Thursday, September 17, 2009

It Looks Like a Wave

It was an overcast afternoon in New York City. The young English teacher was leading her charges in an exploration of a provocative issue. The class had been divided into small groups, each of which was reading an article related to the issue, summarizing the article, and then debating the point made in each article. Students were asking deep, thoughtful questions, supporting each other's understanding, and going off on unpredictable but meaningful tangents.

The teacher was pleased. She had half a cup of coffee left and she was wearing comfortable shoes. And it was after noon on Wednesday, which meant that she was more than halfway to the weekend. That was always good news. Best of all, her students were engaged and productive, all as the result of a lesson she had planned all by herself. No one else in her school had a unit like this. She loved teaching this particular unit; it was unexpected and rigorous and relevant to her diverse and bright population. And so not even the rolling clouds could darken this teacher's mood.

As the small groups reconvened as a whole class, each group began to share its thoughts. Divisions within the groups quickly showed themselved, but the teacher, rather than burying the dissent, encouraged the dissidents to speak up and explain themselves. Students nodded thoughtfully, continued to disagree, used evidence from their articles and their personal experience to back up their points. The teacher gently clarified, reinterpreted, and brought the class back to the main thread when necessary, but, as usually happens, the discussion began to ran itself as students jumped in and out of the conversation. The teacher only needed to encourage the quieter students to speak more loudly.

The discussion became particularly intense, though still respectful, and in the midst of escalating volume, one student boldly raised his hand. Ah, this boy, the teacher thought. Though the school year was young, he had already begin to prove himself as a visionary, a quick and observant youth who seemed to genuinely enjoy being in school and learning his lessons. She could hardly wait to hear the point this young man must have been about to make. It would stop everyone in his or her tracks, force everyone--perhaps even her, the teacher--to re-examine everything that had been said and done so far.

"Miss Eyre!" the boy exclaimed. "Look out the window!"

The teacher looked. The boy's tone had been urgent. But she saw nothing.

"I don't understand," she said. "What's out there? Is everything all right?" This was New York, after all. Anything could happen.

"That cloud!" the boy cried. "It looks like a wave."

Immediately the attention of the class shifted to the window, and twentysome young voices, which not one minute before had been deeply engaged in a discussion of a hot-button, up-to-the-minute, academic, political issue, began to comment on whether or not the cloud, indeed, looked like a wave.
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