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Kids Wielding Critical Thinking

I first heard Cornelius Minor speak at NCTE’s convention last fall, and I was instantly impressed. He very quickly had dozens of adults moving around the room, jumping rope, making lists—learning in some of the most engaged ways.

I recently subscribed to the Heinemann Podcast and I found myself devouring the series of episodes featuring Minor. Trust me. You don’t want to miss these.

The episode on “The Over-Engaged Student” is one of them. Through the story of “Prez,” a nickname given to one particular student, Minor explores ways that he is able to “turn the volume down” “but respect his enthusiasm” on the type of student that we have all encountered. You know, the one who always seems to have a comment or contribution to make, even if, at times, it might not seem relevant.

And that’s when Minor says this: “One of the things that we never want to do is silence kids.”

That made me stop and think about all the times that I’ve asked kids to “hold that thought” and then never returned to the ideas. Or, when I’m frustrated—and we all have those days—that I have asked kids to just stop talking.

We can honor all students’ voices in our classrooms, even if we think their contributions are disconnected, unrelated, or completely off point.

One of the ways he does that is by thinking about the “rhetorical roles” that can exist in the classroom. For Prez, his job is to “protect [his] people.” Minor leverages Prez’s abilities and voice to jump in when his peers don’t understand a concept or an idea during a lesson. He can be himself, but he can also find a better role that is more conducive for everyone’s learning in the room. Minor even goes so far as to take feedback from Prez on occasion.

What I appreciate most about Minor’s discussion of this is that it’s genuine. It isn’t arbitrary or even a guise. It’s real. And he really listens to Prez. That’s what good teachers do. They read into the contributions of their students and use that information to move learning forward.

Minor also points out that when kids interrupt or try to contribute, they are really just doing the things that we have taught them to do. He states that, “… the kids who are doing the most critical thinking often do it in ways that feel abusive toward us because they’re not good at it yet.”

He continues by saying, “Critical thinking is a weapon. And when you give a kid a weapon, you have to teach him how to use it responsibly.” And this can hurt us! When we teach kids to think, they might be critical of us, our methods, and our classrooms. And that might hurt because it’s not done “responsibly.” We then have to teach students to do more adept at using these skills. And as teachers, it is our role to teach them to be wise. To teach them the nuances of language, the subtleties of language, that can help them make way into difficult and awkward conversations.

Ultimately, Minor pushes us to model this behavior for kids all the time. We must demonstrate the kind of compassionate and informed behavior with every single move we make and thing we say to students.

Check out one of the episodes here: https://overcast.fm/+HGRtVxatg.

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing, Kevin - I finally had the chance to listen today, and I'll put it on my list to listen to again in September! :D

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