Class begins with what the teacher says is a “soft start” to accommodate kids coming in from other classes– there is a handout, with a philosophical paragraph, and students are reading and taking notes on it.

To kick off the period, the teacher asks students, in groups, to discuss whether the handout text is in agreement with, or disagreement with, their assigned homework reading.   And provide two examples of that agreement or disagreement.  This is great.  We are seeing comparison and contrasting of the two texts (Marzano best practice), and then the requirement of an interpretive posture, recognizing there exists the possibility of an argument, pro or con, and they need to enter the test by taking a side and then offering support- which is really thinking, questioning, explaining (Graff, many others).    Also good group work– small size, good guiding question– the kids are really engaged.  The teacher is moving around, facilitating groups.
Reconvened; students asked to explain their choice.  Good references to the text for support.   Teacher follow up questions:  Where do you see in the handout, (Chaadaev) that he agrees? Next question: what other imitation by Russia of Western Europe do you see?  Waits for response, lets 30+ seconds elapse as students think, nice.    What is behind dueling, why do people duel, what is the bigger idea here?   honor, an answer.  Describe honor for me, explain what is behind honor?    Students pursue it– militaristic society generates an honor culture.   Adds gambling to dueling and battle, and then asks what ties these together.  Fate.  Why Fate?  Go back to yesterday– what did we talk about yesterday?
Good dialogue and good questions happening, but now limited to those students volunteering and then responding to the quality teacher followup, whereas earlier, in groups, it seemed a much higher proportion of students were talking and involved, and the teacher was getting to each group with good regularity.  Nice and pertinent anecdote about Pushkin and gambling.   Really got the kids’ interest with another story about a friend and a girl he met in a bar and a coin-flip– which is good, meeting the kids where their interests are.  This, kids will remember– brain research really tells us that an emotionally packed, surprising, (hormonal) story is something the brain will retain.
Another student tells us his group went in a different direction– seeing more of a contradiction between the two writers.   Really powerful analysis here.    Teacher doesn’t respond himself– asks group what do you guys think?  Waits for response.    Students building off each other– and using that phrase, building off of that idea.  Nice.   “What I think we are arguing right now is whether the Russians have any inherent argument,” another student says– which is what Graff is pushing us to elicit in students, a conscious recognition that we are engaging in an argument.     This is good, right now there is wider involvement in the rich, analytic discussion. Students have the book open, and are citing particular passages, not passages the teacher has already directed them to.

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