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Ten Things I Love about Mock Trials: Part I

April 30, 2015
By Faith Acker

Ten Things I Love about Mock Trials: Part I

Faith Acker

 

Earlier this year, our tenth-grade students presented Cornerstone’s second (ever!) mock trial, in which Sir Lancelot was accused of  treason against England. The trial preparations were intense and exhausting—for me and also for my students—but the rewards were great.

Here are five (out of ten) reasons mock trials benefit our students:

1.  Evidence is weighed carefully. In preparation for trials, students must both understand the facts of a story and draw inferences based upon those facts. For our trial of Lancelot, students had to know not only what the characters did, but what their motives might have been. This ability to read beneath the surface is beneficial not only in English class, but during these students’ future perusals of books, newspapers, and even blogs.

2.  Students imitate—and maintain—characters. I make my students analyze characters at great length on paper, but having them imitate the characters about whom they have read (and answer difficult questions while in character) is more fun and also more challenging. One of the highlights of our Lancelot trial was the steadfast determination with which one of my students stuck persistently to his story in the face of a very forceful cross-examination. This will benefit him later! As Christians, we must be able to keep our stories straight even when we are questioned by skeptics and critics, and students who have had to defend their characters—and their teams’ claims—on paper are well equipped to do this.

 

3.  My students share stories. Story is at the heart of literature, and at the heart of human nature. As humans, we love to share stories, and, in a mock trial, many stories are told and re-told from differing perspectives—and with differing inclusions and exclusions. Although Lancelot may not want to discuss (or even mention) the death of Sir Gawain’s brother, that moment in the story is at the heart of Sir Gawain’s entire testimony, showing the importance of priorities and of details in life and story.

 

4.  Students practice teamwork. In the real world, working well with others is a common and essential skill. On more than one occasion, my lawyers (essentially team leaders) grew frustrated because their teammates were not staying focused. Sometimes the lawyers had to decide whether to do work another student had not done, or to let it slide even if the team suffered. This dilemma will be familiar to anyone who has participated in a group project for school or work, and I hope that this experience will inform the ways in which my students approach future groups and group projects. 

 

5.  Students practice leadership. A mock trial cannot be won by one student, nor can it be won without clear direction. My tenth grade class is filled with leaders, and I was pleased and proud to watch them in action in the weeks leading up to Lancelot’s trial. They drilled one another on their witness statements, they critiqued one another on presentation skills, and my four lawyers emphasized and explained (repeatedly) the crucial facts their teams would need in order to win the verdict. 

 

Mock trials are not easy, but they are a wonderful pedagogical tool, and—much as they are sometimes exhausting and frustrating—they benefit students in ways that extend beyond the reach of some of our more traditional assignments. My next blog will look at five additional—and less traditional—benefits of mock trials.

The Word Became Flesh

April 14, 2015
By Chelsea Carrier

The Word Became Flesh

A few weeks ago during dismissal, I sat at my desk for a moment and watched my students leave. Usually I join the students in putting up chairs and gathering my belongings before I grade papers, email parents, and discuss teaching strategies with colleagues. My eighth graders had started one of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, and already several of the kids had come to me saying how much they liked it and how far ahead they were. But something didn’t seem right, and as I watched my my students leave, I wondered, How many of them actually get it? I wasn’t so much concerned with whether they grasped who wrote what book or why a character made a certain decision or what a hyperbole is, but who Christ is, what the gospel is and means. After the last student shut the door, I couldn’t help crying, which (at least this time) turned to praying. I opened my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and flipped through the chapters we were reading about Scout’s first day of school battles with the new teacher, Miss Caroline:

Atticus stood up and walked to the end of the porch. When he contemplated his examination of the wisteria vine he strolled back to me.

     “First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—”

     “Sir?”

     “—until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” (39)

Since my first time reading Mockingbird, I have appreciated Atticus’s simplicity and wisdom, but as I read these lines again, I realized I had a new opportunity to share the gospel with my students.

The next day, I had my students write journal entries (funny or personal—their choice) based on the following prompt:

            I just wish (insert a person here) would understand…

When they finished, I told them we would be rewriting the entries from the other person’s point of view. Then I shared Atticus’s words with them, along with the following verses:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

I then asked them, “Who climbed in our skin and walked around in it?”

