"It all depends," he said and shifted his attention back to the teacher.
"Hmm, what does your choice of mask depend on?" I asked the sixth grade student on a recent visit to his class.
He looked me over somewhat quizzically and explained, "It is up to us whether we want to use a physical mask, an artistic one, or a metaphorical one."
I was on one of my sets of regular classroom visits when, with middle school principal Lauren Mehrbach, we ventured into this sixth-grade lesson. As I continued my conversation with the student, he told me that they were in the middle of their identity unit, an interdisciplinary unit involving language arts, science, and social studies. A key part of that unit is exploring how each sixth grader defines their own identity and how their families and their social context contributes to that. To further push the students' thinking, their teachers in the learning community had introduced the notion of masks—to explore whether we always reveal our true identity.
In encouraging students to grapple with this multifaceted question, their teachers encouraged them to find multiple ways of expressing themselves. And, so as my student told me about the option he was choosing: "I thought about using a metaphor but I decided to use an image of a mask to represent how I feel on the inside, even when my face is not showing it."
"Wow!" was my reaction— both to the depth of an 11-year-old student's thinking and to the quality and inventiveness of the learning structure his teachers had devised.
To me this classroom moment captured exactly what we are striving for at SAS: passionate students who are exceptional thinkers confidently wrestling with hard questions that push their creativity and critical thinking. Lessons that they love and that help them grow across so many areas.
For our teachers to design and execute such a brilliant assignment requires a high level of collaboration, trust and creativity. And, that level of teacher collaboration and that ability to creatively build richer learning experiences for our kids are areas where our multi-teacher learning communities are showing great promise. While our experience with learning communities is still young and we have much to learn, it is nice to see this progress.
I am looking forward to my next set of classroom visits next week!