Weeks 1 and 2: Linking Thinking and Writing

colorfulI’ll kick off the discussion with a few remarks after my rereading of  Bean’s Chapters 1 and 2.  For each Chapter I’ll then throw out a question or two for you to respond to.  These follow roughly those guiding Qs found in the Schedule for Week 2 – but I’m tweaking here and there as we go.

Let’s start with, hmm, Chapter 1!  Bean wastes no time in setting the stage with a host of interesting ideas and problems.  For me, the most important concept introduced in Chapter 1 is the idea of design – in our context, the intentional decisions made by the teacher regarding the learning experience that the student will undertake.

For many teachers who have worked exclusively at the post-secondary level, the development of courses and assignments are guided by a set of default assumptions and procedures, often based on their own post-secondary educational experiences. I create an interesting course by first selecting some interesting content; then by telling the students some interesting things about that content in my classes; and then by developing some interesting homework assignments, essays and exams, where the students can tell me that they have indeed understood what is so interesting about the topics covered in my course.  The primary objective is the transmission of knowledge.  While some great teaching and learning can and does occur under this imperative, experienced teachers also know that, with depressing frequency, students are not always very interested, and the work they produce is not always very interesting.

In Chapter 1, Bean brings to visibility the fact that along with being a subject matter expert, the teacher is a designer of the student learning experience.  As a result, default choices can be replaced with intentional ones once the teacher gains a more explicit awareness of what the end purposes of the design process ought to be.  You might think that this should be obvious for teachers, at least experienced ones – but I assure you that it is not.  At the WID Spring Institute a couple of years ago, a seasoned English teacher came up to me at the end of the day to say something like, “I am so completely gobsmacked.  I’ve been telling my students for years to take the composition process seriously, to think intentionally about the form and content of their arguments, to revise and reconsider critically – and all the while, I have never critically scrutinized the way I design my courses and assignments.”  What it often comes down to is that many of us want our students to think critically and to write well – but we design our courses, first and foremost, to cover content and transmit knowledge.

To make this discordance concrete, take a look at the set of 8 principles that Kurfiss (1988) suggests are central to to learning critical thinking (Bean 5).  We would likely all endorse these principles as “good things.”  At the same time, we might feel challenged to explain how we actually reverse engineer them into our course and assignment design.  The idea of reverse designing – of beginning with the desired learning outcomes (or competencies if you like), then developing the learning activities and assignments that will best facilitate that specific learning outcome, then choosing the content that is appropriate for the activity or assignment – is a kind of Copernican revolution.  It turns the default course and assignment design process upside down; it turns the course into a student-centred, learning-focused universe versus a teacher-centred, knowledge-focused one.  It is easy to talk in the abstract about this kind of shift; it is very challenging to do.

Happily for us, Bean is a truly awesome guru guide to rethinking, in design mode, the way we put together courses and assignments in pursuit of good student writing and thinking.  As he notes, research indicates that the relationship between student engagement and the amount and quality of writing in a course is stronger than the relationship between engagement and any other characteristic of the course (Bean 1).  Whether the course is in the student’s major, whether the student likes the teacher – all are less significant than the amount and quality of the writing demanded by the course.  So, there is an enormous potential for leveraging student engagement simply through better design decisions.

One thing that makes Engaging Ideas so approachable and practical, in my view at least, is its “toolkit” nature.  In pages 2-10 of Chapter 1, Bean identifies 8 steps that can lead teachers toward better design decisions.  Which one of these steps particularly caught your interest and why?

OK, now some briefer remarks on Chapter 2, “How Writing is Related to Critical Thinking,” starting with a few observations on my own experiences as a university student in different places and at various levels.  No one encouraged me to explore ideas in informal writing, or to write a brouillon; no course I took was noticeably designed to introduce “beautiful problems;” if anyone talked about the dialogic nature of academic writing, I missed it; certainly no one taught the rhetorical “moves” of academic writing;” no one required multiple drafts or talked to me beyond superficialities about revision; no one offered rewrites!  Various figures did harp on what Bean identifies as a positivist model of the writing process (33), but no class time was allotted to working on this process or discussing its preliminary products.  And when it didn’t work for me, there was no discussion of alternative processes.  In short, I went to university in the Dark Ages; maybe you did too?  The was no explicit writing instruction to accompany the coverage of content.  I wrote some “and then” and “all about” and “data dump” papers, but I must have written some good papers too, since intermittently I received brief end comments on my “talent” as a writer.  What those talents were, exactly, I couldn’t make out.  I had to do some reading and thinking, then, to catch up with the WAC and WID ideas and practices (Bean 19) which hadn’t yet made it through the walls of Western, U of T and McGill in the 1980s – but which are fundamental to the approaches outlined in this book.

