Enhancing Meaning

Modern education has become rigidly standards-based. In elementary, middle school, and high school, everything done on the campus is related either to the sports teams or to getting every student to pass the state- and federal-mandated test. Even the adult education I was involved in before starting my current degree was little more than a presenter reading a PowerPoint and interjecting a couple cut-and-paste activities to try to keep people interested.

Ultimately, the students in school are bored and demotivated, and the teachers in the inservices are not doing much better. The classes are based entirely on the memorization and recitation of data, which rarely lasts five minutes longer than the duration of the class.

Ginsberg and Wlodkowski (2009) suggest several strategies to engage students in higher-order thinking. These are the upper tiers of Bloom’s Taxonomy: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Vanderbilt University, 2013). This paper covers three of those strategies.

Simulations

Simulations are opportunities to use knowledge and skills in situations that are similar to real events (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2009). To varying degrees, I have used simulations for as long as I have been teaching. The simulations have taken various forms. In some of the simplest ones, I taught material related to an event then invited students to write something from the perspective of one of the participants in the event. For example, after studying the Texas Revolution, I asked students to write from a given perspective such as a Mexican soldier at the Alamo or a Texian farmer who lived near Goliad. Sometimes I gave them the opportunity to write from a really odd perspective, such as one of the horses pulling a buckboard during the Runaway Scrape. Students picked from a list of possible options. Extra points were given for picking a scenario further removed from their normal life.

The most complicated was a role playing game I developed for a grant. After studying Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World, students divided into teams and became the leaders of their own expeditions. They had to first petition a royal sponsor, played by me, to get the money and supplies for the trip. Then they headed across the ocean, landed somewhere, met the indigenous people, and established a colony. The entire simulation took almost a week, and because it covered math, writing, reading, and social studies, I used the majority of the day every day to do it. The kids had fun with it, and they learned more about how complicated and troublesome the trip really was.

By using simulations, I gave students an opportunity to practice their skills in the academic matter as well as encouraging them to consider issues from the less obvious perspectives. For example, social studies books present the Texas Revolution from the perspective of the Texian farmers and all but ignore how things looked from the perspective of the Mexicans. With a number of students of Mexican descent in my class, I was able to engage them by honoring a perspective closer to their own nationality.

In adult education, using simulations can help students see less common viewpoints or experience a situation in a more realistic way than reading a passage from a book or website.

Artistry

Artistry involves giving students an opportunity to represent their feelings about or knowledge of a subject in some kind of art form (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2009). When I first used artistry, students were content to just slap a few stick figures on the paper and turn it in. I thought about abandoning the form altogether, but realistically, I would not expect students to write a five-paragraph essay without instruction, so I decided to teach artistic responses the same way.

I started by picking out the few students who had really put some effort into the assignment. These were not necessarily the best artists in the class but rather the students who had put some thought and care into the response, even if artistic talent was lacking. The next time I gave an artistic assignment, I provided an example of the minimum expectation and gave a more detailed list of criteria for an acceptable response. I did not suddenly have a class full of artistic geniuses, but as time went on, they became better at giving me thoughtful responses.

Another way I used artistry was in designing projects for the gifted and talented (GT) students. As one of the teachers certified in GT education, I often had students who were allowed to work on special projects. I designed those projects with artistic assignments in mind. Some of their options included writing music or poetry, making three-dimensional models, or doing complex, two-dimensional art. Some students chose to work with other gifted students to put on a play they wrote, directed, and acted in.

By using artistry in assignments, I gave students who were stronger in art-based intelligences an opportunity to use their strengths. In adult education, that still applies, but artistry can also be useful for another purpose. Many people are more comfortable expressing emotions in their artwork than they might be in a discussion or in a paper. When dealing with a sensitive issue, an artistic response might be useful to encourage students to share their feelings and reactions to the issue.

Projective Investigation

Projective investigation is a research project that gets students to speculate about what the end result would be for something in process (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2009). I have used these projects in science to get students to consider the ramifications of an event as well as in history by suggesting students consider the result if a famous event had not occurred the way it had.

For example, in science, I asked students to predict what the result would be if the water cycle broke down at different stages. What if evaporation no longer worked? I asked students to predict the final result and then draw a picture and write a caption. In history, I had students speculate on how Texas history would have changed if the Texian army had won at the Battle of the Alamo or if the Mexican army had won the Battle of San Jacinto.

Projective investigation was useful to have students think beyond the information available in the textbook. In some ways, I found the assignments to be a better way to see who really understood the material. Parroting the information back on a test is relatively easier than trying to use the information to speculate about something that has not happened.

In adult education, projective investigation could be easily used on current events and sensitive subjects dealing with discrimination or controversial issues like logging in old-growth forests. Because predictions are being made based on current information, discussions could result that deal with the influence of various factors involved. In trying to explain their reasoning, students can come to a better understanding of themselves and those around them.

Conclusion

By stepping away from the usual lecture, discussion, and paper-writing scenario found in most classes, educators can find ways to enhance the meaning of the education and get students to think beyond themselves about the wider world.

References

Ginsberg, M. B., & Wlodkowski, R. J. (2009). Diversity & motivation: Culturally responsive teaching in college (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Vanderbilt University. (2013). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Retrieved November 27, 2013 from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/teaching-guides/pedagogical/blooms-taxonomy/

 

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