Persuasion and the 8th commandment

The Archdiocese of Denver’s language arts curriculum for the 9th and 10th grade includes a seemingly simple standard:

“Analyze the truth of an argument in light of Catholic doctrine” (RI 2).

Okay, we’re at a Catholic school, so of course we should look at the explicit and implicit arguments we read in all sorts of texts “in light of” Church teaching. Would the Church like this idea? No. Okay, why? Would the Church like that idea? Sure. Okay, why? Etc.

But if you think about it, in order to get kids to read a text “in light of” anything, you need to enlighten the kids. They need to know what the “light” is in order to learn how to see by it.

So  I try to end almost all of my units using this standard. We step back at the end of a novel or series of poems or a play and see what the Gospel has to say about it all.

We’re (finally) finishing up Julius Caesar this week. The unit was about the art of persuasion, since persuasion is at the heart of this tragedy; Cassius manipulating Brutus and convincing him to join the conspirators who assassinate Caesar is only one of many examples of persuasion in this play. And most of these acts of persuasion, though effective, are bad. They are either riddled with logical fallacies or stocked with deceitful uses of pathos, logos and ethos.

See, for example, this masterful performance of Antony’s speech to the Roman rabble. He has to convince them that their beloved Brutus is a criminal. And he does:

He uses mostly pathos — playing upon the crowd’s hopes and fears. He establishes his credibility with ethos and pretends to be on the side of Brutus and the others. He repeats the phrase “honorable men” — at first with reverence, then with doubt, and eventually with increasing sarcasm so that the crowd begins to wonder why it ever considered Brutus honorable at all.

The whole play is largely about how people manipulate the truth in order to convince others to do and think what they want.

#Americanpolitics

So I teach my kids about what the Church says about the truth and the 8th commandment — the rule that God gave us to safeguard the truth: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

6.5 SWBAT apply Church teaching on the 8th commandment to persuasive arguments.

That way, maybe my students will not be so easily manipulated. And maybe they will think about their own reverence (or lack thereof) for truth.

So we look Christ’s intriguing conversation with Pilate:

So Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?”

Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”

So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

When he had said this, he again went out to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in him.”

(John 18:33-38)

We discuss how since Jesus’ primary language was Aramaic, and Pilate’s was Latin, that they were both probably speaking Greek to one another (the universal language of commerce in the ancient world) and that therefore the word Pilate used when he asked that fascinating question “What is truth?” was probably ἀλήθεια (aleteia).

At any rate, ἀλήθεια is the word John’s Gospel uses, as John wrote his gospel in Greek.

The Greek word for truth has a literal meaning akin to “unveiling” or “disclosed-ness”. Truth, then, has many philosophers have discussed, is the “unveiling of being” or the “disclosure of reality.”

Yeah – I guess that’s pretty intense for 10th graders.

But it is very beautiful, too. Going to a Catholic school that talks about “Truth, Goodness and Beauty” a lot might have given them the impression that “Truth” is some sort of abstract object in the sky they ought to adhere to or else.

But thinking of truth as the uncovering of reality, the unveiling of being, gives my kids a fresh look at their own relationship with the truth. How do they try to uncover the truth about themselves and others? What is the right way to approach the truth? What is the right way to unveil ourselves or to unveil truths to other people?

When you try to persuade someone, hopefully you are trying to persuade that person toward the truth about something. But so often we merely use the truth – or facts, perhaps – to manipulate and to control others, as Antony does in his speech to the gullible Romans and [insert politician’s name here] does to the gullible Americans.

We then talk about the 8th commandment and what the Catechism says — how the 8th commandment is about much more than simply not lying, but that it also forbids gossip and detraction and calumny.

The kids are pretty floored that you can say something 100% true about someone else, and yet still break the 8th commandment.

I even give them a little Hans Urs von Balthasar to consider:

“Even though man is predisposed to communication in general, he is not compelled by nature to any one conscious communication in particular. He does not have to say what he knows. He has the command of his treasury of knowledge, so that he can make a free gift of every particular disclosure. No one can wring his truth from him or manipulate it without his knowledge and consent. Truth as self-unveiling is, in the case of man, a free, hence responsible, ethically consequential act.”

