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Except from:
Wink, J. (2011, 4/e, pp.157-158) Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the REAL WORLD. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.


This activity works well in all areas of curriculum: negotiating meaning of text, previewing, reviewing, and/or summarizing a body of knowledge. The activity can be used to generate questions from the students or to answer questions that the instructor wants to emphasize. Later, I will demonstrate that it is also effective for bringing in student voices.

How to Do It

  • Tape a large piece of butcher paper to the wall at each of the four corners of the room.
  • Each piece of paper can be blank for student-generated questions that need to be studied, or the instructor can write a specific question on each of the four pieces of paper.
  • Divide the whole group into four smaller groups. Each group needs one colored marker, and each group uses only its own color, which is different from the colors of the other groups.
  • After each small group has discussed how to answer each question (or which question the group would like to generate for the whole group), the small groups rotate to each paper, writing their answers (or questions). After the groups have rotated and answered their questions, the whole group can analyze and discuss the answers.

The Experience
We have often heard that we, as teachers, need to bring in student voices (Poplin & Weeres, 1992). But how? This method works well with a little adaptation. Often, we are in a situation in which we know that the students have intense feelings about something that is very meaningful to them. Maybe it is a social event at school or in the community; maybe it is an act of injustice they are feeling; maybe it is confusion about assignments; maybe it is our syllabus-maybe it is our teaching. We all have had these experiences and will again. We come from a tradition that assumes that when these difficult teaching/learning (pedagogical) moments arise, we should take more control: Make the students sit down; make the students be quiet; make the students do a required assignment. Sometimes, we (or, at least, I) have shifted to the old transmission model of teaching to gain control: teachers talk; students listen. I might even have reverted to teaching harder, not better. The next time you want to bring in student voices, I suggest you try this.

In Arizona, the graduate class was scheduled only on two very long three-day weekends during the semester with various assignments due during the semester. Anyone who has ever taught or learned in class for five hours on Friday night, eight hours on Saturday, and eight hours on Sunday knows that this can be exhausting, particularly because all the students are also full-time teachers, and the vast majority are parents, too. These are people with demanding and complex lives. Without meeting weekly during a semester, it is easy for misunderstandings and confusion to emerge. Therefore, when I returned for the second intense weekend, I wanted to be sure that all students’ concerns were taken care of at the beginning of our session. However, because I was so far away geographically from the students, I didn’t know what the issues might be. I needed to bring in student voices.

For the first round of the four corners activity, I chose four questions to write on the large pieces of paper:
1. Which assignment is most frustrating at this moment and what should we do about it?
2. What is the most important thing your group learned during our last weekend together?
3. What is the most important thing you have learned since we have been apart?
4. What can I (the professor) do to assist you with your learning, and what can you (the student) do?

When we did this activity in class, the small groups were animated as they discussed the processes of the class, the assignments, and their questions. After each group had answered each of the questions at the four corners, the colored markers made evident to all of us the unique concerns of each small group. I was surprised when the students expressed repeated concern about a particular assignment. It was clear that they did not understand my expectations and that they needed more in-class time working on this major activity. Together, we juggled our schedule for the next eight-hour day to include time for this. Although this activity took an hour of our valuable time together, when student voices were heard and respected, the students were much more ready to hear teacher voice.