Tagged: Compassion

The Path to Humanity

In preparation for the annual study of Elie Wiesel’s Night, freshmen are introduced to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many are unaware of the document’s existence. When they explore the United Nations’ website, they initially consider the thirty articles common sense. Then, with general awareness of current events and simple research of news headlines, they recognize blatant violations of such rights around the world. After careful consideration, my students identify conflicting messages within and interpretations of the human rights on the list.

My students react with compassion. From a safe distance, a global concern becomes a topic worth exploring—something to address in a research paper or presentation—much like a history lesson. The natural human response to social injustice is sympathy—feelings of pity and sorrow for others’ misfortune. My freshmen acknowledge progress begins with education. Knowledge builds understanding. Understanding creates perspective. The more they learn and process about the world, the more they recognize issues closer to home. The lessons are internalized—the experiences personal. At this point, fifteen-year-olds open their eyes and hearts to their surroundings. The time has come for the adult in the classroom to step aside and proudly observe what evolves. Continue reading


Believe in Personalized Learning: Outcomes With Impact

…one of my great fears is that ultimately my life will be a waste, that I’ll never do anything worthwhile, and it seems that sometimes I can already feel myself slipping…

Active learning environments. Student-centered classrooms. Ownership of education. Project based learning. Authentic outcomes. Innovative educators strive to attain the perfect balance–ideal in theory, but a challenge to actualize. Here is a glimpse of the impact and results of shifting to a personalized learning model during third quarter of the school year with my eleventh grade Visions in World Literature and Composition classes.

Third quarter of the course (structured in stages of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey) focuses on our transformation after facing trials, adventures, and challenges when separated from our known world. The transformation throughout the inward journey helps us emerge from darkness and isolation with new knowledge to utilize upon returning to our known world. The essential question is valuable for all to contemplate: Continue reading

PBL: World Perspectives’ MAP of Authentic Learning

World Religion Wall

Project-Based Learning, the key to learn with a purpose

Learn with a purpose–for the sake of knowledge, reflection, and individual growth. Take ownership of your learning by thinking, questioning, and exploring beyond the hour we spend together in the classroom. My students receive this message daily. Some figure it out and thrive in my classes; others simply hear the words, go about their business, and continue to ask how many points an assignment is worth. I’m sure several turn up the volume on their iPod and tune me out before I start talking.

English: This image outlines the basic path of...

English: This image outlines the basic path of the monomyth, or “Hero’s Journey”. Non copyrighted, free work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In order to earn English credit, all juniors are required to take World Literature and Composition. The course is structured thematically around the stages of the hero’s journey in which we receive a call, cross a threshold separating us from the known world, face the trials and tests of initiation, transform our thinking and understanding of life, and return to our world enlightened, poised to impact others.

I am fortunate to teach at a comprehensive high school which takes pride in its reputation of offering opportunities for every student. Students take AP courses and generally perform well on standardized tests. They go on to have college and career success. There is a comfortable–almost secure–definition of appropriate, acceptable, and normal we choose to abide by and conform to. We claim to be tolerant, open-minded, and even accepting of differences; but this is where our flaws are exposed. While the majority of our students are considerate and respectful, many are apathetic or unintentionally offensive. The only plausible explanation is that we have always done it this way, as if to justify our good intentions–our way of life.

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509, showing Plato (left) and Aristotle (right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But Plato acknowledges our flawed perception–that which we choose to overlook or ignore–and challenges us to question reality. What are the images cast in shadows on the cave wall? What exists beyond our known world? Many of us have no knowledge or understanding of life outside the cave, but are we to blame? Can we trust those claiming to be enlightened: the Form of the Good?

Too much talk…not enough action

This is the rationale I shared with students in my two junior classes before proposing their final exam:

The title of this course is World Perspectives. We spend months studying cultural themes and human behaviors; we analyze the archetypal journey and reflect on our metaphorical quests for personal understanding; we study religions of the world, while claiming to appreciate and respect diversity…yet, we do not transform beyond knowledge level–comprehension is assessed, but action is rarely taken. Therefore, little change occurs in our life patterns.

Gustave Doré's illustration to Dante's Inferno...