Theo-Logic: Truth of the World

Every act of self-disclosure is “a free” and “ethically consequential act.” How beautiful, and how humbling.

Basically, this seeing things “in light of Catholic doctrine” part of every unit is my way to be a theology teacher and an English teacher at the same time.

Happily, at a Catholic school, those two things are not mutually exclusive.

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Classroom Discussions

You know it’s been an intense few weeks when I haven’t had the time or energy to write a blog post!

In the meantime, here is a great video on creating productive classroom discussions. This teacher is using “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor – and she slips in a nice definition of grace:

 

Since it is the Ides of March, check out this version of Julius Caesar I have been watching with my kids as we make our way through a unit on persuasive techniques:

 

I find this unit to be very timely. We have been using excerpts from the Republican and Democratic debates to identify and explain pathos, logos, ethos — as well as plenty of logical fallacies.

I have been doing my best to restrain myself in not drawing too many analogies between the events of the play and current events in the U. S.

“You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!” Marullus says to the Roman people as they take a day off of work to celebrate Caesar’s conquests.

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Three Pseudo-Christian Approaches

Some two and a half years ago, Pope Francis told us about the Christian way to encounter God in the world:

“We need to touch Jesus’ wounds, caress Jesus’ wounds, bind them with tenderness; we must kiss Jesus’ wounds, literally. Just think: what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed. To touch the living God”, Pope Francis concluded, “we do not need to attend a ‘refresher course’ but to enter into the wounds of Jesus.” (Pope Francis, VIS)

Read the rest of it here: Vatican Information Service

pope-francis-favela-wyd

via thoughtsfromacatholic.wordpress.com

In this homily, the Pope contrasts this Christian approach of touching the wounds of Jesus with three other approaches: the “Gnostic” approach (pursing “knowledge of God” rather than a relationship with the God-Man, Jesus Christ), the “Philanthropist” approach (doing good things, creating the Kingdom of God rather than working to receive it as a gift) and the “mortification” approach (earning one’s way to God through self-denial).

These three approaches are what you could call “pseudo-Christian”. Each has an element of Christianity in it, but each neglects something or exaggerates something.

As a teacher, especially a former ACE teacher, I think I am very much tempted to adopt these mistakes:

1) The Gnostic Approach: Let’s face it, I’m what Flannery O’Connor disparagingly calls a “big intellectual”. So are a lot of people who went to liberal arts colleges. We thrive on ideas, and connections, and relationships, and books. We love learning ABOUT God. But of course, that is not the same as learning to know God. The former is fascinating, the latter is frightening–and causes us to change. Gnosticism treats one’s relationship with God as an elite journey into higher levels of spiritual knowledge and tends to either despise the world or ignore it.

2) The Philanthropist Approach: ACE teachers, and members of other service organizations, are especially prone to this error I think. The theology goes something like this: Jesus was always talking about “The Kingdom of God.” This “Kingdom” is “the reign of God on earth,” or a society founded upon peace and justice. As Christians, we are responsible for creating this society by opposing and changing the pre-existing unjust structures.

There IS a lot of truth to this approach–but like all distortions, it’s all the more dangerous because it has only part of the truth. This was the Christianity I learned in high school and many learn at colleges that are comfortable professing only the parts of the faith that no secular person could be offended by.

The philanthropist’s mistake is a misunderstanding of what “The Kingdom of God” really is. Notice Jesus never says, “Go out and build the kingdom of God, and as soon as you manage that, I’ll come back!” He says “The Kingdom of God is at hand” and “The Kingdom of God is within you.” That is, the Kingdom is the gift of God’s presence that we can choose to participate in or reject–but it is not something we can bring about by our own efforts.

Often I think it’s up to me to change education single-handedly. Really, it’s God’s work in which He invites me to participate.

3) The Mortification Approach: This is the approach that, I believe, the Philanthropist approach (ie. “Spirit of Vatican II) was trying to correct. This more “traditional” mistake falls too far in the other direction– it makes the journey of faith a bunch of requirements. It encourages people to remove themselves from the sinful world and focus on personal acts of self-denial and good works. It is rigid and prideful. It’s the error of the Pharisees.

