We often claim that interdisciplinary lessons and project learning should guide modern pedagogy. But how does this translate into the classroom? What does it imply for the teacher? What are the tools that will help you and your group of students to learn?
Do you have to limit yourself to a class hour which is called “projects” or do you go beyond the artificial borders of subject configuration and really work on projects in every lesson? My pedagogical vision is closer to the latter.
Achieving the learning outcomes through projects which are common for the learners puts students in the center, as they design the way they want to learn together with their teachers.
Working in the form of projects is indeed a very important part of modern pedagogy because it connects the classroom and the learning that occurs with the reality of the professional and personal world outside the school. If the school should look as much as possible as the real world with the border between school and the world outside faded, then project learning should dominate in classrooms.
The present article describes a sociocratic classroom session of about 60 minutes, the objective of which was to facilitate the students’ election of representatives with equal opportunities for all and without power struggles.
In many schools the common practice is that the teacher asks who wants to be a delegate and the children raise their hands if they want to nominate themselves. Then everyone in the class is given a sheet where they write four names: two girls and two boys. Then the teacher reads the names and a student collects the votes on the blackboard. The one male student with the most points and the one female student with the most votes become delegates. But no one reports what needs to be done, what the functions are about.
This method ensures gender equity but otherwise it seems to present more disadvantages than advantages as it trains students to accept a type of procedure that reinforces the authority of experience as an exclusive argument: those who dare to nominate themselves already have some experience and know-how. In addition, it clearly favors extroverted students as few introverts will voluntarily present themselves by a show of hands in a plenary session in the classroom.
My students are boys and girls of 17 and 18 years of age and they are accustomed from their earliest childhood to electing their representatives in the traditional way described above. As a democratic teacher, I wanted to introduce my students to a new procedure deemed more favorable both in terms of the process and the expected outcomes.
First Activity: 10 minutes
Objective and Method
I started the session explaining that the objective is to leave the classroom in about 60/ minutes having chosen the best delegates possible (one female and one male) and their two best possible substitutes. I asked if the students see this issue as a topic of relevance in order to know if it is worth dedicating the whole session to it and if they agree not to choose representatives as they had always done. I made it clear that we would be exploring other methodologies which could lead us as a group to come to new results that are more satisfactory for the group.
My students claimed not to be unhappy with the methods and results of previous years. The group questioned the need for change, saying that keeping traditions is important and the time it takes to learn and use the new procedures is also an argument against introducing them.
I reacted by revealing how slaves had to fight for their freedom and women for their vote, about how precarious workers today continue to fight to be able to live off their jobs. If tradition had been the only valid argument throughout history and the resistance to change had been imposed on these and other many cases, humanity would not have advanced.
The students understood that it would be worthwhile to leave their comfort zone and try a different procedure. They gave the method a chance!
First voting: Do you consent to try a different procedure for choosing our delegates that will take us at least 60 minutes but is likely to eliminate inequities among members of our class?
At the request of the students it was a secret vote. There were 17 students in favor and 3 abstentions.
Second Activity: 15 minutes
Description of the tasks and list of candidates
First step: issue to clarify: what are a delegate’s functions?
We had three rounds of interventions:
In the first round students who do not have the experience had the opportunity to express themselves.
In the second students who had some experience in other schools or who were delegates a few years earlier in our school were given the chance to share their views.
In the third round answers from students who have recent experience in our school were elicited.
While the others were speaking, a student collected ideas in a mind-map on the whiteboard. The discussion was ended by an open round to complete the mind-map.
Second step: making the list of candidates
Democratic procedures must have as a result the best possible choices being made. In this case the aim was to choose two people (a girl and a boy) who are trusted by others as choosing representatives is to grant confidence.
We made a list of all the students in the class and displayed it on the flip chart in large size.
Only those who really can’t become delegates were crossed off the list by themselves. Nobody was expected to give explanations and nobody is supposed to ask anyone to cross him/her out. They have to get up and cross themselves off the list. I left the classroom for 2 minutes so as not to exert any involuntary pressure that my presence may have inadvertently implied.
