Monday and Tuesday of this week I had the chance to visit classes at Noble Academy in Chicago. Exeter has been collaborating with Noble Academy, a charter school in its fourth year, since its inception. (More on that collaboration here, and here).
One of my mentees at Noble, Aida Conroy, has come up with many very conscious strategies for getting their ninth graders ready for Harkness discussions. They build up to this gradually, and before they begin discussions with groups of 12, they spend some number of weeks doing what she calls “Teamwork” in groups of four. Yesterday I saw the ninth graders in her history class doing Teamwork and I was really intrigued by how she began the group work:
“Begin with a check in with each other. Ask, ‘How are you?'” Aida instructed them.
I listened to one group where for a moment the students seemed bashful, and then a girl said, “Ask me!” And they did, and she responded eagerly. Then another said, “OK, my turn!” and she talked about her distress about a test that was returned in another class that morning. In about three minutes each group had checked in with all their teammates. They’d laughed, they’d looked carefully at each other, and they knew each other a little better. Then they settled into their their analysis of a document on the Rwandan genocide, wherein Aida reminded them to express confusion, or wonder within their team. They did this readily, and I suspect more willingly took these risks because of the time they took to connect, warm up, and off load what was in their minds coming into the room.