This week I worked with students in the Mosaic program with Kim Leddy and Steve Shapiro. We wanted to provide students with an introduction to mindfulness and mindful creativity while also introducing the themes of transformation, identity and change.
Before I came into the classroom, Kim and Steve had used a variation on this mindfulness lesson (originally for teachers and staff) to introduce neuroplasticity and mindfulness to students. In the lesson, they also had students write metaphors for their brains. Student responses ranged from “a runaway train” to “Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.”
This lesson prepared students by providing opportunities to think about what their brain is like now, and what they might want it to be like in the future with the understanding that they can make changes with focused attention. It was a great lead in to some creative, messy work.
I watched Tim Starkey teach this Extended Looking lesson with his freshmen, leading to writing a literary analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird.
We had taught the lesson, which uses art by Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison to explore the process of gathering evidence to create meaning, a few weeks previous in his AP classes. Starkey saw applications to writing a literary analysis essay, so we used the same lesson to scaffold students toward gathering evidence in text sources to reach thematic conclusions in his ninth grade classes.
To build a theme statement, he asked his students to write down a single word that captured what they thought the picture “meant.”
The next day, Starkey and his students further analyzed the image by going back and gathering evidence related to the “meaning word” (or topic) they had found the previous day. Then, he had them go back and write a complete sentence (theme statement) describing what the artist/piece was saying about that topic.
This lead directly into the students literary analysis. Starkey first brainstormed one-word “meanings” for To Kill and Mockingbird with students. Then, they had to go back to the text and find evidence and passages that pertained to that theme. Afterward, they used the evidence to turn the one-word meaning into a thesis for their paper.
To write a thesis and literary analysis without a prompt is a very high-level thinking activity, especially for freshmen. This will be the first time that Starkey has tried such an open-ended assignment with freshmen, and we will be looking at his students’ work next week to see how they performed with the task. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that students were better able to “see the connections” in the analysis process because they had already practiced with the image according to Starkey. In addition, the students’ theme statements and evidence for the image were quite impressive in their level of sophistication.
I think Starkey’s strategic change from having students write a thesis statement then trying to “justify” it with evidence, to instead having students examine the evidence to build a theme is more authentic and will lead to more logical thinking by students when practicing analysis.
Here is the resource used to scaffold students to independent literary analysis:
- Writing and Supporting Thesis Statements graphic organizer
“Learning can be transformed into understanding only with intrinsic motivation. Learners must make an internal shift; they must choose to invest themselves to truly learn and understand. This need for creative engagement applies to all fields… In the arts, teachers specialize in creating environments that encourage learners to set aside the usual rules of school and invest themselves intrinsically. It requires an act of courage.”
–Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner, taken from Caren Truske’s 2013 CAWP Fall Conference presentation
Caren Truske is a chemistry teacher and member of Project Aspire (an arts integration based inquiry group) who had her her students work displayed at the Columbus Arts Festival this year. She presented at the Columbus Area Writing Project fall conference and modeled for teachers some of the techniques she used to engage and motivate her students in the thinking and research processes for science. Caren was a member of my CAWP cohort two years ago.
Here is a summary of her process with students:
- Product: Research, create and present a written and visual interpretation of the important aspects of an element from the periodic table.
- Students research an element of the periodic table and then “mind map” the phrases and terms associated with it on paper
- Students use the mind maps and their research to create different forms of short poetry or other creative writing
- Students create a visual representation of their element using a “stamping” process where they first create a Styrofoam stamp and then use it to create a reverse image
- Presentation: These projects were displayed at the Columbus Arts Festival
In her presentation, we used the same process without research, and I worked with one of her students. He “mind-mapped” music, so I mapped poetry on the same paper. As we did this, we circled and connected our common words. Then, she gave us some short form poetry examples to use as a model. The student and I both had the word “rhythm,” so I used an acrostic poem (a form I usually don’t like) to write about that:
Repetition of sounds- thumping and
Humming with the beat
You find your own
Tapping, rapping on the table
We practiced another poetry form with the same topic, and then created our stamps to go with either work and made the final product of writing and visual combined.
Truske asked me how I would imagine this in the ELA classroom. I think that the “stamping” process would be a good way to introduce symbolism of abstract concepts to students. I think that the mind-mapping free association is a good way to start that process, too. In addition, I think short poetry forms are a great way to address content issues and use formative assessment. For example, I could see teachers asking students to write:
- a haiku about claims
- a definition poem about “connotative meaning”
- a senryu describing the theme in a story
Truske said any teacher can ask to have their students work displayed at the Columbus Arts Festival.
She referenced the work on Tony Wagner in her presentation, so here are some links to his work: