I process by writing. My husband processes by talking. I have a friend who processes by doodling. Often when my husband and I need to process something together, I have learned to say, “Can we have this discussion tomorrow? I need to journal about it first.” In between the intake of a new concept by reading or hearing and the implementation of it, what does it take for you to process and assimilate a new idea?
Thinking about this helped me become clearer about how process can be differentiated in English class. I used to struggle with this. After all, the skills we are working on are reading, writing, speaking, and listening. And in order to improve, one has to practice—reading, writing, speaking, and listening. I can differentiate content easily with different articles or books on a similar topic or theme, or in the same style. I can differentiate product with a selection of prompts. But how can I differentiate process? When I realize that process isn’t the targeted skill of reading, listening, speaking, or writing, but it’s the thinking in between the intake (reading/listening) and output (speaking/writing), then I can understand how I can plan for it to happen in a variety of ways, so that students are better prepared to speak and write about the concept.
Here’s how it happened in AP English 11 this week. A big objective for this week was to synthesize the pieces that we’ve already read and discussed to form and articulate our own opinion. The topic is citizenship and politics and how we should use our rights, responsibilities, and opportunities as citizens. (This can be even more complex in an international community.) The pieces we’ve analyzed (10 in all) include “The Gettysburg Address,” several modern articles or book excerpts (“The Destruction of Culture” by Chris Hedges, “The Partly Cloudy Patriot” by Sarah Vowell, “The Apology: Letters from a Terrorist” by Laura Blumenfeld, and “Why I’m Moving Home” by J.D. Vance), a poem (“Immigrant Picnic” by Gregory Djanikian), a chapter from the graphic novel Persepolis, Picasso’s painting Guernica, and 2 magazine cover adaptations of it. After students did a 1/2-page journal quick-write on a personal story that has impacted their thinking on citizenship, I asked them to pick one of 3 options for exploring the topic further in a 1/2 page of their journal—an interview, a creative piece, or some research:
- Interview: Interview at least one family member about his/her views of what it means to be a citizen of your country.
- Creative piece: Poem or visual.
- Expository/research: Some aspect of citizenship/politics in your country that you want to know more about.
One thing I found intriguing was the unusual proportion of students who ventured into the more creative options. I’ve done this in the past, and usually it’s just one or two. It’s just a journal entry—no need to make it beautiful. We share the thinking in small groups and use it to prepare for our coming essay. This week over 1/2 choose the creative prompt—50% chose the visual, 10% the poem.
Some did what I intended—a rough pencil sketch on half a notebook page. Others got out sketchbooks and colors! And such variety of styles even within the category of visual representation: charts/graphs, a graphic novel type layout, a representative collage, a symbolic graphic, and a comparison graphic. When students choose their mode of processing, they are more likely to pour their passion into it.
Not only that, but when I got so excited to see all the visual artifacts that I asked if I could collect them and show the class on the document camera, all but one agreed. And though I assured them they didn’t need to present, I just wanted everyone to see their work and the variety of ways of thinking they represented, each student, as I projected their work, said, “Can I just give a little explanation?” So we got public speaking practice out of it, too!
So by differentiating process as students began to attempt to synthesize all we’d studied and formulate their own thinking, I saw (1) more creativity, (2) more passion, and (3) more engagement with language. Sounds like a win-win to me!
How do you process a new concept? How do your students process new concepts? How do you differentiate process for your students so even more of them can even more effectively process new concepts in your class?