Interestingly, it makes the same fundamental mistake as the Philanthropist approach: it relies far too heavily upon human effort and not enough upon God’s grace. Unsurprisingly, the Self-Mortifier and the Philanthropist fall into similar sins of pride and lack of charity toward others.

The Christian approach, according to Pope Francis, is quite different. Unlike the Gnostic, who prizes knowledge and esoteric ways of knowing God, the Christian realizes that knowledge of God is available to everyone, and that the only real way to know God is through love. Unlike the Philanthropist, who focuses only on trying to bring about a utopia on earth, the Christian remembers he is a citizen of heaven and that the Kingdom is a gift, not a political agenda. Unlike the Self-Mortifier, who focuses so much on his idea of heaven and his own advancement in the spiritual life that he cuts himself off from the world, the Christian is willing to walk boldly into the mess to find Jesus in everyone he meets.

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If there were another Narnia book

There are some books you always come back to, no matter how long you have been away from them. You come back to be comforted, uplifted, to see old friends again…

Or you come back because there is something still nagging at you.

This post is for people who have read The Chronicles of Narnia. There are spoilers, so if you have not read the books, please go fill the gaping hole in your childhood as soon as possible and come back to this post afterwards.

hipster-belle-meme-generator-i-read-that-book-before-it-was-a-movie-66fd20

Now then–

The Pevensie children, who enter the world of Narnia through the wardrobe, help put an end to winters with no Christmases, and become kings and queens, appear in five out of the seven books in the series. One wonders if perhaps Narnia with all its creatures was created just for them — for their particular salvation, though of course they play a large role in saving Narnia in return many times.

They appear at the very end of book seven, The Last Battle, on the other side of the stable door and in Aslan’s country.

There are three fascinating plot choices Lewis made in this last book regarding the Pevensies:

  1. Peter, Edmund and Lucy die in a train crash. That is how they end up in Aslan’s country (heaven) at all.
  2. Susan, however, was not on the train, and does not die. So she is left alive in our world and is not present with the other three in the last book.
  3. We learn that Susan has stopped believing in Narnia altogether.

Briefly – #1 is fascinating because up until this point, the only main character who dies during any of the stories is Aslan himself, and he comes back because of the “deeper magic before the dawn of time.” The children’s deaths are not dwelt upon at length, but I remember feeling a little shock when my dad read this part to me when I was a child. I may have been dimly aware that I would have only been a few years younger than Lucy was at that point. Lewis does not seem to shy away from hinting at his young readers’ own mortality as they learn that the characters they have followed and identified with met a rather tragic end.

But it is points 2 and 3 that surprised me far more when I first read The Last Battle. In fact, “surprised” isn’t really the right word. “Horrified” might be closer.

The whole book, of course, is about the battle of belief. Eustace and Jill find themselves in a Narnia where many people do not believe in Aslan anymore, or confuse Aslan with the demonic figure Tash. The Pevensie children, who had saved Narnia long before, are now perceived as mere legends themselves.

And then we find out that Susan herself has also stopped believing:

“Sir,” said Tirian, when he had greeted all these. “If I have read the chronicle aright, there should be another. Has not your Majesty two sisters? Where is Queen Susan?”
“My sister Susan,’ answered Peter shortly and gravely, ‘is no longer a friend of Narnia.”
“Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says, ‘What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.’”
“Oh Susan!” said Jill. “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”

C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle

I was crushed.

Initially, I was devastated by Peter, Edmund and Lucy’s seemingly quick recovery from the loss of their sister. They seem irritated with her instead of deeply wounded by her absence.

Then, I was angry with the culprit herself. How could Susan give Narnia up for nylons? How could she leave her brothers and sister and the world they had shared? Above all, how could she leave Aslan? 

And, finally, I was furious with the author. How could Lewis have left Susan?

If your feminist side, like mine, is also angry with Lewis for condemning Susan’s interest in “nylons and lipstick” and growing up, see Eileen Lee’s wonderful response to that complaint here. A taste:

It is not so much Susan’s external activities, I think, that Lewis wanted to highlight, but the condition of her heart. And this was her condition—that she was preoccupied with things that, while not necessarily bad, were not worthy to be the foundation of her identity or source of affirmation. For she was a Queen. She had simply forgotten so.

