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When Molding Minds Gets Messy
Or Moving Student Thinking from the Predictable to the Profound


Voice of Experience

How comfortable are you with being a molder of minds? Conflicts in the Middle East have educator Brenda Dyck probing the heavy responsibilities that go along with shaping the minds of students by challenging them to look at all perspectives without bias and reach their own conclusions. Included: Resources to help teachers facilitate discussions that can help students reach their own conclusions about war and other global issues.

To be a teacher, we are told, is to be a molder of minds. I am quite comfortable with that label -- as long as it revolves around safe activities, such as teaching basic information, planning innovative lessons, and keeping track of student progress. That kind of molding is concrete and can be carried out without much risk.

Being a molder of minds, however, becomes more sobering when I consider the potential I have to shape or bias the attitudes and opinions of my students. The realization that, because of my position at the front of the classroom, my daily instruction can oversimplify complex issues or sway student opinion is a daunting consideration for me.

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    Influencing young minds is never so concerning as it is during times of international conflict. Like many other teachers, as I work out my own position on such issues, I realize how complicated those issues are and how ill equipped I am to make judgments about them.

    How glad I am to teach in a time that recognizes the fact that teachers don't have all the answers -- that the best way we can help illuminate the truth for our students is by presenting all sides of an issue and allowing our students to develop their own opinions!


    Many great tools and resources are available to help facilitate meaningful, unbiased classroom discussions that

    • engage as many students as possible;

    • cultivate a climate that respects diversity and the right to voice opinions and ideas;

    • ask students thought-provoking questions from alternative perspectives;

    • challenge students' opinions by asking them to support their views;

    • use graphic organizers -- such Venn diagrams, interrelationship charts, fishbone and bone diagrams, and process charts -- to help students organize and analyze their thinking;

    • utilize debate to disclose both sides of an issue; or

    • make use of simulations that transport students into the situations or issues being studied.

    Rarely do we have such a unique opportunity to apply critical thinking skills within an authentic task as we do in discussing the conflicts in the Middle East. While it may be tempting to use the classroom to vent a given point of view, how wise it is for us to remember the sacred trust we hold as teachers. Events such as these are a perfect opportunity for us to use our position to equip students with thinking skills that will support them for the rest of their lives. In doing that, we provide the ultimate learning experience. We help students make personal meaning out of chaos -- meaning that will translate into ownership and, hopefully, into future action by our students.

    Who knows? Maybe one of us will mold the mind that holds the answer to world peace.


    The Decision To Go To War: Critical Analysis and Role Play
    High school teacher Laura Maupin offers this powerful role-play activity.

    Teaching Is for Thinking
    Among the resources you will find here are scripts that will help you see how a teacher learned to step back and let the thinking begin, how a teacher improved classroom discussions, and how a teacher improved classroom discussions.

    Liberating Minds
    Help your students take charge of their thinking.

    Brenda Dyck teaches at Master's Academy and College in Calgary, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching sixth grade math, Brenda works with her staff in the area of technology integration. Her "Electronic Thread" column is a regular feature in the National Middle School Association's Journal, Middle Ground. Brenda is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.