The peanut butter cup effect

How do you empower students to engage with a text in such a way that they can come to their own understanding of it?

 I just participated in a fascinating live blogging experiencewith Maura Moritz’s and Karl Fisch’s students at Arapahoe High School.   The students were using the inner/outer circle discussion method in their classroom to discuss the book.  While the inner circle held a discussion in the room, the outer circle was live blogging their discussion and holding their own with a few of us from outside the classroom (Jen Wagner) that had been invited to join them.  

The students probably don’t even think of what they are doing as that extraordinary because they have been using this method for a few weeks to study the book Whole New Mind.  But to me, it was invigorating to be listening in and participating with their discussion of Pink’s chapter on “Symphony” from my desk in Austin.

We were discussing Pink’s chapter on symphony, in which he talks about the power of bringing seemingly unrelated ideas together to create something new, to see relationships anew, to re-see. 

 It was fascinating seeing students struggle with that chapter, trying to determine what it meant to them, and for myself, to figure out what it meant to me in a way that I could communicate.

The multi-layered levels of this discussion were fascinating.  Students seemed engaged in the live blogging, and had a foot in their classroom(multi-tasking as an assignment!)  Interestingly, their perspective  on Whole New Mind differed widely from that of other teachers I have talked to about the book.  

Yet, you could witness the students’ understanding grow as they listened to others in the live blog or in their classroom, because it was in written form.  I really liked the idea of the conversation being a written one, something that they could refer back to, that their other classmates could read, and that others outside of the school(including the author, I presume) could engage with later on.

I also noticed that students were eager for us to help tie their understanding to things they know and could relate to, like sports, or school.   Which again, was an interesting reminder that we need to connect  to what our students are familiar with in order to build new understandings. In the book Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath write about appealing to a customer’s personal interest as a way to make ideas sticky.  And I could see that as we live blogged, my own understanding was also more personal;  an interesting point to remember as we are trying to get students engaged with a text–make it personal?

The best part about it as a visitor was being embedded in a discussion with students.  (I fear I wrote too much, but it was out of my enthusiasm for Daniel Pink and wanting others to share it, rather than out of a teacherly urge.)   The technology removed the barrier of me standing at the front of the room as an “educator” or a “guest” and allowed us to jump right into the discussion at hand.  As Arthus talked about at Educon, we were all speaking with an equal voice in the live blogging, all equal partipants, each with the same “rights” to contribute.

And as we explored the idea of symphony, I realized how much I value that trait.  I really live for  those aha moments when you are able to connect unrelated ideas together and make something new.   By live blogging the chapter, I really engaged in it more deeply than I had before, and it reemphasized to me how powerful engaging students in a conversation with a text is.  

2 thoughts on “The peanut butter cup effect

  1. Carolyn-

    Thank you so much for joining our class on Friday. Students always love to hear another adult’s perspective. They sometimes get tired of mine. 🙂

    I love this from you:
    Yet, you could witness the students’ understanding grow as they listened to others in the live blog or in their classroom, because it was in written form.

    I’m so glad that you are able to see what I get to see happening with these kids. What a remarkable project we are involved in.

    Come and visit anytime. We typically blog on Fridays.

    Maura Q. Moritz
    Language Arts Teacher
    Arapahoe High School

  2. Thank you for joining in this work with Karl, Maura and Anne. It is participation like yours that really makes the power of this method come into reality.
    Dan Maas, CIO Littleton Public Schools

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