My younger self was angry with Lewis, and my older self is still troubled by his choice, but now I think perhaps he was onto something.

Losing one’s faith really is a form of forgetting.

I’ve written about the connection between faith and memory before, and so have Popes Francis and Benedict in Lumen Fidei. How often does our faith in God waver because we forget what he is really like?  How often do we sin because we forget ourselves?

How many friends of ours, or family members, have fallen away from faith because they seem to have forgotten something? You kind of want to shake them sometimes and say, “But don’t you remember?”

In Susan’s case the relationship between faith and memory is particularly striking. She wants to be “grown up” and leave her former identity behind. She has forgotten who she really is.

But of course Aslan has not. He always did say, “Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen.”

That line gives me hope for Susan, and for all the Susans in the world (of which number I am often included).

JustinSweet_Narnia-concept

Concept Art via Narniafans.com

Later, Lewis gave this tantalizing response to a concerned young reader in 1957:

“The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there’s plenty of time for her to mend and perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end . . . in her own way.”

via Matthew Alderman, “Whatever Happened to Susan Pevensie” First Things

His words still echo in my mind.

I have this crazy desire to write that book. How does Susan “get to Aslan’s country in the end, in her own way”? How does she react to the death of her entire family? (We learn the Pevensie parents also died in the crash.) Does she grow up like she wants to? Does she get married and have kids? Does her daughter get to Narnia somehow, even after the ending of that world in The Last Battle? (Time always was flexible between that world and ours.) Does the story somehow involve the horn of Queen Susan, which was lost after the events of Wardrobe and rediscovered in Prince Caspian? Or does it perhaps explore the chase of the ever-elusive White Stag?

I have, of course, no right to attempt such a story. The “canon” is closed.

And perhaps leaving Susan’s fate unresolved is wise. Lewis’ troubling, irritating choice alerts young readers to the fact that “the last battle” of your life–the only battle of your life–is the battle of faith, and that it is ongoing. You win, you lose, you win again, you lose again. Even a Queen of Narnia is not safe. And even a “grown up” is not lost.

Peter, Edmund, and Lucy are not devastated by Susan’s departure not just because the “sorrows of hell cannot touch the joys of heaven” but also because, perhaps, the separation may only be temporary. Susan’s story, Lewis indicates, is not over yet.

Neither is ours.

I can see the beginning chapter now.

They were not to take the train, because Mother hated trains. But Father was very ill and the doctors said country air was the kindest medicine left for him. The small farm cottage that had been left to them years ago was prepared. So the Walker family took a bus from London, and then another bus, and then another—each a little less crowded than the last…

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The Force needs five more minutes…

#spoileralert. #nerdalert.

You have been warned!

I was reading a review of “The Force Awakens” the other day and the author mentioned a simple but illuminating lens through which to critique movies (and really any type of story). He said that he always looks at setting, plot, and character. For him, the newest Star Wars movie excels in creating setting and character, but does not do so well with plot (especially towards the end). He’s right. I wish I remembered where I read his review. If I find it again I will link to it here.

I found this lens very helpful when trying to sort through my feelings about “The Force Awakens.”

The characters (especially the new ones) are endearing. Lots of people have mentioned how captivating Rey is and how one inevitably wants to root for her. Finn, although he is given some clumsy lines, is also very lovable and the idea of  a stormtrooper going rogue is new and intriguing. Oscar Isaac makes Poe’s relatively short screen time feel important. And Kylo Ren is angsty and dangerous and interesting in the best way– the whole point is that he isn’t as cool as Darth Vader, and Adam Driver shows us his character’s weaknesses so well.

reykylo

This is really cool. source: makingstarwars.net

The setting feels like Star Wars. The practical effects Abrams promised us were great. Seeing old star destroyers and x-wings submerged in sand on Jakku was pretty moving. The cantina–er, Maz’s castle–was full of weird and quirky puppets. And the final lightsaber battle found a perfect backdrop in that creepy snowy forest.

