Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Framing with Inquiry

One of the most worthwhile things I never find enough time to do is read about teaching methods. This takes me back to my undergrad and grad days where I had to write out formal lessons plans and try out new strategies. This forced experimentation always showed me how well things worked in ways I had not anticipated. So, a blurb about an inquiry-based approach to literature in the Council Chronicle has my mind working again as I think about WHY I teach a lesson the way I do. After years of teaching, I can often lose the original idea behind a tried and true lesson.

Today I made the inquiry-based approach the overt guide for our discussion of Oedipus Rex. We had looked at two questions before beginning -- "What if your search for self leads you to something you do not want to know?" and "Do our actions determine our fate?" -- and then moved on to reading the play in class and playing around with the character of Oedipus in nightly on-line discussions. Typical literature discussion stuff.

So I dragged out the questions again as the start to our class today, saying that now it was time to see what Oedipus could teach us about the answers -- my inquiry frame. Our discussions ranged from the strong characters of Sophocles's writing to the ancient Greeks' view of fate to the views of fate we have. This class tends to be quiet, so it was not the liveliest discussion ever -- but it was real. The students talked about how, as much as they want control, they like to think there is some fate in their lives -- that things happen for reasons. This led to their college decisions (which have all come in as of April 1 -- a coincidence or fate that I had this discussion today?!) and whether some of the difficult news they had heard had a role in a larger plan. Not all students saw it this way, and the give and take with this was impressive. They were not trying to convince everyone of their views -- just playing around with ideas. I ended class by having them write down their thoughts on fate and choice and life, and the keys did not stop tapping for a full five minutes. I don't know what they each specifically wrote, but I know they were intrigued and connected.

An old method proves effective again. I am now going to try to be more overt all year with my world literature themes -- phrasing them with the questions that have always lurked under why I grouped the particular set of books together in the first place. Going back to our roots as students of teaching often uncovers great things.

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