Students have now read through the end of chapter 6 of Their Eyes Were Watching God. Students were introduced to feminist theory in the previous lesson and had an opportunity to apply these concepts to a children’s story. Before this, they had engaged in a series of activities that asked them to discuss and think about the concept of autonomy in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Today, they will engage in an activity that will help them see the connection between autonomy and feminism in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Today we follow a schedule that shortens each period to accommodate for professional development time for teachers so the period is 15 minutes shorter than usual. I decide to devote the period to engaging in an activity students are familiar with, the Question Formulation Technique. Students were introduced to this technique earlier in the school year and they have engaged in it several times.
I remind students that we have been tracking Janie’s quest for autonomy. I tell them that the concept of autonomy is very much related to concepts in feminist theory. I state that their mind is likely naturally making this connection. Several students nod. I tell them that we will be explicitly discussing these together later in the unit, but that today we are focusing on autonomy. I verbalize a thought I am guessing is on their mind, which is that we have been focusing on autonomy already. I tell them that we are working with this concept in a different way today, specifically by formulating good questions about it.
I let students know that they are about to engage in the Question Formulation Technique and give them a few words to remind them of what it is. Students were introduced to this technique earlier in the year and are familiar with it. Here is a document that details the Question Formulation Technique, step by step. I also use this power point of the Question Formulation Technique to project each step we are following today. This technique offers students a well-structured opportunity to formulate good questions. I use this technique in my class repeatedly because the result is usually a set of great student-generated questions. I make room in class for the repeated use of an activity like this one because the ability to ask good questions is an essential thinking skill and I know my students need to improve their critical thinking skills. This is the third time students engage in this technique in small groups so I expect them to follow the process with little problem.
Students are seated in small groups of three. I ask each small group to select a person to do the writing and give them 15 seconds to decide. I then ask each person in charge of writing to raise their hand. I scan each group and make eye contact with each student who has raised her/his hand. I do this to avoid a likely scenario, which is that no one wants to volunteer and they do not push themselves to negotiate this and once it is time to start working they have no one doing the writing. Once each group has appointed a writer, I briefly go over the four rules, which are in the power point, and project them. All rules are familiar to them. I then reveal the question focus for the day: Autonomy.
I give students 5 minutes to come up with as many questions about autonomy as they possibly can. During this time, I walk around and listen in on their question-formulation session making sure they are adhering to the four rules.
After 5 minutes, I ask them to stop and remind them that the next step is to prioritize their questions and select the three most important ones. This step is also on the power point. I give them about 10 minutes to do this. I remind them of the importance of actually engaging in conversation about these questions as they are to explain their rationale for selecting these three questions when they present. It is necessary for me to remind them of this because they are often reluctant to engage in discussion and would rather push the most vocal student to do all the talking during presentations. The task in this step discourages this because they are presenting an entire rationale for their group's decision-making, a difficult task for the most vocal student to make up on the spot come presentation time. As they work, I give each group a piece of white paper and a marker they are to use to write the three questions they select. I also listen in on their conversations specifically to capture their reasons for selecting these questions. I comment on these with things like, “That’s a good reason.” I also remind individual groups of this important task with something like, “Remember, when you present, you have to explain why you selected these three and why you put them in this order."
Once all groups have finished selecting their three questions, they are ready to present.
I give each group a chance to present their three questions and their rationale for selecting these in this order. I specifically ask that we hear from every member of the group. I also let them know that I will be giving each student a grade on my grade book as they speak. I do this to try and increase student accountability to discussions and presentations. In previous presentations, some students have chosen to let the most outspoken members of their group do all the talking. I want to avoid this and push all students to share the work. I also want to develop their ability to address their entire audience, not just the teacher. Because of this, I sit somewhere off to the side with my laptop open to my grade book and spend a lot of time looking at the grade book and typing in scores as students present. I do this to push presenters to not deliver their presentation to me. That my eyes are not available for contact as they present means that they have to turn to their classmates and present directly to them. Groups take turns presenting. I don’t comment much during presentations. This is because I am giving students an opportunity to comment on the questions presented. I want them to be able to identify and praise the great questions being presented. When I do comment, it is mostly to ask questions about their rationale for selecting those questions in that particular order. This is the most challenging part of their presentation and I try and offer them support by asking guiding questions and paraphrasing.
After all groups have shared and posted their questions on the wall, I ask them to point out any question from another group’s set that they found impressive. This is an important opportunity to give credit to the quality of thinking they were able to showcase in this activity. Several students point out some good questions. I also select one or two to praise. I do let students know that, like the other two times they engaged in this activity, I feel they have come up with excellent questions, such as the ones I share in this video.
I plan on using these questions to guide quick writes or as prompts for and essay. I close by announcing this to students. I tell them that we will be revisiting these questions as we move on to the next chapters of Their Eyes Were Watching God. I also assign the next chunk of reading.