Teaching thinking with discussions (and visuals)

[Response to Chapter 9 in Burkes’s “The English Teacher’s Companion”]

As I explained here, my students were outside of their comfort zone when it came to abstract, critical thinking while (for the first time) collaborating them in the way I had them working in pairs. My CT thought they would shut down and not “get it.” Yet, I was happy to find that they did in fact get it, and they got it very well!

Even in classes today, I find myself quiet in many of my classes. It isn’t that I’m disinterested, it’s that in my head I’m analyzing and analyzing again as the class continues to discuss the topic at hand. Personally, I feel that I’ve got to wrestle with the ideas myself and then can put it all out there and share my thoughts/opinions/etc. For this reason, I agree with my CT when she doesn’t call on certain individuals because they have said that they are shy and do not like to speak to the group. I want my students to be comfortable. Yet, I also feel like it’s my job to help my students work through these issues of shyness or whatever it is that causes them to feel uncomfortable.

The question arises, for me at least, if we aren’t calling on our students for whatever reasons, how are we ensuring that they are thinking during discussions? (And I don’t mean by filling out a worksheet or simply copying notes.) With that said, I think Burke’s suggestion to use writing to help students think directly relates to how writing can help with organize thoughts for discussion. Furthermore, it’s interesting to think about how web 2.0 writing can play a part in all of this (as the chapter quotes, “written language not only makes ideas more widely and easily available, it changes the development and shape of ideas themselves” (245)).

Another way to get students thinking that Burke mentions in this chapter would be through the visual. I think the visual plays an imperative role in the classroom because we live in a very visual world and our students are entering the classroom with increasingly stronger visual skills. Burke states,

Though I love doing all of the following (visual) activities, there is a fine line between keeping such work grounded in English and drifting into what feels like an arts and crafts class (249).

Yet, our job is to help our students understand the rhetoric/purpose/etc. behind all of the visual work to relate it to “English.”

Though I haven’t yet been able to delve into many examples of using the visual or collaborative work in my classroom, the key word here is YET. From digital storybooks to book trailers, comics to multimodal presentations and projects, I envision my classroom being one in which critical, creative thinking is a major element of the successful classroom environment. I would also like for students to think of my classroom as a place of expressive learning where they can make real connections to the world around them.


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