Gustave Doré’s illustration to Dante’s Inferno. Plate I: Canto I, Opening lines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Epic heroes model strategies for overcoming struggle. Siddhartha shares the secrets of his enlightenment–that teachers can relay information and provide knowledge about life, but they can not teach experience. We walk the allegorical path beside Dante through the Dark Wood of Error into the depths of our conscience with only a guide to point us toward spiritual salvation. We even analyze our flaws–no one wants to end up like Oedipus, right? So what have we learned? Do I provide authentic opportunities and real guidance or am I a hypocrite preparing to give another meaningless final exam? How does our 11th grade study of world literature impact our perspectives?

THE RETURN: Completing the Journey

*After surviving the trials and tests of the journey, we must return–transformed–to everyday life with greater wisdom

*We discover our gift and may become a great leader; we are spiritually enlightened

*We must contribute to our society (possibly renewing or even saving it)

*Like Gilgamesh, we must leave something behind–a MAP for others to follow (an acronym for My Awesome Project or My Action Plan…I couldn’t pick one title, so we refer to our PBL quest as MAPMAP…creative, I know)

Essential Question: “As you complete this year’s journey, how will you use your knowledge to impact life on a personal, societal, and global scale?”

Use the following steps as an initial guide:

1) Establish a concept of the “Others” based on the psychology of human perception

2) Identify discrimination, prejudice, bias of those considered “Others.” We generated the following list:

{disability, religion, race/ethnicity, gender, height, weight, sexual orientation, age, education, social class, social theories/politics, nationality, appearance, language, labels/stereotypes}

3) Select one topic to further explore

4) Narrow your plan to include a summary of the issues, challenges, investigations, scenarios, or problems

5) Frame an essential question to guide your actions (MAP your journey!)

6) Establish your purpose and audience

7) Commit to a goal: How far are you willing to take your learning according to Bloom’s pyramid? What action will you take?

C = Comprehension level: learn about the topic, collect information, knowledge (share with teacher, continuing a comfortable pattern)

B = Application level: teach others, urge others to join your cause (share with the class, the requirements of a typical class project)

A = Creation level: take action, publish, utilize technology, transform yourself, impact others (share with the greater community, crossing the threshold into an unknown world)

Here is a sample of guiding questions my students will explore throughout the final quarter of the school year:

*How can we create a more open-minded and accepting society?

*How does clothing and style influence the treatment of individuals?

*What would the world be like without the conflict created by religious separation?

*How can adolescents use social media to positively impact others?

*Accepting the fact that discrimination is a natural part of high school, how can adolescents survive the bullying and harassment they will face due to their appearance?

*Why do our appearances lead to ridicule and what can I do to raise awareness?

*In what ways can we prevent our peers from harming themselves both physically and mentally?

*How can I change standardized testing to measure everyone’s unique talents? (we had a quality discussion about Caliban while studying The Tempest)

*How can I create awareness about human rights to an online audience? (already a member of Amnesty International looking to have a greater voice)

*How can I make students aware of hurtful words made in school that people are unaware of?

*What can be done to support gay members of our school?

*Is it possible to create a community that will not reject ideas or judge others based on age?

*How can lyrical messages in music be used to inspire individuals to preserve freedoms, fight injustice, and put an end to discrimination?

I am impressed by the variety and depth of their questions and the number of students accepting the challenge to venture well beyond their comfort level. Normally, students would be coasting to the end; I could predict everyone’s final scores if given a written exam, paper, or presentation. Contrary to typical exam performances, students will close this year at their academic peak, with mostly A’s in the grade book.

So what’s in it for me? I am excited to watch my students transform, separate from their known world, and make something of their learning. I want students to have lasting evidence of their education. Next year as seniors, they will have something substantial to write about when applying to college or interviewing for a job. I am proud to share the impact of their discoveries with anyone willing to listen. Real creativity and problem solving is taking place without limitation, unrestricted by standards or curriculum. Autonomy has no answer key. My students, in turn, observe their teacher in the role of a learner challenging traditional lessons; at this point in the school year, I have renewed motivation and a quest to complete.

My Awesome Project…My Action Plan