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Turning the Soul

Teaching through Conversation in the High School

Is our nation’s educational system faltering in part because it strives to teach students predetermined "right" answers to questions? In Turning the Soul, Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon offers and alternative to methods advocated by conventional educational practice. By guiding the reader back and forth between two high school classes discussing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, she gracefully introduces the alternative approach to education: interpretive discussion.

One class, located in a private, racially integrated urban school, has had many conversations about the meaning of books. The second group, less advantaged students in a largely black urban school, has not. The reader watches as students in each group begin to draw upon experiences in their personal lives to speculate about events in the play. The students assist one another with the interpretation of complex passages, pose queries that help sustain the conversation, and struggle to "get Shakespeare right." Though the teachers suffer moments of intense frustration, they are rewarded by seeing their students learn to engage in meaningful exchange.

Because Turning the Soul draws on actual classroom conversations, it presents the range of difficulties that one encounters in interpretive discussion. The book describes the assumptions about learning that the use of such discussion in the classroom presupposes, and it offers a theoretical perspective from which to view the changes in both students and teachers.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Teaching through Conversation
Part One: Interpretive Discussion in the School
Conversation 1: An Introduction to Chalmers and Belden Schools
Conversation 2: Why Do Teachers Fail to Draw upon Students’ Experiences in Discussion?
Conversation 3: What Does a Good Interpretive Discussion Look Like?
Part Two: How Are Students and Teachers Transformed through Discussion?
Conversation 4: The "Phony" Issue
Conversation 5: The "Genuine" Issue
Conversation 6: The Group Emerges
Conversation 7: The Evaluative Discussion
Conversation 8: Getting It "Right"
Part Three: How Do Students Learn to Build an Interpretation?
Conversation 9: Getting It "Wrong"
Conversation 10: Getting It "Right" (Again)
Conclusion: Problems and Possibilities


American Educational Studies Association: AESA Critics' Choice Book Award

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