Vision for Learning News

Intentional Conversations
Posted 11/22/2016 08:21AM

In an election cycle that was likely the most divisive in history, one of the greatest gifts we can give our students is the chance to talk about real issues, in a safe environment, with those who may bring a completely different perspective. Three dozen eleventh grade American Studies students had just that opportunity in the six weeks leading up to November 8, as they engaged in intentional conversation about the issues with students enrolled in an elections course at The Urban School of San Francisco.

Students who opted into the Elections IBL (Inquiry-Based Learning) project were put into groups of 10, comprised of a mix of Lovett students and Urban students. Within their groups, each student identified a weekly election-based article to reflect on and share with the other members of the group. Students were also required to comment on several of their group members’ articles each week. The result was an online discourse, grounded in empathy, through which students engaged in conversation about topics ranging from immigration, to tax codes, to health care, to the interpretation of polling data. Students were guided to cast a wide net as they selected articles to share and respond to--choosing some that supported their own perspective and others that intentionally challenged them to consider another point of view.

A few days before the election, students also had the chance to discuss these potentially charged issues face to face, via a web conference. As they headed into the web conference, Lovett teachers reminded the students, “Political dialogue, particularly with people you don’t know, can be charged, and we ask that you bring your best selves to these gatherings. Be kind and generous, open and responsive. Allow people to make mistakes or raise unpopular ideas. Assume good intentions.”

In addition to evaluating students’ scholarly and thoughtful curation of articles to share and reflect upon, teachers Heidi Gray, Bernadette May-Beaver, and Kevin Randolph assessed students on their generosity and responsiveness in collaboration and their demonstrated empathy and openness to understanding another perspective.

Lovett’s Vision for Learning speaks to our desire to develop students who are “prepared to think and act with empathy as responsible global citizens in an increasingly diverse landscape.” This project, which had the explicit goal of helping students to “truly understand and respect, if not agree with, the conclusions of others,” offers a powerful step in that direction.

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