Sunday, April 29, 2007

Open Forum

There's an exercise of sorts that I like to do in class every couple of weeks called Open Forum. I don't know exactly how I got started with it, but I've been doing it for probably 30 years now in one form or another and it's still one of my favorite class activities. I call it "open forum," and I begin it by handing our a file card to each student and asking them to write down on the card something—a topic, a statement, a question—they would like to talk about. The topic does not have to be related to what we have been doing in class. It can be about anything, and you don't have to sign your name to it. I collect the cards as they are completed, shuffle them up, have the students put the desks in as close to a circle as we can manage in my rather oddly-shaped room, and then I review the ground rules, of which there are four:

1) Only one person talks at a time. If more than one person wants to speak, we start to my left and just go around the circle.

2) After we've been around the circle one time, and everyone has had the chance to say something if they would like to, when it's your turn to speak, you can say "I'd like to move on." At that point we take a vote. If a majority wants to move on, we move on. If a majority wants to keep talking about the topic, we stay with it until someone else moves the question. At which point we re-vote.

3) I reserve the right to censor questions that in my judgment are inappropriate or potentially hurtful.

4) If you don't like a topic, don't complain about it or criticize it. Someone else may like it, and be intimidated by your disdain. Just wait until you have a chance to say "I'd like to move on."

Then I simply read what's on the first card, and we talk until we decide to move on, and then we read the second card, and so on.

What do I like about this activity? Well, it's a nice change of pace, and sometimes when the students are feeling stressed they like to be able to simply sit and talk in a semi-informal setting. I also find that it's not always the same students who talk in regular class discussions who talk in open forum. Something about it feels different to them, and some students really come alive in these discussions who don't do that otherwise. So it's a chance for me to get to know them. Plus, it's interesting. It's unpredictable. Sometimes the topics which would seem least likely generate great discussions.

What kinds of topics come up? Pretty much everything. Here's the list from Friday's 11:30 class:

How does it feel to be almost a junior in high school? How do you feel as the year is coming to a close?


The Triennial Dance Performance (The Little Mermaid)


Interesting Movies

Today's chapel (Mrs. Freitas and her daughter)

Athletic Mental Focus

How many shells does she sell by the sea shore?

Why does having a life matter?

Sustainability Cups: Where can I get one?

Unforgettable childhood memories; the "old days"

Does anyone have any interesting quality projects?

How much do you spend on birthday gifts? (Less than $10 = 2; $10 to $30 = 8; $30-$50 = 5; $50-$100 = 3)

The Virginia Tech Massacre


Sometimes I ask the students to do something as a followup, and sometimes I don't. Since my 8:30 class is working on blogs and my 11:30 class is working in a wikispace, this time I asked them to take seven minutes at the end of class to freewrite about one of the topics, and then to post an elaborated and edited version of their freewrite on the the web by Tuesday. I'm curious to see what they will have to say.


Anonymous said...

[b]Moral dilemna![/b]

What's up? I've hung around watching and reading for ages here.

So something has been bugging me for a while now . There was this occurence... After classes I took the bus, I hadn't eaten lunch so I dropped into this place for a snack and ordered a sandwitch and then went off to eat it in a corner when it suddenly occured to me they didn't charge me!

Yeah evidently they were super busy and distracted because there was this manager/investor type looking around everywhere and talking to them. So I was just about to go up to the counter and say I hadn't paid but then I realized if I did that the owner guy might get mad at the employees. So I just left. What should I have done do you think?

Bruce Schauble said...

Well, here's the thing: this incident stuck in your mind and is bothering you, so it feels like you know you that it's not cool to just take the sandwich without paying for it. But it's also understandable that you wouldn't want to get the cashier in trouble. My suggestion would be to go back the next day, or some other time when the managers weren't around, buy your lunch, and then when you go to pay just say, "Oh, hey, you forgot to charge me for my lunch the other day, so I'd like to pay for that too." Clears your conscience, and avoids getting the employee in hot water. Sound possible?