Today’s post comes from Ayo Magwood, an Ed2Save Fellow and amazing high school social studies teacher at the Maret School.
What do you do to ensure that the learners are doing the “heavy lifting”?

Despite having taught for over a decade, I still struggle with getting off the stage and ensuring that my learners are doing the “heavy lifting”. It’s hard to let go of CONTROL. After several years of doing a so-so job of increasing the proportion of student-centered lessons but eventually creeping back into teacher-centered lessons when I felt rushed or lazy or overwhelmed, I decided to try something to “keep me honest”. I told my students on the first day of school that I was going to teach a teacher-centered lesson no more than once a week. If I failed, I would bring them all homemade sweet potato pie… let me tell you, it is amazing how the creative planning juices flow when one is faced with the possibility of having to stay up all night baking pies…

Could you explain an active processing strategy that others could try?

One of my favorite active processing strategies is something that I call a “causation chart”.  The students construct one for every major historical event or conflict. The students use the chart to help them trace back the origin of events from the trigger, through to the direct or stated causes, back to the root causes (and sometimes even back to the root-root causes). I teach them that most conflicts are rooted in some sort of economic clash (be it over land, resources, or taxes), some sort of clash in political ideals/ideology, and a clash over power/sovereignty: who controls what. In addition, many conflicts and events are also rooted in some sort of social cause: religion, class, race, ethnicity, etc. I love using causation charts both because they are very helpful in helping students analyze and actively process specific historical events, but also because this skill is so readily transferable to other subjects or topics and so easily applicable to novel modern-day current issues. For example, on an enrichment day, the students used their skills at tracing and analyzing layers of causes to two “test cases”: either the uprising in Ferguson or the uprising in Syria. Here’s an example: