In my last practicum, I had the pleasure of observing Current Events in a grade 8 class. Seated in a circle, we took turns discussing our opinions, related experiences, and comprehension of social issues. Students were relaxed and active in participating verbally without distractions.
Each week, 1-2 students were responsible for presenting a news story to guide discussion with the class. They highlighted the main points of their event orally and asked related questions, picking respondents. The teacher could contribute as well (if the facilitator picked them). In 2017, topics such as #MeToo, school shootings, and Colten Boushie were deliberated.
I listened to adolescents make purposeful connections to their own histories and other past events. Deep debates and consideration of solutions broadened their perspectives. This activity taught students to respect other ideas, acknowledge different viewpoints, and to voice their opinions in a clear manner (with evidence).
It was wonderful to watch our youth be so engaged in interpreting global events and they also developed transferable skills such as self-regulation (turn-taking), empathy, social awareness, decision-making, and conflict resolution; applicable in contexts outside of school.
It was evident students enjoyed practicing civic citizenship and being heard. They spoke with conviction and passion. With inherent power imbalances in class relationships (dominated by teacher talk), it’s important to provide students with time to speak and work through difficult discourse. Besides, Lev Vygotsky, psychologist, theorized speech as instrumental in developing mental concepts. Social interaction is inextricably linked to cognitive development.
By learning how and what they think about world occurrences, children learn more about their personal values, beliefs, and character.
Bringing real problems into the class made learning relevant and afforded enriched knowledge. One must be informed for any possibility of positive social transformation. In the process of this activity, students develop their own identities and realize their autonomy.