Approximately at least one third of the class should remain as potential delegates, the ideal (and common) is that the names of two thirds of the students remain on the board or flip chart. In our case 16 out of 20 names stayed on the poster. The teacher should always encourage staying on the list for reasons of solidarity, fellowship and because once the candidate has been chosen he or she can still refuse to be elected.
Third step: description of procedures, selecting our secretaries and getting our election papers ready
Two of the persons, a boy and a girl, who were not candidates were appointed as voting secretaries with the consent of the others. Their function was to prepare the ballots with the names of the candidates and photocopy them, recount the ballots and proclaim the results. The teacher moved on to a second term, supporting the actions of the secretaries and explaining the procedure. Details on what is a valid vote and what makes a vote invalid, details on the choices the students have (to vote or not to vote), details on voting mark procedure. (I recommend to stay as close as possible to the real electoral system in the country we are living in, in our case we put a cross beside the two chosen male names and the two chosen female ones).
Third Activity: 15 minutes
The students receive a list with the names of the candidates. After reaching an agreement with the class about the number of candidates to be marked individually and secretly on the list, the ballot papers are collected.
Possible second round between two or three candidates with the same number of votes.
There should be at least two students counting the ballots and one person writing the results on the board or flip charts.
Proclamation of results, asking elected ones if they accept the mandate and celebrating together!
Surprises? Feelings? We give thanks and celebrate! Free talking phase and preparing the space for the debriefing by putting the chairs in a circle if possible.
Fourth Activity: 20 minutes
As in the last part of the third activity the elected students are asked how they feel and then the teacher can make a transition to debriefing. You can let students discuss the answers to the questions in smaller groups and then share their outcomes in plenary or you can use a classic think-pair-share, for instance.
The teacher should ask questions leading to the micro level (in our class context) and the macro level (showing the links between what the students experienced and the wide world outside the classroom).
Examples for questions at the micro level:
- How was the participation of introverted/extroverted/experienced/inexperienced people in the whole session compared to earlier elections?
- What indicates differences?
- How do you evaluate the results? Are they the same as with other methods? Why?
- About the elected people, how do they feel? Empowered? Reinforced? Other feelings? Why?
- Are you happy to be trusted? Are you happy to share the power? Why? Or why not?
- How does trust work inside our group? Are we happy to give an opportunity to people who have never been delegates? Why?
- What advantages do you see in this method? Where are the disadvantages? Why both?
- Is the experience with this method of choosing delegates worthy? Why?
On this occasion the class was glad they got out of their comfort zone despite the fact that it is not easy to question traditions. We made sure not to disqualify or belittle other teachers who used the traditional method.
Examples for questions at a macro level:
- Why would you say that the procedure matters? Do you find other examples in which it also matters? Can you describe the consequences of not caring about procedures? Why do we think that procedures are important in democracy?
- Democracy takes time, why? Is it worthy? What could result from a lack of time in democratic procedures? Can you imagine any examples? Describe them.
- Should the method be democratic in a democracy? Why? Why is it more convincing if everybody is doing what they preach about democracy? Do we need more transparency in democratic processes? Why? Can you think of examples for processes in our democracy in which the procedure is not democratic and lacks transparency? How can you contribute to make them better? What are your ideas?
On this occasion students agreed that change can only take place if there is courage to leave our comfort zones. We talked about changing unfair structures of power and how they could best do this as future adults.
On the meta level we agreed that we best learn while acting and putting into practice the things we talk and learn about (learning by doing).
Second voting: Is this method valuable? Do you give your consent to repeating the election of delegates using this method next time again? In our case the result of the second vote was 19 yes, 1 abstention.
Better than the results of our first vote! Introducing my students to sociocracy was definitely worth a try. I consider this experience valuable project work.
This procedure of choosing delegates is inspired by the sociocracy methodology used at the meetings of our association Learn to Change. Thanks to all the members who actively participate in them, especially to Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard, who introduced us to sociocracy, and to Ana Žnidarec-Cuckovic, who helped to implement the new method with her enthusiasm and professionalism when some of us were hesitant about it.