My profs had no Bean; happily, we do.  Is there anything that you’d like to share or confess about your own formative academic writing experiences?  As you think about your own student experiences and/or your own current teaching practices, is there any one of the strategies on pages 29-37 that strike you now as particularly important?

Over to you folks, then.  Please have your say, brief or lengthy, before our first meeting on Sept 1.

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  1. La lecture du premier chapitre m’a captivée pour plusieurs raisons.
    Premièrement, j’ai été ravie de constater que certaines idées qui sous-tendent l’approche de Bean font écho à ma propre vision de l’enseignement.
    En effet, comme Bean (pages 3-4), je suis l’adepte d’un enseignement qui dépasse la vision disciplinaire étroite, qui mise sur le dialogue entre les disciplines et les compétences transdisciplinaires. Or, en visant le développement de la pensée critique, on vise implicitement le développement des compétences à la fois pluridisciplinaires et transdisciplinaires.
    Par contre, Bean souligne en même temps la nécessité d’apprendre aux étudiants la manière propre à chaque discipline de bâtir une argumentation (page 9, step 2). Il faudrait concevoir, selon Bean, des activités d’apprentissages qui permettent aux élèves de mieux comprendre comment dans le cadre de la discipline qu’on enseigne on examine, par exemple une assertion.
    Je crois que c’est à aspect très important qui devrait être élucidé dès les premiers cours avec les étudiants.
    Il m’est arrivé à de nombreuses reprises qu’à des questions portant sur une œuvre littéraire qu’on étudie dans le cours, les étudiants bâtissent leurs réponses sur des arguments-preuves extraits de leurs expériences de vie, des statistiques, enquêtes sociologiques, etc., et cela malgré les modèles de réponse qu’on donne en classe.
    Je me rends compte que je devrais insister plus, tel que le souligne Bean, sur les caractéristiques propres à l’argumentation littéraire.

    Une autre idée qui a particulièrement retenu mon attention est l’idée selon laquelle le développement de la pensée critique est directement lié à la résolution de problèmes.

    Poser un problème peut être, affirme Bean en citant Meyers et Dewey (page 3), une manière très stimulante, très motivante de débuter un cours ou d’introduire un nouveau sujet.
    Je me suis demandé comment je pourrais appliquer cela dans mes cours de français et notamment dans les cours avancés axés sur la lecture d’œuvres littéraires et sur l’écriture. Et j’ai imaginé quelques questions – problèmes qui orienteront le cours en général et la lecture des textes à l’étude en particulier tout au long de la session.
    Puisque j’ai proposé comme lecture deux romans dont la toile de fond est l’Histoire tourmentée du XXe siècle, j’ai conçu ces questions que j’ai insérées dans la description de mon cours, et qui donnerait, dans ma vision, plus de sens, plus de cohérence à ma démarche :
    “Comment peut-on dire / raconter l’Histoire ?” ” Quelle est la différence entre le discours « officiel » et le discours littéraire ?” “Comment la littérature peut-elle ou du moins essaie-t-elle de dire l’Histoire, surtout lorsqu’il s’agit d’événements atroces ?” “Quel est l’apport de la littérature ?” “Quel est l’intérêt, en fin de compte, de lire un roman qui s’inspire des événements historiques plutôt qu’un livre d’Histoire ?”

    Ces questions visent d’ailleurs un double objectif : d’une part elles assurent, comme je l’ai précisé, une cohérence, elles donnent un sens (justifient même) à mon cours et à la lecture des textes que je propose en les inscrivant dans une démarche de réflexion sur le monde, et d’autre part, elles confrontent dès le départ les étudiants à un/plusieurs problèmes auxquels ils sont conviés à trouver une réponse.

