Senior Moments: The Dinner Table Test


First day of the semester in all senior classes: described the year as a "conversation with yourself" about the future.

To begin that conversation, I put up Friedrich's The Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog and asked them to generate questions to help them make sense of the painting and to connect it to their lives as seniors on the cusp of early adulthood.

The most important test of the first day is the Dinner Table Test, which we had in our house last night. The DTT happens when parents ask what happened at school that day. Stories are told about the teacher, the class, and what they did that day. First impressions—of teachers, students, and parents—are crucial at this stage.

I want students to say they felt challenged, intrigued, and confident they would do work that mattered in the year ahead.

In our house yesterday, the DTT involved two seniors: our son and my mother-in-law (Ann). Whit played it cool senior all the way: nothing to report. Ann attended her first day at a program for seniors at the Center for Aging here in San Francisco. Her day was what most high school seniors wish theirs was like: they sang, played games, talked, were fed a nice lunch, and had a guest come in to sing, accompanied by an accordian, an instrument Ann played as a young girl in the bandstand in Golden Gate Park.

Why The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog? Because we are all seniors this year looking ahead to a future shrouded in fog, through which we move carefully, uncertainly, guided by the faith that on the other side of it is a clarity we can all claim as our own.


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5 Responses to “Senior Moments: The Dinner Table Test”

  1. What a great idea for the first day of Senior English! I am going to look for a copy of this painting and borrow your idea. Thank you, and have a great school year.
    Susanne (NH)

  2. Great idea! I think I may use it in a Socratic Seminar with my 9th graders. Thanks for sharing.
    Kari (WA)

  3. Did you have your students share their questions? (I’m so nosy; but I suppose you know that by now! haha)

  4. I agree that this was a wonderful idea! You story holds more for me than I can possibly tell you. Your mother-in-law, your teaching career, and most of all, that painting.
    My own mother passed away nearly two weeks ago after a troubled period of senior aging. She was a retired Social Studies teacher. I didn’t want to continue for even more school to get my teaching degree (I probably would have been an English teacher). I am now without my mother and my future is feeling very, very foggy.
    All of that aside, I love your idea and I so understand, more than ever, why I subscribed to this blog. Thanks, Jim. You seriously touched me in an odd sort of way.

  5. Thanks for the responses, all. Evelyn–yours was special. Thanks. It helps to know I’m striking the right chord.

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