Supporting Sophomores

Today I had a fantastic meeting with a member of the education faculty to discuss how a brand new, sophomore level composition course (paired with his education course – so we’ll mostly have the same students) could develop the writing and thinking practices of education majors. As is typical when professors talk, we discussed as many tangent topics as related topics. It’s one of the tangential topics that I’ve continued to consider hours after our initial meeting.

Critical thinking and how students critically think

This is a struggle often discussed within Rhet/Comp theory – how can rhetorical approaches help students see arguments as contextualized, with an audience so they understand some of the choices made, the arguments and supports relevant, etc. Many of the topic essays included in Composition textbooks and Composition readers deal with diverse cultural issues, political issues, environmental issues, and more. Composition faculty understand that writing is not just a skill – but an understanding of the way to think, the way to research, the way to integrate research into an argument, the language, the types of research with meaning and value – all of which rely on critical thinking, analysis of materials presented.

The example the education professor used related to sexism, and the way students of his class failed to see that sexism is alive and well when prompted in class. What complicates this issue for me is a former student reached out to me about sexism she noticed in a documentary. She was outraged, but many people (ok all people) around her failed to notice the issue and easily excused the issue as happenstance – no women were included in the group because the filmmakers happened to be filming on day X. um no. I said this to my mom yesterday (in relation to Nobel Prizes and the underrepresentation of women – i’m on a roll these days can you tell……) “I refuse to put aside my feelings to make everyone else feel better about not consider the choices they made”.

So, back to my class. When we approach critical thinking, and when we move toward that more sophisticated thinking, what is the trigger – and how do we teach students to apply this level of engagement in many aspects of their life? As I go through examples the student response is usually “isn’t it exhausting” – it being my life and my constant engagement. Well, yes, but isn’t it equally exhausting to be disengaged ALL THE TIME???????

So i’m struggling with content – what to include to help engage students with critical thinking. I have great resources from “Learning {Re}Imagined” that discuss new approaches to education and digital technology to foster engaged learning in K-12 education – but I worry they’ll see these as critiques on the districts they work in (our education model places students in the classroom every semester! so they form close attachments to the educators they work with). This entire book is designed to rethink educational approaches, rethink and critically analyze the implementation of digital technology with real learning science. But will this be enough to help students engage just that little bit more so their thinking, researching and writing will improve…….

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