughts.
I love these moments, and I especially love that it happened after only two full days of classes this year. And yet, the second full day was in some ways even more extraordinary than the first.
With a theme question in place, the next step in designing units is always coming up with a list (usually quite long) of related questions. As students select Focus Questions or individual research, essay-writing, and presentations, they may use this list for specific ideas or for inspiration for brand new questions. I use the list too, to generate ideas for full class activities to add breadth and depth to the unit.
As I do every year, I asked the students to check through the questions they had written and categorized that are posted around the room and will remain there for the rest of the year to see which ones might fit the unit. As they moved out, one of them asked me a question, and as we talked through to the answer, I became aware the students had formed a group around one of the tables and were talking animatedly. I turned around to refocus them – and discovered that they were busy thinking up even more questions as one of them typed them in to my iPad which was projected on the large TV screen. I couldn’t have been more delighted.
And check out this sampling of what they want to study for this first unit:
- Why do girls feel like they need to be skinny to be beautiful?
- Why do people consider being gay bad?
- What is perfection?
- Why are people judged by their skin color?
- Why does bullying happen?
- Why is saying “like a girl” considered a bad comment?
- What is “ugly”?
- Why are people judged by the things about themselves they can’t change?
- Why do people judge?
- Why do people think it’s bad if another person is different from them?
- What is a “normal” girl?
While I know all their names and faces, and I have already begun to learn about who these girls are deep down, we are still very much in the initial stages of forming a community. Yet, their comfort with each other and their passion to learn together is already off the charts.
Seems like its going to be a very. good. year.