Sheena Mohsen, the newest member of the English Department, is leading her students on a quest for enlightenment. Remember back to your senior year of high school. If you were anything like me, you were antsy to graduate and enter the “real world” since you already knew everything there was to know (ha!). Knowing that she may often be up against similar mindsets, Sheena has created a space for her 12th grade students that will encourage them to think deeply about ideas, allow them a voice for their opinions, and promote collaboration and discussion with peers. Very 21st century, if you ask me!
Sheena started her seniors on this quest with a call to action! First, they read Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave.” The initial read was for a surface understanding and then they engaged in a closer read to analyze the allegory itself. If you are unfamiliar with this text, Plato recounts a conversation between Socrates and Plato’s brother, Glaucon. In the text, Socrates describes a cave with chained prisoners. The prisoners watch shadowy figures on the wall before them and hear strange noises. These actually come from people walking behind them on a raised walkway. Because they cannot see the figures, they believe the shadows to be real. One prisoner is released and once he is in the bright light outside of the cave his eyes have trouble adjusting. Yet, here in the light he eventually sees the truth. He returns to the prisoners and attempts to describe the nature of reality, but they cannot understand him. In order to become enlightened, they must leave the cave themselves.
WRITING AND DISCUSSION
After Sheena guided them through the text, she asked them to write about how this allegory has manifested in other times in history, in the modern day, and in their own lives. (Sheena is a modern-day Socrates!). Students shared their ideas with their peers. Then she discussed the role of education—both formal and informal—in the quest for enlightenment. She challenged them to become more aware of what is happening in the world around them. Finally, she explained that they would be on their own educational journeys this semester and would document the process through blogs. These blogs become artifacts of their learning and reference points for reflection. She will allow them to personalize the blogs and really take ownership of the experience. She even created her own blog and explained that she will also take part in this assignment. At the end of the semester they will look back at their writing and draw conclusions about their paths towards a deeper understanding about the world around them.
I mentioned the blogs are personalized, allowing students the freedom to create a space that reflects who they are and what they believe. Their voices will be public and they will collaborate online just as they will be required to do in their college courses (and NOT just in English courses!). Examples of what they will post include: responses to readings, discussions of current events and various real world issues, as well as activities for a research project due at the end of the semester. They can also post beyond the required writing. Excited about this prospect, I heard some students discussing a “quotes” page and a “musings” page. Another discussed a page just for her amateur photography and accompanying fiction.
MOVING OUT OF THE CAVE
Far too often students only write for a teacher audience.
Students take ownership of their language and are more careful in their word choice when their audience widens to include their peers and beyond. Imagine how you might use blogs or another online forum with your particular students and content area. Edublogs.org is the blog forum Sheena is using and also the one I use and recommend. Teachers control the main class blog and all students connect their individual blogs to this. The teacher blog becomes the hub and the teacher has access to all student blogs which means that they can moderate as needed, set privacy settings, view student usage, mute students, etc. Students will all be connected and can read and comment the work of their peers. I know sometimes new technology seems daunting, but remember that this is not really new for the students. Many already have their own blogs, websites, and almost all have social media. When I had my students set up their blogs, they all helped each other figure out different aspects of the creation. They even taught me a thing or two!
Incorporate opportunities that will open up audiences for your students beyond the teacher. Blogs are only one of the options. Consider how you might work more creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration into your lessons…together these are the perfect ingredients in the recipe for gaining enlightenment!
Thank you for sharing your teaching life with us, Sheena! And thanks for helping us to see the light, so to speak.