Where Students Are in their Thinking

My students, let me just say, are great thinkers. We’ve done a lot of thinking routines, and I’ve been inspired (and yes required) to try some thinking routines and visible thinking documentation with my students.

We just had a discussion about Malala, the Pakistani girl who was recently shot for her beliefs. Our current unit is about beliefs, and so I put together some kid-friendly information about Malala that students could inquire into.

To structure our discussion, we used the routine: Connect, Extend, Challenge. I asked students to connect with the information they were given about Malala based on what they had learned and done about beliefs in class. We are at the end of our 6-week unit, and students now are writing essays about their own beliefs. Students connected with the fact that she has a strong belief as do the people who attacked her. Some compared it to other violent acts they had heard about: the subway gassings in Japan or the Twin towers.

As they are 10, they have a small amount of knowledge about the world, and the structure of “Connect” and asking what they connected to, especially related to beliefs, veered us away from talk of all violent acts they had heard about. I was conscious of not giving them too much information about how Malala was shot, like they discuss in a recent Newsweek. Through their discussion about beliefs, getting into “bad” and “good” beliefs, it was easy to see where the students are developmentally.

Our next discussion focused around “Extend” or what new things they learned brought out a lot of questions and ideas. Some students were perplexed about why the Taliban wasn’t going to jail–because in their mind that’s what happened when people commit a crime. Many couldn’t believe that girls couldn’t get an education. Most were appalled that a child could be shot for her beliefs.

Thinking about Malala piqued their interest, and I again realized where they were in their thinking. They live in good homes, in a safe country, and this was all new to them. Things I have learned as I’ve traveled and gotten older are not evident to my students. My students questioned the Taliban and what they believed in, and in some explanation I realized how complex it was to explain things to them.

So, I let their questions out, their wonderings, and let them mostly talk among their peers. We shared out, and they shared their musings on our blog.  It was our first structured discussion about a big issue. They were engaged, and serious, but I needed to constantly monitor their awareness. I didn’t want them to get too deep into the shooting, and at the same time I wanted to keep their mind open to the variety of beliefs.

It was harder than I thought, but I was glad we did it. The video and campaign for Malala is worth inquiring into:

Malala Day from Education Envoy on Vimeo.

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