“I don’t want to prepare my students to be good, contributing citizens when they graduate. I want them to be good citizens now.”
All I could do was stare. This sentiment, uttered almost in passing by my PLC partner, was paradigm shifting for me.
She’s a smart lady, quick to advocate for her students, quick to find a solution, quick to speak up. Her insights often stick with me for days; this particular one for months. Of course, I want my students to be good citizens when they graduate, but to just box them into being good in the future denies them the opportunity to be good citizens now.
And, my goodness, haven’t we seen plenty of students acting as concerned citizens nationally and even locally over the past few weeks? Haven’t we been encouraged, even inspired, by their bravery, their maturity, their passion?
Motivated by the current student activism sparked by the Stoneman Douglas survivors, the subsequent walkouts on the 17th (both topics dealt with beautifully by Lisa Dennis here and Shana Karnes here) and wanting to give our own students a place to both discuss current events and practice their argument skills for a real audience, my partner and I looked to the AP Language group on Facebook and, well, Reddit.
I’m not even kidding.
Now, Harry Wong tells us that good teaching is good stealing, and this brain child is the product of some Swiper-level theft: we combined the Columnist Project (a common AP Language assignment where students complete a mentor text survey of a columnist before analyzing her style in a formal essay) with the structure and goals of the /r/changemyview subreddit.
This subreddit encourages participants to make an original post (OP) about anything big or small and invite the community to change their mind about their position. Deltas are awarded for posts that change the OP’s mind. Participants are encouraged to use any tool in their toolbox to change the OP’s mind.
Given our current political climate, we wanted students to practice articulating their views clearly and respectfully when they disagreed with someone, to be exposed to new ideas, to identify when they are closed-minded versus open-minded, and to practice their argument skills with a real audience. We called it the CMV – Change My View. Original, I know.
So, we sent students to their notebooks using a brainstorming process pulled from our writing project days:
1-2 – List 2 issues that are important to you personally
3-4 – List 2 issues that are important to your school or community
5-6 – List two conversations you have had lately
7-8 – List two ways you spend your time
9-10 – List two things we should start or stop doing in the world
11-12 – Other – List other topics that you are interested in that 1-10 didn’t cover
Develop two of those ideas in two five minute quick writes. Just write.
Pick the one that you like best and quick list:
- reasons why you think this way (understand their own thinking)
- ways in which you are open to having your mind changed (recognize if they are willing to change their minds)
- Universal nouns that could apply to your topic (help us organize the topics)
After some brainstorming, we found a digital platform, and let slip the dogs of war! I mean we let the students loose to play. And my goodness!
The research, the rhetoric, the respect, the results!
I teach at a great school with very few discipline problems, and yet, for the past week, I find myself asking students to put their CMV away and focus, to just do this for now and look at the CMV later. Friday, I threw in the towel and made CMV part of our work day stations. I know when I’m beat. But I also know my PLC partner and I have hit upon a great writing adventure, one students can’t stay away from.
Students have willingly engaged in writing with more creativity, fire, and passion than they ever would have for a formal essay. They are researching their positions with a ferocity never engendered by any research assignment. They are trying new tactics – that logos isn’t working? Well, here’s some pathos. They are taking risks with their writing to earn that delta.
For example, here are three students (each contribution denoted by a different color) discussing the walkout last week. Notice the back and forths, the concessions and the respect, the arguments made and the way they’re taking what they know about argumentation and applying it to a real conversation about a real world topic.
Like we already know, meaningful writing is powerful, and sharing that writing is even more powerful. I can admit that an in class discussion of some of the topics they are tackling with such gusto would make me uncomfortable. But, our students have so much to say; we owe it to them to find ways and spaces to let them speak. Let them be good, thinking, critical citizens now.
Sarah Morris teaches AP Language & Composition and Film as Literature in Murfreesboro, Tn. Born with a reading list of books she’ll never finish, she tries to read new texts but often finds herself revisiting old favorites: Name of the Wind, The Stand, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. She tweets at @marahsorris_cms.