Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Asking for Student Opinions Isn’t Risky, It’s Rewarding

By on January 24, 2009

I was reading this great article from Slate Magazine about the cheese that is Billy Joel.  And I thought back to many a car trip singing his “Themes from an Italian Restaurant.”  I also remembered just how many times I’d fast-forwarded through some of his more heavy-handed, political-themed songs set to rapid rhyme scheme.

I’ll even one-up Slate’s insolent trashing of the Piano Man. I’ll go so far as to say I’m not an Elton John fan. 

Don’t freak.  I’m allowed.  Remember, this is my website.

But this got me thinking about opinions, criticism, persuasion, and choice, and their place in the classroom.  

In a collaborative classroom, students are not only given choice, they are given the ability to disagree with grace, with each other, and even with (dare I say) the teacher.

I’m still getting crazy responses to my Breaking Dawn Book review.  I can’t tell you how many comments I’ve deleted with X-rated words or threats.  It’s not that I’m looking over my shoulder, but if the majority of these comments are from tweens, there’s clearly a lesson not being taught to these kids.  How does one disagree appropriately?  Yes, I slammed the book.  But the theme of the post is to Discuss over Censor.  They just couldn’t see it through our disagreement.   

Students should be allowed to choose in a classroom.  It’s a true form of differentiation.  Choice could be given on reading texts, assessments, projects, partnerships, etc…But with choice, also comes opinion, hand-in-hand.  And with opinion comes disagreement.  

This shouldn’t be scary; it should be embraced.  Choice is empowering for a student.  But a teacher must teach how to disagree appropriately, how to criticize appropriately, and how to move on from there.  

It is a new form of pre-teaching.  There are skills involved in teaching Reaching a Consensus.  There are skills involved in Criticism Etiquette.  These are worthwhile – arguably more so than the skills involved in How to Bubble Accurately.  

These are lessons that would not only be reflected in blog comments, but in how our students, as adults, would make choices, form opinions, and have disagreements in the world.

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