In a recent conversation in my room, we talked about the connections between the students’ language arts class and science class. We were on the cusp of a major project that has communication as its main objective (a skill that is very important to acquire for scientists of all ages). We started with the why (hat tip to Simon Sinek for that beautiful idea) … Why do human beings communicate? We looked at large scale communication (movies, books, websites, articles) and more individual forms (text messages, photos, conversations). We brainstormed ideas about why those things happen: to entertain, to inform, to persuade, and many, many more.
We then analyzed why we have structure to communication. Why do sentences have a format? How about paragraphs or papers? What about infographics or pictures? We pondered over whether the structure was for the creator or consumer. Or was it really for both? We described examples and brought past experiences to the table.
Then we settled down to work. My final piece of advice was to steal as much as possible from language arts (or any other communication coursework they may have had). Chuckles and smiles appeared at my choice of the word ‘steal’. At that point, I knew I was really on to something.
They eagerly got to creating their work. This piece is what I call in ‘word format’, meaning that it is, by nature, written (as opposed to our previous skill, which was modeling and inherently visual). I’m very clear that it does not have to be a five paragraph essay (though that is a perfectly acceptable product). However, it is argumentative in nature. They are attempting to prove something. So let’s steal all those great things we’ve learned about argumentative writing from our language arts class. Let’s get a claim, free from opinion words, and back it up with evidence. Off they went, blending two disciplines into one.
Here’s the thing, I could have done this all another way. I could have started with what they were going to do. Handed out that checklist of ‘must haves’ which included a claim and text evidence. I could have preached about how these things are important and that they need to include them. And the funny thing about that is, the students would have complied with my request. They would have done it. They products would show it.
However, when you frame it differently … suddenly it is different. We analyzed the why first. We saw purpose in in. We’ve added depth and meaning to it. We’ve thought about it critically and embraced the fact that our conclusions about the why may not be correct (and that is totally OK).
I cannot stress here how important the framing is here. You might be wondering why I think that. If the students were going to do it either way, why does it matter? They would have a similar product all along.
The difference is not in the product, but in the process. Inspiring students has long-lasting effects. It cultivates intrinsic motivation and encourages self-direction. It takes a step towards turning my students into learners. And that, my friends, is priceless.