So much of learning is necessarily doing stuff. You learn through doing something – but also by reflecting. There should be a conscious process at some point. It is not known entirely what causes learning or improvement. My assumptions, as they stand, is that students need to:
1) Create workable analogies and metaphors for how the world, and the language that is used to construct it, work.
2) That there needs to be some reflection in order to consolidate that work.
3) That the act of teaching, or more precisely, ‘learning in front of the class’ is necessary. Those who are teaching need to ‘teach’ the rest of the class by posing a problem, and then the rest of the class need to produce some analysis or creative writing in a set amount of time. The analogy and the work should be useful.
As I wrote elsewhere, I responded to feedback from my students that requested more ‘group work’ with conceptual projects. Of course, this isn’t necessarily what they meant entirely (working with their mates is a more likely desire!). However, in line with my summer reading, I am determined to get my students to think as they work, and not just complete tasks.
Students complete a ‘project lesson’ for me so that they develop analogies that scaffold their language framework. By language framework, I meant the toolkit and general methodology used to manipulate and analyse language (something that so many develop by osmosis, but that all can strengthen by knowledge). By scaffold I mean support and develop in a lasting, substantial way. And by analogies I mean that students develop metaphors that aid their manipulation and analysis of language in a tangible way.
Like with all things, we had to start this from somewhere, and refine it as time went on. The final incarnation looked like this process:
1) Begin by choosing a technique that you wish to investigate in language. This can be part of Terrence’s Ten Tangible Techniques (more on that elsewhere!), such as sentence length variance or sentence starter variance, or a more particular literary technique such as onomatopoeia or pathetic fallacy.
2) Choose a text (usually from a text book, or private reading). Analyse this text with a focus on the particular technique chosen.
3) Create a text with a focus on the technique chosen.
4) Teacher marks analysis and your manipulation according to a rubric.
5) Students create an analogy that conceptualises the language technique (e.g. for sentence length variance, the concept of short and long passes in a football game might be devised. The purpose of the shorter passes is to draw the other team in so that a longer pass may then be more effective; in the same way, a series of longer sentences contextualises the significance of a shorter sentence). This is the ‘investigation’.
6) Students edit their analysis and their creative text in accordance with their analogy (and the prior marking of the teacher).
7) Students present their original analysis and creative text, along with their analogy, to a public audience (the class).
8) Students in the class ‘think’ about how they could improve the original work, with modelling from the teacher.
9) The presenting students present their improved work.
Ultimately, I want to empower them to develop the analogies necessary to conceptualise language, and a language framework.
Some examples of the language projects are as follows:
The key critique of this method of teaching and learning is that students might develop analogies that simply are not helpful. In the same way that students in an American class made cookies in order to understand the experience of slaves making railways, students very much risk thinking about the experience of slaves for five minutes, and the rest of the time thinking about making cookies.
To this end, seeing multiple projects with varying analogies achieves three aims:
1) Students can contextualise different analogies that are broadly referential, and therefore understand their effect with more coherency.
2) Students can decide to latch onto another analogy if it makes ‘more sense’ to them than one that perhaps they devised.
3) Students can experience the process of how metaphors and analogies aid understanding of data and stimulus – in other words, they are compelled to ‘think’ about what they are doing with language, rather than just ‘doing’ language.