Students who learn together in pairs can accomplish great things: as a pair, they can be more creative, more flexible, and can push each others’ ideas further. Partner learning (called Havruta, starting back in the ancient Jewish Yeshivas, and continuing to this day) is the original crowd-sourcing!
A crowd of 2!
But chevruta can also be a place of “lowest common denominator” thinking, where students tune out – they might not feel accountable. Or might not care. Or might not even have the kind of basic listening and articulating skills that grownups who talk and listen for a living take for granted.
Dr. Orit Kent knows more about Chevruta Learning than anyone. She did her Ph.D. on the topic. She isolates a number of different actions that take place: listening, articulating, challenging, synthesizing, and wondering. I’m a huge fan.
But when I tried to teach all these, it flopped. How do you make a 15 year old challenge an idea when he didn’t follow his Havruta’s point to begin with?
My solution comes from my training in conflict mediation and compassionate listening. I call it reflect-reflect.
Person 1: Speaks.
Person 2: Listens. Then reflects back not the WORDS, but the most important core-idea.
Person 1: Acknowledges, “Yes. That’s what I meant.”
If person two needs correcting or clarification, the cycle goes around. And around. Sometimes three or four or five times. No one is allowed to “like” an idea, or “disagree” or even “agree” until the two minds meet in one space.
Guess what happens then?
Challenging…wondering…pushing…synthesizing: they emerge ON THEIR OWN.
They are the natural, human response to a new idea entering the shared mind-space.
The teacher’s job is to offer the Havruta a task where there is sure to be different opinions. And then, to relentlessly, tirelessly, endlessly prompt students to reflect and re-reflect and re-reflect.
The process looks like this: both in Wolk’s Class, and in my actual class.