My voyage began many years ago when I created a subject where we had International Business (IB) students watch documentaries, talk about it and write essays on the themes presented. Then when I joined the research group Change Management four years ago I reviewed that subject thoroughly and concluded that we needed a redesign: more carefully building up critical thinking. Step by step.
This is part one of reflecting on that redesign which for now consists of two courses: Thinking in Action 1 (IB year 1) and Thinking in Action 2 (IB year 2).
‘The work and the joy, the pleasure is in the voyage through the work. I have nothing against theory, but models can become restrictive. I think that, as much as students need to unlearn what they know, they also should get rid themselves of the desire to come up with a concluding, coherent interpretation’ (from The Trade of the Teacher: Visual Thinking with Mieke Bal).
I read this book while executing the course Thinking in Action 2, and am in the middle of my voyage – learning that trade of the teacher which never finishes – and teach. We ask students to think about movie clips and documentaries. Make sense of what the documentary/film maker wants to say – be engaged in that conversation, but at the same time reflect critically at how it is made. The maker frames everything with the camera angle, soundscape, editing. How and for what purpose? That is the question. At the same time the teacher frames everything by selecting the clip and thinking of an assignment to go with it, ordering the lesson and guiding the conversation with the students. It is framing of visual thinking, argumentative thinking and more. It is a dialogue between the student, the teacher and the clips.
We use certain models to clarify the journey – The Toulmin method and the 5-paragraph argumentative essay. Are our models restrictive? What happens quite often is that the IB student learns a model – the SWOT or the PESTEL analysis and applies it without really thinking whether it is the best one to apply. Just the first they learned. And teachers complain about students executing it wrongly or always using the same ones. But do we teach them well about models – that they are simplified representations of the truth and they always frame the business reality in a certain way? What I feel students need to unlearn is that whenever they apply a model it is good, that the model is the truth in itself and not a tool.
And reflect critically on the models ourselves. We have students draw conclusion. Based on the thesis statement they come up with a concluding and coherent interpretation in the form of a podcast and an essay, and we teachers grade this. Can we use these models without becoming a means to and end, and can we teach students to reach conclusions, but knowing it will be a temporary one?
It is about the voyage, Mieke Bal states. I hope students have pleasure in the voyage through the work – in class I see engagement as they watch and discuss the clips, in the podcasts they make and the dialogue they join, when they join the class. I also see multi-tasking – typing away at other assignments – and mostly not showing up at all.
I don’t know if I always enjoy the journey. It’s hard work, keeping up that trade of the teacher – creating and executing the lesson plans and being flexible when it goes differently. There is stress and frustration, like absenteeism, grading and a crisis that forces redesign in a very short time span. But there is fun and laughter and enlightening moments as well, in the teaching team and with the students. And I would not have wanted to miss this voyage, a good one needs some hardship.
So here I am also trying to have a concluding interpretation of my journey. Last year I asked the IB business advisory council to explain what they understand critical thinking to be and one member answered: explaining the choices you make. These future professionals need to explain the voyage they make – which routes they have taken and why. And if they can clarify that well, partly because of our trade, then there is pleasure.
My voyage is clearly not over yet. More to follow.
See part 2: Teaching as a Dialogue