The Group

A group of Early Childhood Education students, mainly freshman and sophomore students. These students are enrolled in an Introduction to Early Childhood Education course where they explore the field and various topics including why they choose the field, what it means to be an early childhood practitioner, understanding developmentally appropriate learning/activities, etc.

The Program

I led a reading/discussion of "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost. The discussion was aimed at getting them to begin to think more broadly about the field of Early Childhood Education (ECE) and why they have chosen to pursue this as a career. It was also aimed at getting them to think about topics for a semester-end project on advocacy around a self-selected issue topic in the field. And it was an introduction (for some) or review (for others) of service learning and how it relates to the field. I am not the formal professor for the course, but I do work heavily some of the ECE courses. Some of the students are familiar with service learning and with me from a different course, and some had never met me before. The students also didn't know they were going to be doing this activity prior to coming to class that day and did not have the reading beforehand. 

The program started out with a very brief overview/introduction to service learning at our institution. I asked some of the students I had worked with in another class to share with those that were unfamiliar with the concept. The professor also provided some guiding comments about upcoming courses in the program and how service learning plays a part in the overall program.

I began by asking the students to use the next hour to think creatively and outside the box about the activity we are going to do and how it relates to the bigger ECE picture. Then I passed out a copy of the poem and asked them to take a moment to read it to themselves. After they read silently, we listened to the audio of Robert Frost reading it. I asked the students to close their eyes and focus on the words. 

Then using the discussion guide/module from the civic reflection website, I asked the students to think about (and write down) the walls that they hate and love. They shared of these with a partner and discussed similarities/differences they may have. After a few minutes I asked them to share some of what they discovered with the class. 

From here we moved on to talking about the walls that exist and how and why we love and hate them. Then I asked participants to identify parts of the poem that resonated with them. One student identified the passage about the gaps. This led to a larger discussion about gaps that exist in our personal lives and how these gaps and walls are built and at times go unnoticed. This led to a larger discussion about how community is defined and created (and a discussion about Facebook and the community that is created there). 

I then brought the conversation back to the gaps and walls they see in the field of ECE. I asked students to share the gaps and walls they see and we listed them on the board. Finally, we circled back to the bigger picture of their final projects and the broader focus of their educations and careers. I ended the session with a question for them to ponder about "How we create walls" and "How we can begin to fill the gaps and break down the walls."

Overview

I thought it went well. Things that really helped were the comfort level of the students with each other and the professor as well as the comfort level/relationship between myself and the professor. I think it allowed the students to see this as a safe discussion where they could think beyond the concrete and with the freedom/knowledge that there isn't a right or wrong answer. So many times students are nervous about giving a wrong answer and I tried to set up an environment where it was safe to explore different angles of their field (without coming right out and saying there was no right or wrong answer, etc). The students seemed to be fully engaged and were actually surprised when the class time was up (1h 15m). Most wanted to continue the discussion and several left with an idea for the upcoming project.

Next Time

I would definitely use this text again. This was my first time facilitating a discussion so I struggled with finding a text to use especially since it needed to be one that was short enough to read on the spot and that wouldn't be too difficult for the audience. I chose this text because, to be honest, there was a discussion guide already created where I could begin to create my own discussion plan. 

When I realized that there was an audio file of the reading that the participants could listen to, that helped to eliminate some of my fears about the reading, which were mainly focused on the participants not being familiar with the text and stumbling through the reading. Allowing them to read it silently and then listen to the author reading it was really helpful. It also allowed us to listen to the text again at the very end of the discussion. I would be sure to do that again, leaving them with one final listen to the text and with one question to ponder as they leave.

Final Thoughts

Again, this was my first time facilitating a discussion and all in all it went well. Utilizing the provided discussion guide/module was very helpful and made my first attempt so much easier. I also see how this text can now be utilized with a variety of audiences.

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