Promises and Pitfalls

Students in our history classes are working on creating exhibits for the Museum of World Cultures, which we hold on the last day of school. Each section will take one of the cultures we’ve studied and create a theme room with exhibits designed to teach visitors (parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and administrators) about the culture. We’ve spent a couple days brainstorming about what students already know about the cultures and what more they’d like to learn.

Today was the day where the rubber needed to meet the road, so students could be ready to begin creating their physical displays and digital interactives. Students had been divided into groups focusing on aspects of life which cross cultures, such as communications, government, and social structure. In general, I’d heard students discussing interesting and exciting ideas, but I had some concern about the logistical feasibility of several of the ideas. While I wanted to give the students the freedom to fail and experiment, I also wanted to help them think through their ideas as clearly as possible.

At the beginning of class, I decided to ask each of the groups to come up with a simple 1-2 minute “pitch” for their portion of the room display. After each group offered their ideas, the other members of the class would respond with promises the saw in the ideas and potential pitfalls. I had no idea if this would ferret out the ideas that I was pretty sure were going to be problematic, but I figured if it didn’t work, I could always “pull a teacher” and tell them that they needed to come up with something else.

The results were encouraging. Coming up with a pitch forced groups to clarify their thinking and their classmates added ideas to improve exhibits. Some groups agreed that they would toss out questions to the class as a way of settling disagreements they were having. I was really impressed by the thoughtful praise and respectful critiques students offered each other. Groups who had ideas that I’d been concerned about (for example, a nativity play for the Christianity exhibit in the World Religions room) came to the realization after hearing the concerns of their classmates that they should probably go in a different direction. I think some of them had a bit of a hard time letting go of their ideas, but it was nothing like the resistance students have put up in the past when I’ve told them they weren’t allowed to do something and ultimately, they were the ones who made the choice.

Today’s class has me thinking about feedback and critique and who we are best able to hear it from. Often, it’s not the person in charge.


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