Grounding in the Body Before Grounding in the Text

One of our most popular posts last year was Mindfulness and Interpretive Discussions, by IBD Professional Developer John Nolan. Along those same lines, we bring you this week’s post from another of our amazing Professional Developers, Bridget Evans.

I was recently in a fourth grade class co-facilitating a whole-group discussion about the main message in the book Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. Some students immediately began flipping through sticky notes where they had marked important quotes in the book. Others leaned over and whispered to their neighbors. Some looked out the window and several asked to go to the bathroom.

Common Core has placed much focus on providing text–based evidence to support writing. Socratic seminars, partner talks, round-robin discussions, and norms of collaboration are alive and well in classrooms that value inquiry-based facilitation. So what’s the problem?

Have you ever tried to have a discussion about a book when you’re afraid you left the stove on or you’re concerned that the people around you might be judging you? How about trying to decipher meaning when your ex-boyfriend is giving you the stink eye from across the room or you’re replaying your parents’ argument from the night before? The book probably takes the back seat, or maybe even gets hurled out the window, when your social and emotional needs are demanding attention. This is why Inquiry By Design puts such a strong emphasis on classroom environment as the foundation to do productive work.

Yes, students have to do the real academic work in the classroom. Yes, cognitive demand should be high because they are capable of higher-level thinking. But they also need to be taught how to be in their bodies and to find their center so that sharing ideas with their peers comes from a place of peace within them and they can truly trust themselves to do the cognitive work being asked of them.

Here are five simple tools to help students become embodied and prepared from a place of truth before sharing in an open forum:

  1. Take a deep breath. That’s it? Yep, that’s it. Sit in your chair and notice the parts of your body that are touching your seat. Ground down through your sit bones, empty your lungs, and take a full inhalation. Allow your collarbones to broaden and hold your breath when you arrive at the top. Now open up your mouth and exhale all the way to the bottom. Do this three times and feel the energy of the room calm.
  1. Consider for a moment that what other people think of you is none of your business. That’s a big one for most of us. Confidence blooms when we let go of the notion that what we say has value because someone else liked it. Most teenage brains are wired to look to their peers first for validation. When we allow our students to test drive sharing with partners or in small groups first, it can help them develop the courage to share within a larger circle.
  1. Try facilitation of the discussion in “fish bowl” style first. Put students in two concentric circles, one inside the other. Students in the outside circle are observing and taking notes on a specific data point designated by the teacher. For example, how many times do partners in the inner circle refer back to the book to support their opinions? This should be done in the spirit of “We are all in this together!”
  1. Accept that when you are trying something new or when you have a student-centered classroom things are going to be messy. Period. Brene Brown teaches that “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we are all in this together.” Yes, certain students will most likely dominate the conversation the first time. Yes, certain students will not share and you’ll question whether they are learning. It’s ok. It’s all part of the process.
  1. Have fun! Laughter lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, and triggers the release of endorphins. Endorphins are natural painkillers that make us feel relaxed. When we feel relaxed we can breathe more deeply and open up that window to share ideas about what is important to us.