    Enfin, la chose la plus importante à retenir, de tout ce que Bean avance dans ce chapitre et qui est le fondement de sa démarche (et devrait être aussi celui de notre propre démarche) est le fait qu’écrire = penser.

    Je crois qu’on devrait faire de ces deux mots la devise de nos cours et insister dès le début sur le fait qu’écriture est à la fois, comme Bean le souligne, processus de réflexion et résultat de ce processus.
    En tout cas, pour ce qui est de mes cours de français, j’insisterai sur cet aspect, parce que beaucoup d’étudiants pensent qu’écrire consiste simplement à remplir des pages et que plus on écrit mieux c’est .

    • @ “Il m’est arrivé à de nombreuses reprises qu’à des questions portant sur une œuvre littéraire qu’on étudie dans le cours, les étudiants bâtissent leurs réponses sur des arguments-preuves extraits de leurs expériences de vie, des statistiques, enquêtes sociologiques, etc., et cela malgré les modèles de réponse qu’on donne en classe.”

      I know, it is frustrating! But their approach makes sense when you consider that they have little or no experience reading or writing in the academic genre of the literary essay. Their default discursive mode is that of “personal opinion.” College represents an initiation into more objective modes of thinking and argumentation, each with its own conventions in the stating of claims, in the use of evidence, etc. This reality is the foundation of the WID approach – and you are right to introduce models (many!) of the genre of your discipline, and to discuss them in detail, in advance of assignment that requires students to write in that genre.

  2. I’m going to tackle this entry in 2 steps by responding to the question of which of the eight steps interests me and why from chapter 1 tonight and address chapter 2 either tomorrow or Tuesday evening.

    I began reading the forward and the first thought I had after reading “as writers struggle…(critical) thinking occurs” was that this is a statement that we need to make very explicit to our students repeatedly. I often tell my students that I am not going to correct spelling or sentence structure etc… but I don’t think I have stressed the ‘thinking’ aspect of writing verbally.

    As for the steps, several interested me but the 1st, by beginning every class with something that is a problem or cause for wonder is something I would love to do… but not sure how. I don’t feel that I am that creative. And then there is what do I do after I have opened the class that way? Do we talk about it, do I have them write something, to what end? If the challenge is to “grapple with ideas, rethink assumptions and examine mental models of reality” how do I know they have done this? This idea comes up in step 3, which I am looking forward to designing but will probably need to talk about with all of you as I move through this process of design.

    The other step that was kind of a revelation for me was #7, Critiquing student performances and modeling examples critical thinking. I actually don’t feel that critical thinking is one of my strong points. Psychology is a BIG topic and I am a subject matter expert in one specific area of it… I think I hide sometimes behind the ‘easy way’ so I don’t expose my insecurities or lack of expertise in a particular topic… something I wasn’t really aware of till tonight. Teachers can’t know everything about everything, I get that… but is that normal? Now that I know what I’m doing I can address it, but again… not sure how to do that. Definitely going to be having some interesting conversations with you people 😉

    • @ “I began reading the forward and the first thought I had after reading “as writers struggle…(critical) thinking occurs” was that this is a statement that we need to make very explicit to our students repeatedly. I often tell my students that I am not going to correct spelling or sentence structure etc… but I don’t think I have stressed the ‘thinking’ aspect of writing verbally.”

      Agreed, Melanie – we could both highlight the difficulty of the struggling, and as you do, refrain from looking for sentence level perfection too soon in the process. In fact, the student’s “struggle” is often visible as sentence-level error. Bean refers at several points to the research indicating that as intellectual challenge in writing tasks increases, so does error. It makes sense – I take on a challenging new problem, at a level slightly above my head, and suddenly my sentences are garbled and confused. Error is not always a sign of student illiteracy (a conclusion some profs like to jump to) – it is just as likely a sign that they are in the middle of grappling with challenging new concepts and examples, and – even after revision and editing – are not finished with that grappling.

