In this post, Ms. Scofield describes the process she and Mr. Leavitt used to guide second graders in developing the provocation for the November schoolwide community meeting: “How can we take care of our world?”
Early in November, Mr. Leavitt and I led a few brainstorming sessions with all second graders – in a combined class session. In our first session, we presented our task: to come up with this month’s community meeting topic. As second graders, the students knew enough about community meetings to understand what that meant. We brainstormed and recorded all ideas.
Thinking better together
Then, Mr. Leavitt and I structured the dialogue similar to how we encourage the students to work out differences and ensure their understanding in math and ELA classes.
The discussion was fascinating and some of the suggestions for questions were so authentic and striking, such as, “How do you stop being mean even when feel you want to but you can’t stop?” That’s advanced thinking for second graders.
In that first session, items that were mentioned multiple times, they ended up being things like “How can we take care of books?”, “How can we take care of nature?” I pulled out the “taking care” theme and suggested an overarching question of “How can we take care of our world?” Some kids liked that, but some were attached to a more specific question. We went through a process of consensus building on the overall question; it was great to see 7- and 8-year olds reaching agreement through dialogue.
In our second brainstorming session, we divided the overall question into eight categories and then broke into groups, so that each small group took ownership over one specific category of taking care of our world. Mr. Leavitt and I shared the question with all teachers so they could use it in their classroom meetings, and the students created flyers for all the classes and the bulletin board in the entry way where anyone could write their answer to the question on an index card and hang it up with all the other answers – as a community expression of how to take care of our world.
Children as citizens: engaging in (and gaining ownership of) the dialogue
This process to create a meaningful question and then to reflect on it with others is in line with the Reggio ideas of relationships, empathy, and community building. The Reggio pedagogy also encourages us to think of children as citizens – not just future citizens but citizens of the communities they’re in now – and that have our children engage in dialogue with each other is valuable to the community.
A Wow! moment for me during the process was the evolution how students’ answers to the question became more authentic as we stretched their thinking. At first the answers were fairly rote (“Don’t pull branches from trees.”). But as we redirected with encouragement to “Be specific and be positive.”, their answers started to be more specific and show more ownership of the dialogue. Now the theme of pulling branches off the trees was about a specific tree on the SWS playground that kids had been hanging and pulling on. Then we started to hear the language of “taking care” in the classroom related to materials and other students. They were taking ownership of their responsibilities more so than if I was to have directed them to. Now, I just need to ask them, “Are you taking care of their world?” rather than telling them what to do.
When you treat kids like citizens, they become stakeholders, and they want to behave and take care of the world around them.
— Alysia Scofield