Last week’s experience in my two 200-level classes led me to re-evaluate the approach to group discussions. Initially, I had asked facilitators to identify a news report somehow related to the weekly readings and use it as point of departure to fuel discussion. The news reports (once again) added confusion because their connections to weekly readings (according to students) were too weak/lose. When the class split into groups, the students spent most of the time clarifying weekly readings and figuring out connections with the news report. There was more analysis than brainstorming of concerns or dialogue. After the session I decided to make the news report optional, and asked students to simply focus on the area of concern addressed by their weekly readings.
This week the facilitators focused exclusively on the area of concern raised by weekly readings. (Both readings focused on the problem of “evaluating students’ work”). When the groups split, the discussions picked up quickly. Soon afterwards I noticed, however, that groups were simply building lists of concerns. Moreover, their concerns were one-sided, that is, all of them stressed the preferred views/values of the larger society. Like my freshman students (though to a lesser extent), no one was thinking out of the box or playing the devil’s advocate! For example, all my certification students expressed serious concerns (disliked) standardized evaluation, stifling creativity, penalizing poor students. The brainstorming was very lop-sided!