First, I visited Josh Block’s 10th grad world history class. I met Josh a few years ago at the Annual Teachers Retreat of Philadelphia Young Playwrights. Since then, Josh and I have shared a lot of ideas about teaching playwriting, and we even helped plan and facilitate last year’s Teachers Retreat. So, of course I was thrilled to find out that students in Josh’s history class were working on monologues. Students had written monologues on the Keystone Pipeline and humans’ relationship to nature from a variety of different perspectives. In the groups I sat with, students wrote from the perspectives of a janitor, an elderly bus-rider, a Texan farmer, and even a carrot! I really enjoyed listening in as students read each other’s monologues and gave one another feedback. I loved the way that Josh designed the assignment and the rubric, and I loved the relaxed yet scholarly atmosphere in his classroom. What most stood out to me was the idea of having students write multiple monologues to represent multiple perspectives on a controversial issue. Back at Con High, English teachers will be inviting students to begin work on monologues for this year’s PYP Young Voices Monologue Festival. I certainly hope to share and try some of the practices I saw working so well in Josh’s class.
I also visited Gamal Sherif’s 10th grade science class. I met Gamal last year at the Teacher Leadership Professional Learning Community, and ever since then, I’ve been wanting to see him in action in the classroom. Today, his students were working in the lab to determine the energy released by a variety of burning alcohols. Again, I was impressed with students’ levels of confidence and comfort in tackling complex intellectual tasks. They seemed very practiced in working together to solve academic problems and very engaged in the task at hand.
My last class visit was Meenoo Rami’s 12th grade English class. I met Meenoo at the Philadelphia Writing Project’s Advanced Summer Institute this past July. During that week, I heard a lot about Meenoo’s classroom, but this was my first opportunity to see it in person. Student pairs led their classmates in discussions of Junot Diaz’s Drown. The same theme stood out to me; students are comfortable not only participating in discussions but facilitating them. Students seemed authentically engaged in the ideas in the text and interested in what their classmates had to say.
In all three of these classrooms, I witnessed great models of peer-to-peer learning. Promoting academic discussion among students (and not just between the teacher and students) is one of my professional goals this year, and visiting SLA definitely gave me some inspiration and some great strategies for pursuing this in my own classroom.