We talked for a few minutes about how the God of the universe, who wasn’t under obligation to create us, much less understand us, came down and climbed into our skin, walked around in it, and then died for each person in the room. With that grace and knowledge, we ought to walk around in other people’s skin because Christ chose to do the same for us. Climbing in someone’s skin can be:

  • as simple as imagining you are the person and reflecting on the situation,
  • as convicting and compassionate as prayer,
  • or as practical as physically doing whatever it is the person does--whether it be washing the dishes, watching the kids, or helping with homework.

 

As I read the student’s journals, the ones where they had to write from a different point of view, I noticed that most of these entries sounded more like letters. Some of the letters had to be hard to write, as they were from the perspective of someone who had offended or hurt the writer in some way. The beauty came from the students’ insight and compassion. The letters were characterized by an ability to give any offending parties the benefit of the doubt, not excuses, but a realization that we are humans broken by sin.

Scout never could understand Miss Caroline or the Cunninghams.

I may not understand a student’s inattention.

You may not understand your son or daughter’s mood swings.

And we won’t understand until we imitate Christ and climb in each other’s skin. Whether we remember, forget, or even fail, we can rest in the truth that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

 

Works Cited

The ESV Study Bible. Ed. Lane T. Dennis. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. Print.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1982. Print.

Latin's Not Dead

April 09, 2015
By Tracey Carrin

Why Study a “Dead” Language?

Amo, amas, amat…amamus, amatus, amant.”  This is the mantra of every current and former student of Latin. Last week, as my 5th grade class chanted this verb, a hand shot up to ask a pressing question:  “Why do we study Latin since it’s a dead language?”  Well, young one, I’m glad you asked!
 
How can something so ubiquitous be dead?  (ubiquitous, from the Latin ubique, meaning everywhere)  Latin is a language (language, from the Latin lingua, tongue) that is hard to escape.  Its remnants (remnant, from the Latin remanere, to remain) litter our English language like shells on a beach, each one a wonder to find and investigate (investigate, from the Latin investigare, to track or investigate).  I propose that this language is far from dead, but vibrantly alive in the language we use every day.
 
True, Latin is not a modern spoken language.  The Roman Empire from which it sprang has long since disintegrated.  However, the Romans left behind ideas that shaped Western civilization, including their prolific language.  The structure of English comes mostly from German (as well as many of our monosyllabic words), but even so, 60% of our vocabulary has a Latin origin.  An even higher percentage of our words that are two or more syllables come from Latin.  There are two main reasons for this abundance. 
 
First, in the 4th century, St. Jerome translated the Bible into the vulgate (or common) Latin. Then in 1382, John Wycliffe translated that work into English.  At the time, English was a new and somewhat underdeveloped language.  Words like propitiation and sanctify did not have an English equivalent, so the Latin words themselves were adopted into the malleable English language.  A thousand Latin words slipped into our language through the door of the Wycliffe Bible.
 
The second reason we have a generous amount of multi-syllabic Latin-based words is that all of academia in Europe knew and communicated in Latin during the Enlightenment.  It was the international language of the well-educated.  New ideas created a need for new vocabularies in science, astronomy, medicine, and philosophy, and thus found their expression in the “dead” language of Latin. The academic preference for the common “lingua Latina” spawned vast amounts of vocabulary.  Today the fields of law, medicine, and science are filled with Latinate lexicons.
 
But why do we study Latin today?  Are there still good reasons, even if you will never become a doctor, lawyer, or scientist? Educator Dorothy Sayers, whose essay The Lost Tools of Learning has inspired the resurgence of classical education in our country, offers us this startling perspective on the importance of Latin during a 1952 speech entitled “Ignorance and Dissatisfaction,” given in Cambridge, UK, “...If I were asked what, of all the things I was ever taught, has been of the greatest practical use to me, I should have to answer: the Latin Grammar.”
 
Classical education fosters sound thinking, writing, and speaking.  These skills are not merely philosophical niceties, but benefit the student in practical ways.  Latin has a positive and profound impact on the acquisition of these skills. 
 
At first glance, you may wonder, as my young student did, "Why do we study Latin since it's a dead language?" As we look closer at this language of weighty influence, we realize that Latin is not dead.  It's immortal.

 

Citations:
 “The Adventure of English: Birth of a Language,” BBC Documentary, 2003. YouTube, 2014.
*Note: This is a wonderful series, but due to some language and content, parental discretion is advised.
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