Words cannot describe how blown away I was while visiting Rhashida Abdul-Malik and her students at Queens Collegiate High School.
Seconds after the bell rang, as students were shuffling in and getting settled, I whispered to the student sitting next to me, "what class is this?"
"AP World History," she responded.
"Wow," I said, a bit surprised and excited for what was in store. "I think I dropped out of this class when I was in high school." After thinking back, I remembered it was AP US History that I dropped out of, not World History.
"Ms. Abdul-Malik won't let us drop out," said the student. I smiled and wondered how my experience could have been different if I had a teacher like this one.
A few minutes later, after making sure the students were in the right place and had the appropriate tools on their desks, Ms. Abdul-Malik said, "remember, this is a socratic seminar, it's a dialogue, not a debate. I do nothing." I was a bit taken aback, and curious about what would happen next. The teacher didn't speak again until it was time to dismiss the students.
The discussion leader quickly began facilitating the discussion for his classmates, "let's start with the prologue, what ideas does Diamond present in the prologue?" he asked.
Students chimed in, one said, "he's wondering why white people had so many goods and black people had so little compared to them."
Another asked, "What is more technologically advanced? Does having a computer mean you're more likely to live on your own? We have short cuts for everything now, we don't have to work hard for more things -- like food or information. We go to the grocery store instead of hunting."
The conversation continued without pause, students responding to each other and challenging one another. The discussion leader pushed his classmates' thinking, when necessary, asking them to cite evidence from the text to support their claims.
The entire time, the teacher was attentively listening and shuffling through students' rubrics to evaluate them on their participation. At the end, students were able to offer one another "notices" of their performance during the seminar. One student addressed another and said, "you know what you're trying to say, but then you babble into something else." Another said, "some students talked more than others." All students reflected and respectfully listened to the critiques of their classmates.
This was an eye opening experience about the capabilities of students and their leadership when their learning is put into their own hands. It was a true indicator of the amazing impact of an excellent teacher equipped with high standards.