Their current unit on Fahrenheit 451 has the class of 9th graders examining complex symbolism and difficult questions about ethics and empathy, and they take these questions – and develop these questions – together as a group. Students select passages from Ray Bradbury’s classic novel, ask questions that were raised by those passages. They then hand those questions off to a partner, who answers them to the best of their ability. These questions and their answers are then shared with the class, who give the questions just as much analysis as the novel itself, offering up answers of their own. In the process, they often deepen the questions in discussing their potential answers. The best questions – the ones the students find the most interesting and the most enjoyable to discuss – become that night’s homework.
Group discussion of class reading is hardly a new or groundbreaking thing, but Jim’s freshman English class engages with their source material with an energy and joy that is exciting to see.