I like this one. This led to an amazing class discussion and caused some real cognitive dissonance with the kids. I think that text I chose was perfect, and that really pushed the conversation forward. It was deep, with lots of room for different ideas and interpretations.
Henry Climbs a Mountain is a book about the one night that Henry Thoreau was put in prison for refusing to pay taxes to a government that recognizes slavery. I needed to fill a couple of content holes before we started to make that everybody knew what government, taxes, illegal, and prison meant. After some explaining, I felt that we were all on the same page and we continued on with the routine.
Connections - I found that during this stage the kids needed support to make deep connections to the topics. Most of them were comparing some aspect of their lives to Henry. We both like drawing. We both like to walk or hike. We both get in trouble. Yes, well why? Do you both to like to draw for the same reason? What is the motivation for your and Henry's drawing? Finally, we started to see connections like we both like drawing to express ourselves, or to imagine a new world, we go for hikes to think or to be free, we love our freedom.
Challenges - This was the most interesting section. A spontaneous debate arose about whether it was okay to break the law when you see something unfair. Some thought it was, others said it wasn't. We tried to change the context to our school, and decide if it was ever okay to break rules that you thought were unfair. This brought us to Thoreau's concept of Civil Disobedience which I explained to them during the discussion and how he applied it in his life. I tried to sit back and let them discuss it amongst themselves. I interjected a couple of times, only when there was a misunderstanding of the meaning. I love this topic, and I am very glad that my kids were thinking about it. It pushed a lot of them beyond the zones they were comfortable with, and it certainly ended with no clear answers or conclusions. Just more to think about.
It is my personal opinion (and not that of my employer, institutions of education that I attend, or organizations that I am affiliated with) that kids nowadays need a little more of the idea of civil disobedience. A healthy distrust and skeptical eye trained on the people and organizations that hold power in our world, and an ability to organize against them in a peaceful and non-violent way are essential skills for a globally connected world.
Concepts - After the discussion we had on the challenges, this part was easy. It was still fascinating to see how the responses varied. This book is about fighting the government, changing un-fair laws, doing what you think is right, helping everybody to be free. Each of these are vastly different if you break them down, but each kid had a different angle to which they thought was the most important.
Changes - This was hard, and this one something that I think will get easier as we delve deeper into Visible Thinking. The step is asking for a meta-analysis of how your thinking is changing. Essentially, it is asking for you to use the thinking skills to reflect on the thinking skills. Some kids just are not ready for this step yet, more scaffolding will be needed. They wrote things like I didn't know that people (insert fact from the story), or I am going to (something that Henry did). Only one child in the class got the idea and wrote I am going to keep an eye out for people who use their power for bad things.
This step is hard, and will come with time.
Our visible thinking wall is starting to grow. I have been referring to the thinking routines and the thinking moves during our lessons as I see them in action. I hope that by orienting attention to this board, that the kids will soon start to do the same. I realize that I will have to start repeating these activities as well, and doing them multiple times so that they get ingrained in the collective memory.