Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Change Agent #4: In analyzing literature, allow for reflection on real life.

Educator Dr. Howard Hendricks complained that so much of education was simply transferring a set of notes from the teacher to the student, without going through the minds of either. (Teaching to Change Lives, by Howard Hendricks)

To avoid this with any given text, prep students with ideas like this:

“As you read this book, think about your own life and jot down ideas and questions.”

This takes students beyond “the intention of the author.” It forces us to think and transform knowledge into wisdom. Here are some sample questions that move into life-examination:

Romeo and Juliet

1. What were the names of the feuding families? (Montague and Capulet)
2. How might this story have ended differently had these families been tolerant and forgiving rather than feuding?
3. Although we don’t know from the story, how do you think that this feud might have begun?
4. Do you think the feuding would stop after the Romeo and Juliet’s death? Why or why not?
5. Imagine that you were a member of one of the families prior to Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. What could you have done to stop the feuding?
6. What makes our prejudices so hard to overcome? (Pride, inability to forgive, repeated acts of unkindness by the other party)
7. Imagine that this story was retold about a girl and guy on our campus (or in our city). What two feuding groups might they belong to? (Hispanic versus White, White Versus Black, Band versus Jocks, Alternative versus Preppie, Rich versus Poor, etc.)
8. What kinds of consequences could take place down the road if these feuds aren’t put to rest?
9. What can we do personally to help bring peace among these groups?

(Two example lessons based on literature: , members section, see Romeo and Juliet and Twelve Angry Men.)

Benefits of “life questions”:

1) It pulls in the practical students who are motivated by “why should I be studying this?”

As a professional researcher and writer, I’ve never fallen in love with words. Instead, I fell in love with wisdom and reading was simply one of the easiest ways to find it. Besides reading, I’m also liable to ask a good mechanic how he learned his skill or the radiologist, “what does that tube thingy do?”

Questions like these can pull in the practical students - those who aren’t into reading for reading’s sake, but will read to get information. That’s me. If you say, “Steve, you’ve just got to read this novel, it’s captivating!” I won’t read it. If you say, “Steve, this author uses the best analogies I’ve ever seen!” I’ll read the first five pages to observe and understand her technique. But if you say, “This book takes the latest scientific studies of learning and applies them practically to helping learning disabled and unmotived to achieve,” I’m all over it.

So for learners like me, you’ll inspire me by telling me, not that Jurassic Park had a cool story line, but that “it warned me very specifically about how things can get out of hand when I ignore wise counsel.”

2) It pulls in the creative, outside of the box thinkers.

Some of these students don’t “get” the grade thing. Perhaps these are the “C” students, identified by professor Stanley in his studies of successful entrepreneurs. This group of students might relish taking knowledge from one area and applying it to real life.

Hint: Have them write it out answers before discussing, or discuss it in a small group first, to get more class discussion. Many aren’t good at coming up with comments “off the top of their heads.” Others are scared that they’ve misunderstood the question and are afraid of looking stupid. So giving them some time to get their thoughts together makes it safer for them to discuss in front of the group.

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