Witnessing the learning of students as it happens is a wonderful experience and a major part of why I became an educator. Sometimes I must get creative to help facilitate student realization.
Recently, I was teaching the novel Invisible Man to my AP students. Most might be able to relate to the ideas/concepts that are relevant to the novel on a surface level, but they do not have the life experience to truly comprehend the depth of the novel. We were about five chapters in when I wanted to have a discussion on some of the motifs within the novel but needed a platform for them to dig deep.
We had discussed the historical concepts that impact the novel, but the students need more to get to higher level thinking. To begin I started by asking students what freedom means. Most stated definitions such as begin able to do what they want, not having people judge them, and other concepts that are important to 17 and 18-year olds. The asked me what I thought freedom was and I told them I would tell them the next day. I wanted them to come to some conclusions the next day.
I had come across a docu-series The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman where he takes big concepts such as peace or freedom and does interviews from around the world for each episode. To help the students think about the concept of freedom on a deeper level, I showed them the first 15ish minutes of the episode. The students were enthralled by what they heard—one was a slave in North Korea who escaped, and another was a person spent the longest time in solitary confinement in U. S. history. We discussed the effects of the two interviews they saw and how they apply to freedom.
The next day, I explained that I thought freedom was a state of mind and showed the rest of the docu-series episode that focused on the Declaration of Independence phrasing, and two additional stories of people who gained freedom on their terms.
Afterwards the students had a Socratic Discussion on freedom, and most could connect the idea of it being a state of mind with the novel. They were seeing beyond themselves (which is difficult for students of this age). It allowed them to dig deep.
Sometimes students need a connection that allows them to see things in a new way.