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 two 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). Part one about the voyage you can find here.
‘You can also invite a student to see things. Everybody has a sense of detail. You see something and lead the students to seeing that too, but not immediately saying why it is there or this is what it means.’
(from The Trade of the Teacher: Visual Thinking with Mieke Bal)
For me this is and has been one of the most exciting and difficult things of teaching – how do you get students to see things without telling them explicitly, without sending, but inviting them? Mieke Bal refers in her book The Trade of the Teacher to the objects of paintings. In our course Thinking in Action 2 we used film clips. But the questions are the same: What do you see? What do you think? What could it possible mean?
A quick side note, Abrami et al (2015) conducted a big meta study on critical thinking education: they found the best results when authentic material is connected to dialogue and coaching of the teacher. That is why we chose as authentic material specific film fragments and documentaries relevant to the International Business student.
In the classroom there is dialogue between the student(s) and the teacher, but also a dialogue with the object, in this case the film fragment. According to Mieke Bal the object even teaches, and I think this is true. Let me illustrate that with a movie clip we have used in our course from La Vita e Bella (only one of the students, who is Italian, had actually seen the movie). At the beginning of a lesson we show students a fragment of the restaurant scene and ask them to respond to this object with the questions – What do you see? Why do you think the waiter asks these types of questions? And students see the details and interpret them. They might look at it differently which will start an interesting discussion. And slowly but steadily you as a teacher guide them to the word ‘manipulation,’ which is the theme of the lesson.
Through the object of the clip the student plunges very quickly into the reality of that Italian restaurant. And as a teacher you start the dialogue and help students interpret the details by asking questions, coaching them through it. And as a teacher you are also manipulating students by selecting the fragment, introducing the fragment and designing the questions. If I tell before showing this clip that the waiter has an authority problem and the guest he is serving is from a fascist Italian party, then you think that students when answering the questions: ‘Why does he deliver the food so quickly? Why does the guest look at his watch?’ that they will answer – ‘the waiter wants the guest to know that he is being manipulated.’ This is what we teachers answered when we did the teacher training with Movielearning.*
But to my surprise my students in one class did not see it this way. They did see the manipulation of the waiter but did not say that he had an authority problem. The object spoke back to them differently. So they explained to me how they interpreted the details, and I listened. And I liked that they surprised me.
For me the internal struggle at that moment was, will I explain my own perspective or leave it at that? Am I not sending and manipulating too much when I do and spoiling their own interpretation? But I decided to share how I interpreted the details and why I think he delivered the food so quickly. To surprise my students.
Because as a teacher I think that you are allowed to take up space and explain your own reasoning as long as you give room to students first. And then it is up to them what to do with your interpretation. But the trick is in explaining the details of what you see well: what it is based on. And in that way visual thinking is also critical thinking: leaving room for different interpretations build on arguments. Always in dialogue with the object and the student.
* For The Thinking in Action 2 course we did a pilot with Movielearning from Double Healix – an online platform to teach through movie clips