  3. I think i will follow Melanie’s example and respond to chapters 1 and 2 separately as I just finished reading chapter 1 and have some thoughts.

    the step that most interested me was the last one: treating the writing as a process. I have always tried to allow rewrites in my courses, although it created more work for me, because I believe so much in this, but stopped because the results were usually not very good – they would correct a few things but not really improve the overall quality. This is also why I don’t like teaching IS – I find it, on the whole, depressing! But what excited me from Bean, and what I want to try and incorporate using this process to deepen their thinking, have them CHANGE rather than improve each time, so for instance my idea of starting with a fictional piece which gets changed into a journalism article, which then gets changed into an academic essay. Hopefully this way they will do more than just superficial changes.

    But part of the problem is with critical thinking, or rather the academic approach. i’m not sure that what he says on p.5 is true, that all students can learn critical thinking. I think that many of our students don’t want to, they have no interest. Colleges and universities can’t seem to decide if we/they are here for abstract thinking or for job training, and many of our students have come for the latter. They put up with us rambling on about critical thinking, but as if they realize that is the price they must pay to get the degree/certificate that will lead to jobs.

    However, that being said, I do think it important to teach them to challenge assumptions (p4). Especially when it comes to learning about religions, it is vital that they understand that everything can be questioned, that there are no absolute TRUTHs. That many different truths can and do co-exist and that many of these truths contradict one another and that’s fine.

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm this is my first blogging attempt – I think I may belong on the side of the long-winded…………………….

    • I agree with your comments about the writing as a process part.. I had never thought about it… In the psych dept our students don’t revise, whether in Intro or 400/IS… they tweak, move some sentences around, change words… sometimes… I know this because we talk a lot amongst ourselves about student writing. Those actions are not ‘revision’…I found this section to be particularly eye opening and helpful in helping me frame what it is I want the students to do and give me language to help direct them

    • @ “This is also why I don’t like teaching IS – I find it, on the whole, depressing! But what excited me from Bean, and what I want to try and incorporate using this process to deepen their thinking, have them CHANGE rather than improve each time, so for instance my idea of starting with a fictional piece which gets changed into a journalism article, which then gets changed into an academic essay. ”

      Yes, the challenges of IS – a whole WID project took place in W2014 on this subject, and maybe we can look at the approaches and tools that came out of it together…
      But your idea of moving from more subjective to more objective modes of thinking/writing using three different genres is very promising in itself. Why couldn’t that be a three part structure for an IS course? More likely to succeed at developing a good integrative interdisciplinary paper at the end, and also developing genre awareness as they proceed. Remind me to share a great resource by Anne Beaufort on this subject, Sonia.

  4. When I was a college student, I enjoyed lectures, particularly discussion-based lectures where I would frequently participate. Great works of literature and philosophy inspired me. I wanted to learn more about them from experts and have a chance to provide my point of view on them in class. I hated when professors assigned in-class group work, which luckily for me was rare in those days, because I felt as though I was going back to elementary school. Wasn’t the instructor just using these group activities as a cop-out so that they didn’t have to teach the material themselves?

    I had assumed that this was how most students felt until I was forced to take a boot camp on writing in the disciplines in graduate school. The university had just made it a requirement that all PhD students teach a first year writing seminar and this was how they prepared us. There was an exploitative element to all this (relying on cheap graduate labor to teach introductory courses) but that would be the subject for another post. The seminar itself was eye-opening. We learned that not all students come to college with the inclination to become professors. We learned about the research that documented the benifits of group work. We also studied the documented value of assignment scaffolding, peer review, and motivating moves. The experience was worthwhile, and I believe that it helped me get the job at Dawson. Still, I wasn’t wholly convinced.

    When I started teaching Continuing Education, however, it quickly became apparent that not every student was like me when I was at college. At least in my case, lecturing alone would not cut it. I discovered that small group exercises, when properly designed, not only stimulated critical thinking but created a more dynamic learning environment for the class as a whole. Once students discussed a complex argument in teams, the ones who are typically shy in large class discussions (which, let’s be honest, is the majority), often started to feel confident expressing themselves. I’ve also found that low-stakes writing assignments, essentially graded as participation, can play a big role in stimulating participation and intellectual growth. While I once saw group exercises as infantile, I now enjoy nothing more than the din of excited conversation about a challenging and stimulating text!

