Sunday, June 26, 2011

Making Meaning. Part 5: Contextual information.

Part 5: Contextual information.

Our opening workshop for the University of Maryland Writing Project’s summer program offered important insights into the challenges of making meaning.  Cory fashioned her workshop from her engagement with Harvard’s Project Zero (footnote 1), especially involving “artful thinking” and figurative language.

In fine workshop fashion, she took us into the experience that was similar to what her 4th graders do but that was translated so that we were doing the learning, not just hearing about it or role-playing as if we were nine-year-olds.  The work of art was the same one that her students studied: John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark (1778).   She led us step by step through guided practice in which we followed routines from Artful Thinking.  This included noting visual details, describing them in similes, translating selected similes into metaphors, and drafting a memoir.  She used think-pair-share in leading this activity.

During the discussion, I was stunned with my partner’s comment about the value of this activity for her elementary students.  She pointed out that they often had great difficulty making sense of metaphors when reading and that if they went through this step by step construction of a metaphor first, they would then be much more likely to read poetry with meaning and perhaps even with pleasure instead of failure and frustration.  This artful thinking routine moves from description which emphasizes what the composer knows, goes into comparison which while involving unlike objects still works in the known, and thus scaffolds the construction of metaphor so the initiate grasps the mystery of layering same and different together.  Emily Dickinson comes in range: “Touch lightly nature’s sweet Guitar/unless thou know’st the Tune. . .” (~1876, #1389).

This post is Part 6 of "UMdWP 1st Day Summer 2011 on Glogster.

[1] Information on Project Zero can be found at: ; artful thinking at: and ; and figurative language at: .