"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Using Controversy to Embrace Diversity in the Classroom

Catch the koosball, give an answer.Here is a clip from a nice piece in the September issue of NEA Today:

That’s the aim of Palermo’s Leadership and Diversity class, an elective open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors based on the Help Increase the Peace Program (HIPP), a youth program developed in 1991 by the American Friends Service Committee. The class focuses on topics such as diversity, racism, and conflict resolution. They also plan and lead peer workshops that promote acceptance and mutual respect.

“The ultimate goal of any good social studies teacher is to inspire students to think beyond themselves, to take an interest in the world around them, and do something to improve it, even in a small way,” Palermo says.

It begins with taking an interest in current events and being receptive to differing viewpoints. Palermo establishes ground rules for discussion that encourage respect, openness, and empathy. “With ice-breakers and team-building activities, the students usually bond pretty quickly and feel comfortable with each other,” Palermo says. “This allows them to be honest and open when we’re discussing controversial issues.”

“How the teacher acts is what gives the students reassurance that they can be open and honest.”
On “Discussion Fridays,” Palermo leads the class in debates, aided by a Koosh—a stringy rubber ball named for the sound it makes on impact. Students toss the ball around the room; whoever holds it has the floor—no one else is permitted to speak. When finished, the speaker surrenders the floor by tossing the ball to another student, and the process begins anew. “I don’t feel the need to jump in at every moment, and I don’t have to worry about kids trying to get my attention,” he says. “There is much greater student participation, and very often the discussion will move in an unexpected, and usually interesting, direction.”

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