    Although I enjoyed my own college and university experience despite the lack of group work, one thing that I can’t believe I didn’t get more of was attention to the basic conventions of academic writing. In particular, I would have liked to know much more about the motivating moves described by Bean on pages 31-32. There was literally one exception in my entire undergraduate career. I remember it well. It was in Virginian Nixon’s “Introduction to Western Art History” in the Liberal Arts College at Concordia. Professor Nixon, unlike any other professor I had, made us write a research paper where we needed to introduce a problem in the scholarship, explain the relevance of our current contribution, craft an arguable thesis statement, and then give an overview of how the paper would defend this this. To help us understand these core conventions of academic writing, she made us read a number of introductions to scholarly articles to show us how they worked. Moreover, unlike other professors, Professor Nixon provided us with detailed and typed comments on our work. While she could be unforgiving in her honesty, this feedback made you feel as though she actually cared about what you had to say. Even though I don’t remember what my research paper for her class was about, I can say with confidence that no undergraduate assignment proved as valuable as I went on to complete my Master’s and PhD.

    When I think back to her course and all of the ideas discussed in these chapters, I recognize that I still have so much to learn to make my pedagogy as effective as possible. As some have pointed out in this forum, it’s challenging to get students to take the revision process seriously. I’d also like to do more to build debate style questions into my course readings and assignments, so that students must struggle with competing perspectives as they develop their own conclusions. Finally, I’d like to be able to provide my students with more feedback before they submit the final drafts of their work, but without experiencing burn-out, which came close to hitting me last semester when I taught IS for the first time. Looking forward to getting answers to some of these questions hearing about everyone else’s classroom experiences.

    • @ “We learned that not all students come to college with the inclination to become professors.”

      @ “While I once saw group exercises as infantile, I now enjoy nothing more than the din of excited conversation about a challenging and stimulating text!”

      I know what you mean, Julian – funny how professional development often turns out to be a matter of backing up until we run over our previous experiences and assumptions. Only then can we get out of the car and say, see that crushed form on the road? That’s one of my previously unassailable truths!

      @ “While she could be unforgiving in her honesty, this feedback made you feel as though she actually cared about what you had to say.”

      Now this is indeed an uncrushable truth. Teacher has got to care about what a student thinks… Compare Weinstein (2001), “Honoring A Student’s Thinking.”


    • Je vais suivre l’exemple de Julien et parler un peu de mon expérience en tant qu’étudiante au premier cycle à l’université. J’ai fait tout d’abord trois ans dans une université qui mettait surtout l’accent sur l’étalage du savoir. Plus tu faisais la preuve que tu étais une sorte d’encyclopédie ambulante, plus tu étais mieux noté, mieux côté en tant qu’étudiant. Bien que j’aie été inscrite dans un département de littérature, mes professeurs ne voulaient rien savoir de ce que je pensais à propos des textes qu’on lisait pendant les cours. Et presque tous les examens d’ «écriture » consistaient à étaler notre savoir, à faire la preuve qu’on a bien lu et assimilé tout ce que les « grands » critiques disaient à propos des « grands » textes (on était encore dans une vision de la « grande » littérature)
      Ma dernière année de baccalauréat (à l’époque on faisait quatre années) je l’ai faite à l’Université de Bourgogne en France. Là je me suis confrontée à un système qui mettait l’accent sur la forme. On devait écrire des dissertations littéraires (l’équivalent de l’ « essay »), selon un modèle très précis : un nombre précis de parties, sous-parties, phrases de transition, etc. Il fallait absolument « déformer » (c’est le sentiment que j’ai eu à l’époque) notre pensée selon ce moule, une sorte de lit de Procruste, frustrant et traumatisant.
      Cependant un jour, un matin plus précisément (je crois que je vais me rappeler toute ma vie de ce prof qui arrivait en classe à 8 heures du matin, tout décoiffé, les lacets défaits, parfois chemise déboutonnée ; je crois qu’il avait vraiment du mal à se réveiller si tôt) il y a eu comme un miracle, une révélation qui a changé ma vie d’étudiante, et qui a mis fin au calvaire de la rédaction de la dissertation.
      Désespéré par la qualité des travaux qu’on lui remettait, le prof en question s’est enfin décidé de nous montrer comment il fallait s’y prendre, comment apprivoiser la bête.
      Il ne s’est pas contenté de nous montrer comme les autres profs le faisaient le « modèle » à suivre, mais il s’est mis à faire devant nous au tableau le brouillon, le travail préparatoire : noter pèle-mêle dans un premier temps toutes les idées pertinentes en lien avec le texte à analyser, faire des connexions ensuite entre ces idées, chercher le fil conducteur, organiser les idées, faire un plan, trouver un titre, etc. Si cette façon de travailler est peut-être évidente pour grand nombre de personnes, j’avoue que pour moi et d’autres étudiants comme moi ce n’était pas si « évidente » à cette époque.
      Or, Bean dans le chapitre 2, parmi les 15 suggestions pour encourager les élèves à réviser leurs textes, suggère au numéro 12 d’apporter en classe un exemple de notre « work in progress ». J’avoue que je ne l’ai pas encore fait, mais maintenant je pense sérieusement à le faire. Quelle serait la meilleure modalité de le faire, je ne sais pas encore. Faire comme mon ancien prof, une sorte de simulation, ou peut –être créer un tutoriel vidéo que chacun puisse regarder chez soi tout d’abord et dont on discutera par la suite en classe (pour gagner du temps et avoir plus de temps pour répondre aux éventuelles questions des étudiants).

