|11th graders discussing Gatsby|
Among the many new things I learned this week was this: All my life I’ve been reading tortuous as torturous. I had the right idea—I just figured that a long and twisty mountain road or argument could feel pretty painful to someone driving or reading it. But because a student asked about tortuous, and because I wanted a concise definition, I checked my desktop dictionary. First I typed in torturous and found nothing about roads or logic. And scrolling down to the bottom, I read to my horror, “Tortuous and torturous have different core meanings….” So now I know that tortuous derives from the same Latin root as torque and means twisty (literally or figuratively), while torturous deals with excruciating pain, comes from Anglo-Norman French, and should not be used lightly: “It is not a fancy word for ‘painful’ or ‘discomforting,’ as in I found the concert torturous because of the music's volume.” Chastened by the dictionary.
Three take-aways here: When the students are asking the questions instead of the teacher, (1) the students actually want to know the answers, (2) the students are equipped for lifelong learning as they identify what they want to know rather than just finding answers to what someone else wants to know, and (3) even the teacher can learn something and can model that lifelong learning.
Three ways this week that I structured for students to be the ones asking the questions:
- 11th graders each bringing in 2 unknown or interesting words found in the homework reading.
- 11th graders working in groups to compile character descriptions supported by text.
- 10th graders conducting a Socratic discussion to synthesize A Midsummer Night’s Dream (play and 1999 movie) and all the related nonfiction articles (on literary interpretation as well as on infatuation, love, and marriage) to prepare for the final synthesis essay on the difference between infatuation and love.
|11th graders reading Gatsby|
Some questions students asked this week:
- What color did you guys find coming up the most in this chapter? (Love it when they start asking each other my questions for me.)
- Is there another San Francisco beside the one in California? Because that doesn’t seem right that Gatsby says he’s from the Middle West and then says San Francisco. (That’s what question asking is for—way to stay suspicious!)
- What did you think of how Helena and Hermia were portrayed in the film? (Some didn’t think there was a big enough contrast in their coloring, but in the give and take of the ensuing discussion, they arrived at the conclusion that the limited contrast reinforced the theme of romantic love finding difference in sameness. I was pretty impressed.)
|10th graders writing A Midsummer Night's Dream responses|
Four days of class, three of exam prep, and the exam. We're all—students and teachers—getting tired and ready for the end. Some things are falling off the mental workbench—like mentor sentence analysis. But we’re still reading, writing, thinking, speaking, and listening. One part of that is fostering a classroom culture where students ask the questions.
How do you keep students learning in the final days of the school year? How do you encourage them to ask the questions?