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Don’t Worry; Be Happy

In our last episode, my students had launched into their small-group discussions for the purpose of preparing their own IF-style “mini” reports on their group’s topic: education, sustainability, or individual rights vs. social responsibility.  At our latest meeting (last Wednesday night) the groups worked their way through the consequences of their policy possibilities.  The groups had discussed to this point the benefits of these possibilities.  Now they were to focus on the costs.  If they finished that project, then they would take a fresh look, having done the costs, at the benefits.

To my utter surprise all three groups spun out six (and in one case seven) policy possibilities.  I watched this process as if I were a theatrical director who, having watched his actors stumble through rehearsals, suddenly finds the performances coming together to create an actual product.  I followed Jeff’s method of posting each of the possibilities on a flip sheet and then having the participants, pens in hand, attack the sheets with lists of consequences.  It was thrilling watching the animation, hearing the buzz of conversation and excitement, and following their focused interactions on what one another meant by a certain sentence or phrase.

Of course, the groups must prepare a draft of their reports by the end of next week.  Each group will then facilitate a discussion on their report with the rest of the class.  This will give every group member a chance to facilitate again, so that everyone in the class will have facilitated at least twice and most will have gone three times.  After the discussion, the group that facilitated will have a chance to revise their report based on what they experienced during their facilitations.

I’ve not seen the reports, of course, since they aren’t yet written.  But I’m really pleased with where the groups are now with their possibilities.  The most troublesome group (in the sense of causing me the most worry) has been the “individual rights versus social responsibility” group.  They have now arrived, after much anguish and internal turmoil among them, at the idea of “individual rights AND social responsibility.”  Finally!  It shows me that they had to get to this point on their own.  They largely ignored my advice on the matter.  But now they own the decision.  They began by listing different kinds of political regimes (communist, fascist, constitutional monarchy, democratic) and associating rights and responsibilities with each.  This proved to be complicated and thus unwieldy.  Still, they pulled it off, now translating that complication into what I think will be understandable if distant possibilities, some even with catchy names: The possibility of having no social or political rights, with full responsibility for people’s wellbeing resting with the state (i.e., communism), is called “Don’t Worry; Be Happy.”

Less satisfying has been the various assessments.  Most of the students continue to write assessments that someone walking in off the street could have written.  Yet some students are thoughtful and detailed, with specific examples of times when the group wandered off topic or with actual names and episodes of disruptive and divagating members.  A couple of weeks ago I permitted students to take the assessments home and work on them there, but they had a tight deadline for submitting them.  This worked in some cases, but other students wrote pretty much the sort of assessments that they had written in class.  I also experimented with doing some of the assessments every other week, given that they had so many.  This seemed to be a relief to most of the students (of course!), and so now I insist only on the facilitator assessments every week.

I’m really excited to watch over the next couple of weeks when they facilitate their own reports with the rest of the class and to see their final products.  I’ll let you know how this turns out.