      Une autre idée à laquelle j’ai beaucoup accroché dans ce chapitre c’est la suggestion numéro 5 : organiser de petits groupes de discussion entre les étudiants afin de leur permettre de parler de leur projet d’écriture « in progress », de leur difficultés et d’échanger des idées. Je trouve que c’est une excellente idée. J’irais même plus loin et je dirais qu’on pourrait carrément demander aux étudiants d’échanger leurs brouillons, de se lire les uns les autres, faire des commentaires sur leurs travaux respectifs, un peu comme s’ils étaient des professeurs.

  5. Part 2… A couple of things stood out… the 1st being the ‘so what’ test which Davina taught me to do when I used to teach IS… now I know where she go it!! Such a great tool to use when making statements or arguments as a self correction technique.

    The thing that resonated with me the most tho was at the bottom of pg 33, ‘gradually being drawn into a conversation, unresolved, unsatisfactory and missing elements… It resonated not because I had ever experienced this as a student nor has this been the way that I teach, but it struck me that this is the way that I create my lectures/classes and how the planning process has evolved over time…the constant back and forth, trying to make information accessible and meaningful, the extra content and articles, the 27 computer tabs open at once and the PPT presentation that is constantly evolving to reflect this.

    In reading this section I realised I was not challenged, there was no dissonance as a student. I was perfectly capable to write a 20 page paper 2 nights before it was due and ‘revise’ the night before handing it in. Perhaps why I question my ability to create these environments for my students is that I have no model to follow.

    I can see the struggle ahead, which I am looking forward to tackling with guidance. I think one of the reasons I have been pushing more outside my comfort zone over the the last couple of years with my involvement with the ALC, WID and some other cross discipline course ideas is that I feel like mentioned above that there are missing elements, unresolved issues and am unsatisfied with elements of my courses and how they are taught (hence the revision) but it is more than that… the recognition that teaching is not a solitary activity regardless of the fact that we are alone in our classes. I seek out my colleagues more and more for ideas, sharing etc… and wish there was even more of it.

    • So much to think about here, Melanie!! Two ideas…

      First, I wonder if the “dissonance” that you rightly refer to is captured in the following questions? “Why do college teachers so often model their courses and teaching on the knowledge base they have established as scholars rather than on the kinds of inquiry they pursue? Why do they choose to tell students what they know rather than engage students in the kinds of questions they ask?” (Gottschalk & Hjortshoj 2004). Why ? Maybe because it is less chaotic, more orderly to lead a knowledge transfer process (Class#7, time for PPT 23!) versus coaching from behind the bench a student-driven process of inquiry… and we know how teachers tend to prefer order to chaos…

      Second, @ “the recognition that teaching is not a solitary activity regardless of the fact that we are alone in our classes”

      Even though it’s more than a half century since John Dewey outlined the social nature of learning, it remains slow to trickle down through education! Of course educational systems continue to insist on dividing, isolating and measuring… Anyways, If no one really learns in isolation from others, if learning is social both in its ends and its means – the same must be true of the learning we undertake as teachers. Another foundational idea for projects like ALC and WID.

