How I did on my final exam and what my students can teach us all about how to get along

My seniors just finished their final for this semester, a formal speech of their research paper argument about a controversial issue in society. We organized these speeches into panel presentations focused on broad topics that unified 2 to 5 individual speech topics. Following the speeches of the individual panelists, the panel facilitated a conversation with the class about the social issues that the panelists discussed.

We started these panel presentations last week and concluded them today during the final exam time. Each day I’ve walked out of class excited about what I saw unfold that day–engaged, vibrant discussions about ideas important to my students, discussions inspired by their well-delivered, well-organized speeches about the research they’ve done over the last several weeks in my class. It seems the students have truly enjoyed these conversations and seeing what their peers figured out over the course of the research project. The final exam became an important community event it seemed.

But today I got MY test results back. In the form of reflections written by my students at the conclusion of all of the panel presentations, I now have some strong assessment data to show me what this culminating activity has meant to them. I asked my students to write briefly about who they are collectively based upon what they all just experienced together. Here’s the first one I read:

We are a smart group of individuals that think about a wide variety of subjects and look as deep as we can to get an amazing understanding of what we want to talk about. We all have strong views on this and share them with each other. We learn from our peers and have an educational class doing it.

Yep.

That’s exactly how I see them. That’s the community I have hoped to build in my classroom. That’s the work I wish for my students to do with one another in my class.¬†I’m thrilled to have a student articulate that vision back to me.

A few more:

We are a collaboration of many minds, opinions, and beliefs. All of our thoughts are our own and we hold to them. No matter how extreme, there will always be debates over any topic. We are a community of these types of people and minds, sharing our beliefs for the better good of humanity and the world.

We are a group of people filled with opinions, personalities, and emotions. Our morals appear and strengthen as we learn about the world around us. When we hear both sides of an argument we are able to decide for ourselves what we believe is right for us.

We are a society with many controversial issues. There is no possible way that all of these problems can be solved, but there are many things the 7 billion people on this planet can do to lessen the controversy. I wish that more people were willing to agree to disagree. We need to come together for the greater good of all people.

I can’t help thinking right now of the vitriolic debates going on among us–from the recent presidential campaigns to the gun control controversy. It seems we only operate in extremes; both sides can’t actually listen to each other effectively and just write off the other side as idiotic. Somehow my students have learned from each other that it doesn’t have to be that way.

And I can’t wait to dive into second semester with them.

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