Sunday, August 18, 2013

Axioms, Principles, and Rules of Thumb

In brainstorming mode, a preliminary list of thematic motifs in my teaching and learning:

Writing is the means by which thought gets bodied forth. Writing practice is thinking practice. Writing makes first thoughts visible, which makes second thoughts possible. That's why students—and teachers, and anyone else wanting to think more carefully and deliberately—should keep reflection journals.

Writing is not always, or most effectively, the means of communicating what we already know or think. Writing can be the means by which we arrive at ideas and thoughts we did not know we were going to have. It's a generative process, not merely a reportorial one.

All thought is embedded in a point of view. One way to broaden your thinking is to ask yourself what the factors are that are influencing your own point of view, and consider how someone who was coming at the problem or issue from another direction might look at it. If you practice shifting your point of view, it gets easier after a while.

When you are working in a group, you have a choice as to the role you want to play at any given moment. Instead of just doing what you are naturally inclined to do, you might try asking yourself "What does this group need me to be today?" and then try on that role, even (especially) if it's one you are not normally inclined to take. (Conceptual frame: servant leadership.)

Question sequences which might frame thinking investigations:

  • What do you see? What do you think about what you see?
  • What do you know for sure? What do you have hunches or suspicions about? What questions do you have?
  • What's one question you have? How many plausible answers can you identify? Which one works best for you? Why?
  • Where have you been? Where are you now? Where are you going?
  • What are you working on? How is it going? Do you need any help?
  • How many parts does this work have? How are the parts related?
In any written work, the author starts doing something and then keeps doing that until he starts doing something else. As in art and music, the composition consists of a sequence of moves. What did the writer do first? What did he do next? How many moves did he make? Where are the turns? How are they signalled?

The importance of endings: last word in the sentence, last sentence in the paragraph, last stanza in the poem, last chapter in the book. How/why do you think we wound up here

There are questions and there are questions. Some questions invite answers that are terminal, some questions invite answers that lead to more questions. Part of becoming a better thinker is to learn how to ask better questions. The essential questions are ones which matter to you, tend to recur in your life, and are worthy of extended investigation. What are your essential questions?

The Universal Intellectual Standards: clarity, accuracy, specificity; logic, relevance, significance; breadth and depth. (NB: the semicolons matter. Can you see why?) (List adapted from Richard Paul)

Asking students to read poems or stories in pairs or clusters puts them in the position of being able to see how the same subject might be approached in different ways, and how the choice of an angle of vision affects what you wind up attending to or thinking about. Reading each work in the context of the others highlights the differences in thought and in the method of of conveying thought.

There's a difference between asking "Are there any questions?" and asking "What are your questions?" One suggests that it's okay, and perhaps preferable, not to have any. The other suggests that questions are an anticipated, expected part of the process of thinking well, that they signal engagement and serve to move us forward.

Reading as a writer; writing as a reader. If you write in the genres you are reading, you bring your experience as a writer back to what you read next, and you read more alertly and attentively. If you read in the genres you are writing and are alert and attentive to authorial decisions—especially when you make note of writerly moves you would not have thought of yourself—you come back to your writing with new things to try out. Your writing informs your reading; your reading informs your writing. It's a virtuous cycle.

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