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RIDE supports several blogs throughout our website where Rhode Islanders and RIDE staff share their thoughts.

On this page, we have collected all of the blogs on our site - many of which share posts from Rhode Island educators other than RIDE staff. Blogs are listed in alphabetical order:

  • Commissioner's Corner: Commissioner Wagner's blog posts and messages to the Rhode Island community.
  • District Teacher of the Year (DTOY): Posts from the Rhode Island District Teachers of the Year, past and present, who share about instructional successes and challenges they encounter in Rhode Island classrooms.
  • Equitable Access to Excellent Educators: Rhode Island educators and RIDE staff explore factors and perspectives on the importance of ensuring that all students are taught by high quality educators.
  • Leadership: Reflections and insights from RIDE’s Leadership Fellow and other district and school leaders on the challenges and opportunities of being a school leader.
  • Rhode Island Poet Laureate: Reflections and poetry focused on teaching, learning, and the experience of education from Tina Cane, Rhode Island Poet Laureate.
  • Rhode Island Science Education (R.I.S.E.): A communication blog to update stakeholders in education and in the community on important developments, events and accomplishments in science education in Rhode Island.
  • Student Voice: Because student voice is an essential component of our discussion on education, RIDE will post essays written by students from around Rhode Island.

Click on a category below to filter by a particular blog:

Finding Common Ground in a Divided Society

Posted by: Kamlyn Keith on 10/27/2017
Kristin Hayes-Leite, 2018 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year,
Social Studies Teacher,
Narragansett High School

The fact that the nation is divided is no secret to anyone, but what we don’t yet know is the full impact on our students. With all of the heated rhetoric and political bullying taking place at the national level, the youngest members of our society might be tempted to tune it all out, become cynical, disengage, or worse, lose faith in our democracy. As a social studies teacher, I feel a real urgency to ensure that students can exercise their freedom of speech in my classroom. Students need to be able to respectfully voice their opinions and discuss current issues in the classroom without feeling fear or reluctance. One way to accomplish this goal is to teach them how to practice civic discourse - the discussion of public issues with the goal of enhancing our understanding of those issues.

While there are many ways to incorporate civic discourse into our classes, one lesson that I created last year for my high school Law and Society course is called “Finding Common Ground.” This exercise in civic discourse teaches students to listen to the viewpoints and perspectives of others in a respectful manner and to discuss issues with the goal of finding shared beliefs and values. First, students did some quick research and exploration on issues relating to constitutional law, including rights of transgender students, school dress codes, prayer in schools, students’ free speech rights, and President Trump’s travel ban. Students then shared their stance on an issue with a partner who actively listened and repeated back what was said. The pair then repeated the procedure so each student had an opportunity to share their opinions. Finally, the two students tried to find “common ground;” if they disagreed on an issue, they had to find something that they agreed on relating to the issue. For example, class members who had different viewpoints on Trump’s travel ban readily agreed that keeping the nation safe is a priority. By using common ground and shared beliefs as a starting point, the work of analyzing and discussing possible solutions to the issues that face the nation becomes much less contentious.

“I was surprised on many of the issues of how many of my classmates had differing opinions than me. I learned new perspectives on several of the issues that I hadn’t thought of before this activity.”

Before diving into an activity like this, I reviewed how to listen respectfully and also had students warm up and practice with fun “would you rather” questions. The class was soon laughing, which made it easier for them to engage on more serious topics. Using a timer kept the activity moving, and frequent rotations gave students the opportunity to interact with many partners.

To further encourage freedom of expression in the classroom, I have also used Verso, a free app that allows students to discuss issues anonymously. Student engagement increased as I found that quieter students who might not normally express their thoughts felt safer in this environment. The app allows the teacher to remove inappropriate comments and hold students accountable for what they post. In order to get the best results, teachers must be explicit in teaching students how to respectfully disagree and express their opinions without belittling or judging their peers. When I ask students how many of them have heard or uttered the phrase, “That’s so stupid!” in response to a statement, almost all hands go up and they laugh. When I ask if it feels good to hear that, no hands are raised. We have to give students the language to navigate these controversial discussions. Giving students appropriate language (“What I hear you saying is…” or “How will that policy affect…?”) allows them to engage respectfully with their peers.

“If I were to do this in another class, I would feel more inclined to share my true opinions and not just say what the majority of the class believes”

These types of activities have clear value for students. After the “Finding Common Ground” discussion, one student wrote, “I now feel more comfortable openly expressing what I feel about a topic. Getting to know everybody and how they think was important for helping be more open about my views.” Others shared, “If I were to do this in another class, I would feel more inclined to share my true opinions and not just say what the majority of the class believes” and “I was surprised on many of the issues of how many of my classmates had differing opinions than me. I learned new perspectives on several of the issues that I hadn’t thought of before this activity.”

Students were able to clearly articulate the new skills they learned, “While people were voicing their opinions to me during this activity, I listened very carefully to what they were saying and really tried to understand how they felt and why they felt that way. I really tried to make the person feel as comfortable as they could because I wanted to feel the same way.”

In showing students a way forward, we are planting the seeds for a more productive and enlightened political atmosphere. Democracy requires that our students be active citizens - this is after all, their world, their nation, and their community. If we don’t teach them how to engage, who will?

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