  6. Part 2………………… what really stood out for me in this chapter is the idea of chaos. of viewing messy, disorder, chaos as positive elements, to be encouraged. not to encourage them to find their way our right away, but to enjoy being there, to wallow in it, and see where that leads. This is the opposite of what i usually do, which is to stress clarity above all. I like the idea of combining this with Bean’s #3: getting students to pose questions FROM the chaos, making this a meandering rather than straight line process right from the start. so the end point is not obvious…………………….
    I remember (and here I am dating myself) how impressed I was when I first heard about Edward deBono’s “lateral thinking”, which is sometimes referred to as thinking outside the box and has now become general knowledge, but it was an amazing revelation to me at the time, and has had a major influence on how i live my life, not just my academic work. So i like the idea of getting my students to travel sideways or even backwards or upside down rather than in a straight line

    • @ re: chaos: “to enjoy being there, to wallow in it, and see where that leads.” A most enjoyable Zen-like thought to have, but also a difficult pose to strike as a teacher – since teachers can’t resist calling for clarity first. I agree: Allow students to “pose questions from the chaos,” since sometimes (often?) students don’t know that they don’t know what they are talking about, until they make and then interrogate their own chaotic statements. From these statements new questions can emerge.

      Don’t worry Sonia, according to me de Bono is still cool! I have a hunch his Six Hats for Thinking is also transferable to writing, haven’t got that sorted yet!

  7. Something Ian picked up on in Bean really struck me, that all factors are “less significant than the amount and quality of the writing demanded by the course”, but that our clear vision as teachers and students is often clouded by thinking that ‘writing’ is taking time away from content. This is something I have thought about a great deal; especially in a course on Media Knowledge where form is extremely important, and students learn early on how the packaging of knowledge as publicity or investigative journalism (or even as authoritative or accepted thought) serves to limit the ways in which we comprehend information. This presages a discussion of epistemology (that knowledge is about what we know, how we know it, and also about the limits of our knowledge and knowledge itself) and can make more urgent the need to think critically. This is linked to the idea that “écrire = penser”, and so with the free writing ideas and my WID toolkit in hand I asked students on Tuesday to select one element, aspect, item that represents them, and to write about it for a few minutes. In groups, students were then asked to guess the meaning of the representation, after which the authors shared why they selected them. In their own writing students were representing themselves, were encapsulating some of their knowledge; and in responding to them others were demonstrating how polysemy works and that there are multiple interpretations of a pencil, a bandaid (yes students described themselves in these terms). Alongside opening students to a different part of themselves in writing and sharing, they began to consider the constructed nature of knowledge itself (and thus the importance of critical thinking). It felt like a good way to start the class, and I hope that next this opener will move us to a discussion about icons, symbols, and various metaphors of the English language even, to how we discuss our understanding in the same way we discuss our sense of vision which is so very important (asking for someone’s perspective, point of view, angle…). I like how Sonia picked up on transforming an assignment, so perhaps next I can ask them to create a back-story for a superhero needed in our times using that element (‘Super Bandaid!’) and then an artists’ manifesto linking the back-story to the themes we have discussed (icons, symbols, image/imagination); this may seem fanciful but this ludic spirit is what appeals to me in the free writing exercises. Maybe we also learn when we are more casual and laugh, when we have assignments that are less serious alongside the thesis-driven ones Julian was describing and sometimes appear so daunting to students. I am taking suggestions for later assignments too, moving from one form of writing to another. Finally, this question of wonder, this is something I have cultivated recently at New School with the privilege of smaller classes. Next week, students and I have thought about a way to express a certain unity of intention, halfway through the class stopping to write an expectation, a thought, an inspiration from the readings or discussions, and then reading these aloud at the end to ground us and remind us of what comes next. Since we already check-in with each other at the beginning, this brings us full circle, and is very low pressure as it can be anonymous. I hope that this, coupled with presenting work in progress in the form of proposals for final papers, and reworking them with feedback from peers may go some way to taking the wonderful disorder and as Sonia says ‘meandering’ until we can clarify specific areas of study, questions, theses so that each student may not only improve their writing but also feel that they have grown through their own writing.

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