So, I’ve been thinking about making connections to ideas inside and outside of the books we read. I have always been a fan of a good mindmap or web, even before I knew about Making Thinking Visible. I don’t think there is ever a bad time for color coded charts and diagrams. And, yes, I did teach in lower school grades.
However, I think maps and charts and colored lines here and there are helpful even for students in high school. Earlier in the semester, I asked my seniors to work on a visible representation of the connections between the text, outside information that we had discussed, and thematic ideas.
My class was reading Monster by Walter Dean Myers. We were most of the way through the book. During class discussions, we had talked about the narrative structure of the book and how Myers uses the journal entries and the screenplay to do different jobs. Towards the beginning, I brought in information about NY State laws about the age at which young people are tried as adults, statistics about numbers of minors in adult prisons in NY, racial breakdowns of inmates, and brain research about the age at which young brains are able to consistently consider cause and effect. Of course, we were also discussing the theme of identity, in addition to the reliability of Steve (the protagonist) as a narrator. It’s a lot to have swirling around in our heads. And, I really wanted the students to think about how Myers was weaving this all together as an author, since one of the goals of the unit was to identify and consider the writer’s use of first person and other “writer moves” in a story that in some way deals with what happens when black boys come in contact with the criminal justice system. (Our other books were Hush by Jacqueline Woodson and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely).
Here’s what I did.
I brought in copies of a dozen or so passages from one night’s reading that I thought were particularly important. I also brought copies of the various supporting information that we had looked at earlier, big paper, scissors, tape, and markers. I asked students to connect the text to our newly acquired background knowledge and to thematic ideas and if possible the literary techniques Myers was using. Since I love this kind of stuff, I had a handy reference image from last year. This time, I also created a chart with the same information on the white board.
In my good, 5th grade fashion, I created this.
It was super interesting to look at what the students created. Some groups were all about boxes and neat groups of text. This strategy worked for the first go round of attaching our background info to passages or to connect themes to passages. However, once they needed to add the second category, it was not going to not be as easy to keep everything in the neat boxes.
The second group also started with some boxes, but was then trying to add another category level.
Only one group was really not thinking ‘boxes’ first. They may have made the least progress in some ways. However, I think they did a lot of looking and considering. It was a quiet group without a forceful organizer, which is another interesting variable. The other two groups each had a vocal organizer who forged ahead with a structure.
What I really like about this activity, besides the obvious thinking about the information and all the ways students can successfully do the work, is that the groups got to look at each other’s products and ‘see’ how their classmates think.
I am sure I will do something similar again. I might spread it out over two days, even if we did not use all of either day. I think this is the kind of work that would really benefit from time away and then time to review. Plus, I might carefully engineer the groups in terms of learning style or introvert/extrovert.
Plus, who doesn’t love a crazy, mixed-up mind map?