“Classical (and Critical) Conversations”

Amid a busy week in structured learning time, our scholars look forward to a more relaxed forum for weekly group discussion. “Classical Conversations” was rolled out at Classical Charter Schools in recent years. It is an unscripted, unstructured time of day in which teachers, and sometimes scholars, select the topic of conversation. Most often scholars explore current events, relevant social issues, opportunities for career paths, or topics pertaining to our physical and mental health.

For Ms. Jakyaa Bradley, a Middle School teacher at CCS, Classical Conversations provides a window of time to get to know her scholars as individuals and to create a safe space for them to express their thoughts and feelings. In her first year at Classical, she developed a passion for this time of day and has worked extensively to cater the block to student interests and needs. Some topics in her 6th grade class included current events such as police brutality, discussion about contemporary music and its impact on children, exploration of different career paths or occupations, and conversations about self-care. One goal of these sessions is to open scholars’ eyes to new ways of thinking, whether about themselves, their interests and influences, the world, or their future and what they might like to accomplish.

Our 6th graders have had the experience of a CCS education with and without the Classical Conversations block and, through speaking with them, we discover the positive impact that this new space for discussion has made. For Abdul Rasheed, Classical Conversations allows inclusive space for scholars to connect with each other in a way they cannot do during typical lessons. They can put work aside to talk about other important things happening in the world or in their lives. Symphanie shared that conversations they have had about current events, such as police brutality, were deep, and both she and William expressed that it’s clear their teacher really cares about the topics and wants scholars to feel comfortable getting into the discourse.

William added that there are conversations that might help scholars change their ways or how they think. One example is the conversation about contemporary rap music which sheds light on multiple perspectives. Sophia, for example, realized that she could be listening to music with a more positive message, whereas Symphanie values the honesty and storytelling that rap artists bring into their music. Conversations about self-worth and self-care were also eye-opening to scholars and gave them a forum to share feelings they do not often get to unpack with their peers at school. The scholars we spoke with agreed that, for the most part, they felt comfortable talking about these topics within their classrooms and, if not, they could speak with their teachers privately if need be. Symphanie referred to the Classical Conversations space as a ‘safe zone’ and Melize added that scholars can talk freely, so long as what they say is appropriate.

The benefits of Classical Conversations are two-fold. There are benefits both in the content shared and the way scholars can learn and communicate with one another. Symphanie explained that conversations are student-led, teacher-facilitated and that all scholars have an opportunity to speak without needing to raise hands. While this time of day is meant to be flexible and unstructured, Ms. Bradley maintains classroom expectations to promote respectful listening. For example, “scholar position” translates to generally good posture and aids student focus, and the ‘accountable talk’ scholars practice in lessons helps to strengthen their conversational skills even in informal settings. Abdul Rasheed noted how he’s improved in communication by learning to be concise and to-the-point with his ideas, and often this practice comes from this discourse-heavy time of day. As technology becomes more expansive in our society, it is becoming even more important to make space for open-ended, face to face conversations. Furthermore, with Ms. Bradley, scholars have had an opportunity to branch into their creative sides by filming mock newscasts and interviewing their teachers’ connections working across a range of occupations. The space that this block allows for flexibility and creativity is something that our teachers and scholars greatly value and has had a positive impact on scholars’ experiences at school.

In addition to the benefits of keeping our scholars informed about the world around them, learning about themselves, and practicing good conversational skills, Classical Conversations also helps scholars connect with their teachers. Scholars we spoke with expressed that, through these class discussions, they realized that their teacher understands what it’s like to be in middle school and have these feelings. One 6th grader, Samaya, also reflected that her teacher gives scholars a chance to explain their feelings, how situations affected them, and is open to asking how she can change her actions or reactions to improve relationships. Through interviewing our scholars, we not only learned how Classical Conversations, as a new lesson block, has been impactful but we also uncovered how it has deepened their relationship with their teacher, Ms. Bradley. This reiterates the critical importance of creating space for teachers and students to simply talk.



This post was contributed by Ms. Bradley, Middle School ELA teacher, her incredible students, and Ms. Emanuele, Specials Project Manager. As a non-CMO charter network, we rely on the thoughts, opinions, and innovations of our staff to move our mission forward and provide an excellent academic option to families in the South Bronx. To hear more from our staff, check out the next post! Or, click here to learn more.


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