Evidence of Learning – A Case Study

I teach in a small, private school in South Korea.  This has huge benefits, like small classes and intentional interaction occurring every day.  This also has disadvantages, like having multiple preps (3+ sometimes) and the unique opportunity to become a substitute teacher for a period or two if a colleague calls in sick.

I’m a biology teacher by training, but I chose to take the chemistry position when my wife and I came to the school last year.  I never thought I would be a chemistry teacher (and I do miss biology), but chances are, I’ll stay with them chemistry.

I had an opportunity this morning to sub for one of our biology teachers.  This is our second day back from spring break, so the students were between units, having just taken a test over evolutionary theories.  I decided to tweak the sub plans (group work on evolution discussions and articles) to a fish bowl activity.  I heard about this at EARCOS 2011 from Jeff Utecht.  Essentially, one group is in the middle of the room discussion a question (What do you think about evolution?) and a second group is around the perimeter of the room having their own discussion in a chat room.

Not only are we a private school, we are a Christian school.  Not all of our students are Christians (although we as faculty are), so I figured this would be a good discussion to have to get students thinking.

What happened was amazing.  You can skim the chat room log here if you’re interested.  I wish I had recorded the class dialogue.

What ended up happening though, was one particular student, “Anne,” having a very significant class play out in front of her.

As the discussion progressed, she looked more and more conflicted in her head.  I asked her to explain what she was thinking, and essentially, she said that she didn’t know what to believe because she had learned one particular view from home and was having a very hard time accepting the evidence being presented in the discussion.  She was very convicted about her beliefs, but her convictions aren’t what I want to comment on.

What really stuck with me was the fact that she was more concerned about the discussion being “hard.”  Discussions should be hard for students.  Easy discussions mean they aren’t thinking or questioning something they’ve known or thought they’ve known for a very, very long time.  Today’s discussion was asking Anne to think about something she hadn’t thought critically about ever.

As a teacher, students constantly want the easy answer…we’ve all experienced this.  It is difficult to go day after day and hear complaints and whining about class being hard.  But, I find it encouraging (and actually a point of pride) that my class is hard.  Not because of the content I’m teaching, but because of the questions I’m asking students to consider.

This is just something that stuck out to me on a rainy Tuesday morning in Korea.  Just reflect for a moment and find encouragement from someone who is, and will continue to ask students, hard questions.

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