In my MYP Humanities classes, I structure my units so the first 30% is a primarily teacher-directed exploration of factual content knowledge, while the other 70% is an entirely student-directed inquiry into conceptual understanding. For instance, in my grade 9 Revolutions unit, together we explored the causes, societal changes, and power shifts in the Scientific and French Revolutions. Then each student chose and explored a different revolution through one of the conceptual lenses of our unit: either Causality, Change, or Power. Some interesting differentiation occurred when I had them choose their own concept. All the high-achieving students inevitably chose Power as their concept (possibly as it was considered to require more higher-order thinking), while most of the lower-achieving students chose causality (perhaps as it was considered to require less higher-order thinking: simply identifying and describing the causes). Naturally every student chose a concept that adequately challenged their thinking.
This was my third year teaching this unit, and in the past I always found it difficult to wrap up the unit after all my students had finished their individual concept-based inquiries. I wanted to do something more than just the usual peer-evaluation of each other’s summative products (a revolutionary newspaper including a political manifesto and propaganda) and writing a long individual reflection on their learning portfolio. So this time I did an oral reflection on interesting facts and questions they still had about the unit, then I took this one step deeper and had them write analytical statements about our concepts. I was nicely surprised by the depth of thinking they showed. Some examples included: “Ultimately the power lies with the people and not the leader”, “Social inequality adds fuel to a revolution” or “Shifts in power are impermanent and power is often transferred back and forth between parties.”
After seeing the depth of these statements, the solution became obvious to me. My students inherently love debating and so together we came up with two debatable statements: 1) Revolutions have a positive/negative impact on society; 2) Revolutions will/will not continue to happen in society. The kids had only a day to prepare their debate, and they were peer-graded on their critical thinking and communication skills. Like the analytical statements, the debates were surprisingly deep. They responded to each other at a much deeper critical level then we had in class discussion. Not only did they link their debate statements to the revolutions they personally inquired into, but they also connected to current political events in India, USA, Egypt, Thailand and Syria. They transferred knowledge from Science (“change is part of nature”) and LA English class (“we need to protect people from making stupid decisions, like Holden Caulfield”). They were using language like “concept of democracy” and “global interactions” even though I hadn’t instructed them to. Overall, these last-minute debates were insightful, clearly reflective of the level of conceptual understanding they learned throughout the unit, and a great way to wrap up a month of individual inquiries.