But the plot… well, that’s where the movie falters. The plot works pretty well for the first half of the movie — the problem (finding Luke) is set up in the text crawl, new characters are rapidly introduced, we become invested in them as their paths cross and they seem to approach that original problem… but then all of a sudden finding Luke is sidelined. Halfway through the movie, we’re suddenly facing the planet-destroyer threat. It provides a convenient backdrop for Poe’s trench-run and Han’s death, but none of it feels earned.  I understood why Abrams chose to model some of the events after Episode IV, (Rey on a desert planet, a droid with a mission, a reluctant hero, etc.) and I am okay with him repeating the the overall story arc–it’s the Hero’s Journey archetype, after all–but that bigger and more ridiculous death star that came out of nowhere was pretty annoying. It felt cheap. So did the sudden discovery of Anakin’s lightsaber in Maz’s castle. When Han rightly asks her, “How’d you get that?”, she (and Abrams) cop out. “That’s a story for another time.”

No, actually, it’s not. If this movie really was about finding Luke Skywalker, as the text-crawl originally suggested, then the time to tell (better, to witness) the story of that lightsaber is now.

There were choppy places–as if certain scenes were left on the cutting-room floor. Plot threads hinted at but never fully developed.

I love this meme, but on another level I think it explains movie’s weakness quite well:

images

source: imgur.com

I think The Force Awakens needed five more minutes (literally and figuratively speaking) to be the great movie it could have been. The second half of the movie felt rushed and haphazard, although there were some good moments. If the writers had spent more time — even five more minutes— on crafting a story that was all about finding Luke Skywalker, and actually explored the question Abrams has said made him want to make the movie in the first placeWho is Luke Skywalker?– we would have had a great movie.

But shifting gears halfway through to the stupid Starkiller Base introduced a competing, and inferior, problem for the heroes to solve. By the time Poe had his trench run, there wasn’t any time left to finish the real story arc introduced in the text crawl. So R2D2 miraculously “awakens” and somehow has the rest of BB8’s map in his system. Rey sails away on the Millenium Falcon in the last two minutes and finds Luke far too easily–because there was no time for anything else.

The movie ceased to be about Luke and the nature of the force or anything really compelling and instead became an inferior rehash of “A New Hope”. Oh no, there’s another planet-destroying weapon. We need to disable the shields and blow it up. Except that our main hero–Rey– does not blow it up or save the day, as Luke did in the original, because her character belongs to the original plot arc of the movie.

We are left with carefully crafted cliffhangers–what’s Luke been up to all this time? how will Leia deal with the loss of Han? what will Ren’s “further training” involve? who are Rey’s parents, anyway? — to ensure we will be eager to see the sequel. But even those made me feel a bit cheated–as if those questions were carefully placed to entice me to see the next movie, instead of being answered (or not answered) for the sake of this movie’s story. One worries if some of those questions will even be answered at all.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed “The Force Awakens.” The setting and characters charmed and appeased me. Abrams hit a lot of the right notes.

But the faltering plot was disappointing, only because if Abrams had gotten that right–if he hadn’t taken the “quick and easy path”–we really would have had a compelling movie on par with the original trilogy.

 

 

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Augustine, Advent, and the “O Antiphons”

One of my all time favorite passages from the Office of Readings is Saint Augustine’s meditation on desire:

Why he should ask us to pray, when he knows what we need before we ask him, may perplex us if we do not realize that our Lord and God does not want to know what we want (for he cannot fail to know it), but wants us rather to exercise our desire through our prayers, so that we may be able to receive what he is preparing to give us. His gift is very great indeed, but our capacity is too small and limited to receive it. That is why we are told: Enlarge your desires, do not bear the yoke with unbelievers. (Office of Readings, Saint Augustine, “Letter to Proba”, emphasis added)

I remember reading this while I was studying in Rome seven years ago. I was praying a lot then, for many things, and the idea that my prayer was a means by which God was “stretching” my heart so that I could have the capacity to receive his gift really helped me.

It strikes me that this meditation describes very well what Advent is all about. We are waiting and hoping for God to finally come, just like Israel waited (and still waits).

Augustine continues:

The deeper our faith, the stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive that gift, which is very great indeed. No eye has seen it; it has no color. No ear has heard it; it has no sound. It has not entered man’s heart; man’s heart must enter into it. (Ibid)

Because, of course, the “gift” which is “very great indeed” is the Emmanuel Himself.

