p4cCover Photo HDIntellectual Safety:

“In an intellectually safe place there are no put-downs and no comments intended to belittle, negate, devalue, or ridicule. Within this place, the groups accepts virtually any question or comment, so long as it is respectful of the other members of the circle (Jackson, 2001).”

Community Ball:

It is an instructional tool that is used to mediate turn taking during classroom discussion and inquiry. The rules of the community ball are: (1) only the person with the community ball speaks, (2) the person with the community ball chooses who speaks next, and (3) you always have the right to pass. These rules distribute power in the classroom, and ensure that all of the classroom participants listen and have the chance to be heard. Students and teachers make a community ball on one of the first days of class. Once it is complete, it is used to facilitate a number of collaborative classroom activities, including Plain Vanilla inquiries.

Plain Vanilla:

Plain Vanilla is a strategy for organizing classroom discussion, dialogue, and inquiry.

  1. READ: Students read or are exposed to some sort of stimulus, such as text, art, music, or video.
  2. QUESTION: Each student creates a compelling question that was stimulated by the reading and they make their questions public (i.e., they write their questions on a white board  and share their questions on a white board and share their questions out loud with their peers and teachers).
  3. VOTE: Students vote on a question they want to discuss. They do this by passing the community ball around the circle and verbally indicating the question(s) they want to vote for. Each student gets two votes and can place them both on the same question or two different questions. As the class goes through this process, a scribe (Student or teacher) records how many votes each question receives.
  4. WRITE: Once the preferred question is identified, the students write their responses to it. The responses may offer examples, identify assumptions, seek clarification, make inferences, identify counter-examples, and /or ask more questions.
  5. DIALOGUE, INQUIRY, & DELIBERATION: The person whose question received the most votes begins the inquiry. S/he explains what inspired the question (e.g. textual reference, life experience, etc.) and provides the first response. Participants then raise their hands and use the community ball to facilitate turn taking. During this time, participants are able to provide insights, examples, counterexamples, and ask questions in order to inquire deeply into the topic behind the question. Teachers may need to remind students that the purpose of the exercise is to gain a broader understanding by considering and exploring multiple perspectives; it is not an argument or debate.
  6. REFLECT & EVALUATE: Closure is created at the end of the inquiry by having each student write or orally share her or his responses to a set of reflective questions. For example, “What question, thought, or idea are you leaving with today? How does what you learned today connect to your life and the world you live in?” students and teachers can also use evaluation criteria (e.g., intellectual safety, active listening, effective participation, sustained focus, and use of the Good Thinker’s Tool Kit).

The role of the C3 teacher during a Plain Vanilla inquiry is to be a co-inquirer–i.e., one who has her or his eye on supporting students in maintaining a collaborative civic space and digging deeply into the topics being explored.

The Good Thinker’s Tool Kit

The Good Thinker’s Tool Kit consists of seven indicators for critical thinking. They are:

          WWhat do you mean by that?

               R-What are the reasons?

                 A-What is being assumed? Or what can I assume?

                    I-Can I infer ______ from _____? Or where are there inferences made?

                     T– Is what is being said true and what does it imply if it is true?

                       E-Are there any examples to prove what is being said?

                          C-Are there any counter-examples to disprove what is being said?