December 03, 2005

The Thinking Stick

The Thinking Stick
Jeff Utecht, now teaching English at an American school in Shanghai, has some interesting things to say about learning in general as well as tech-mediated learning. Here's a recent one I enjoyed. It's part of a longer one that is well worth reading:
My question:

…I ask you what is the skill we need to be teaching students? I agree that the close reading is what makes the pursuit worthwhile, but with all the information in the world…how do we get students to know what is worthwhile of a close read. Sure it’s easy in your classroom, you the teacher say: “Read this”, but how do we teach students to become life-long readers? How do we teach them to “get the gist” so that they understand that Shakespeare is worth a close read?

An ESOL/English teacher:

Logically the ‘catch the highlights in replay’ point makes sense, but aesthetically/reflectively I’m not sold. That sort of analogy seems to approve of ‘condensed Beethoveen’ approaches to music appreciation–skip the valleys and only play the crescendi and climaxes–don’t experience the whole, just the ‘exciting parts.’ Same with literature or history. It boils down to the decontextualization that happens when only the highlights are valued, and not the buildup that leads to them.

Similar with the book-search-by-’the latest read everyone is talking about’-method. Everyone is probably talking about the most advertised recent hype, so I’m not sure I want that to be my guide to quality (I doubt such a search would lead many to anything published more than a year ago, much less centuries ago).

And my point was that ‘getting the gist’ is the easy part–it seems to be mistaken for knowledge and understanding these days–when I’m saying that slowing down and becoming intimate with a word- and idea-smith through close reading is what’s at risk.

How do we teach them to not ‘get the gist’ but slowly savor the flavor of literacy? I’m using two methods–one traditional, one 21st Century– right now teaching _Of Mice and Men_.

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