If you read the Old Testament this way, it makes more sense. All of that wandering in the desert, the exile and return, the judgment of the prophets, the takeover by Babylonians and Greeks and Romans was an enormous stretching process whereby the desire of Israel for the Messiah was increased. By the time of Jesus, that desire was so intense that people were identifying messiahs everywhere.

We see this same desire in the Church as we look forward to the Messiah’s second coming. We see it especially in the “O Antiphons” and the repetition of the word “come” over and over again. Each antiphon has a different name for Jesus– “Wisdom”, “Leader,” “Root”, “Key”, “Radiant Dawn”, “King”, “Emmanuel”, and in each antiphon the speaker begs for the Messiah to “come”:

O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!

O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!

O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!

O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!

O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.

O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!

O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!

(“The ‘O Antiphons’ of Advent”, USCCB website)

Every antiphon is a prayer and an exercise in desire.

antiphons

via maryellenb.typepad.com

Advent is a season for this desire, as Fr. James Martin in his recent seasonal reflection explains. But of course, in some sense, we are always living in Advent, until the Second Coming itself or our own death–whichever comes first.

Augustine even alludes to “set times and seasons” in which we pray to God “in words” to help us “mark the progress we have made in our desire.” I think this is exactly what Advent is:

In this faith, hope and love we pray always with unwearied desire. However, at set times and seasons we also pray to God in words, so that by these signs we may instruct ourselves and mark the progress we have made in our desire, and spur ourselves on to deepen it. The more fervent the desire, the more worthy will be its fruit. When the Apostle tells us: Pray without ceasing, he means this: Desire unceasingly that life of happiness which is nothing if not eternal, and ask it of him who alone is able to give it.

(Office of Readings, Saint Augustine, “Letter to Proba”, emphasis added)

 

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Meaningful Questions, Meaningful Discussions

So I use “Fishbowl Discussions” in my English classes.

They are whole-class discussions in which an inner circle of students talks about questions related to a certain topic, and the outer circle observes, takes notes, and–in my version– can raise their hands to ask questions of people in the inner circle.

So the desks are set up like this:

fishbowl

via nwlink.com

It’s called a fishbowl because it kind of looks like a fishbowl:

fish-bowl-600

via people.com

See?

Only the fishes on the inside can talk, whereas the fishes on the outside of the fishbowl… well… can’t breathe?

The thing with fishbowls is you need to have something to talk about. And in order to do that, the kids have to be prepared. So usually I give them a reading and create questions in the margins to help guide them and to help push them toward the objective. Then we discuss the questions in the fishbowl.

Sample from the text we discussed in class yesterday:

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 5.35.24 PM

This system works pretty well, but I find myself having some doubts.

A lot of my questions are pretty basic comprehension level questions. I stick with lower-level questions because a huge number of my kids really struggle with basic reading comprehension. These questions help those kids identify a purpose for reading and help them focus on what is important in the text, but they tend to limit my stronger students.

Example:

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 5.44.05 PM

Those are pretty low-level questions, but they are really helpful for my struggling kids. And discussing those basic-level questions in class, even if the “stronger” students answer them, provides a helpful model for the struggling kids about how to look for textual evidence, etc.

But my stronger students often are limited by these basic questions. They want to dig deeper, but the format I’ve established seems to limit them to the questions I have created.

One possible solution to this would be creating multiple versions– like include more advanced analysis questions for the stronger kiddos. But this solution wouldn’t work very well in a fishbowl when we’re all trying to answer the same questions together. And it would confuse the struggling kids who already have a hard time following along as it is.

Another solution, related to the first, is to keep the margin blank for the stronger students so that they create their own questions. But that would be really confusing for the struggling kids if they could not actually see the questions in front of them. It’s really hard for a lot of my kids to follow along with a conversation if they don’t have visual anchors.

Maybe I could give everyone two versions–one with the basic, anchoring questions, and one with a blank margin. They could read and answer the first version, and then in smaller groups they could create their own “higher-level” questions about the text after I had modeled examples for them.

Teachers – what are some other techniques you use to create meaningful discussions in your classroom?

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