Friday, November 20, 2015

New Beginnings, Part II: Compass Points + Visible Thinking

In my last post, I wrote about using the Compass Points routine in my basic writing class as a way to get the ball rolling the first week of school (here's a link to that post). These are snippets of their written reflections, the quotes that jumped out at me:
  • To be an effective student in college, I need to participate as much as I can in my classes to get the full experience of the lecture and lab.
  • Now that I’m out the military (FREE AT LAST!) it’s like a new start. It’s my first week of school and it’s a bit hard adjusting. But ‘’adapt and overcome’’ is always on my mind.  Even when I feel like walking out of the classroom, I can’t fail! . . .  I’m used to yelling at people. I can’t anymore because that’s not how things are done anymore. Those days are over.
  • I’m keeping an open mind to all the ideas and to everyone’s opinions.
  • [Students starting college] feel overwhelmed with all the responsibility they must take care of . . .  I thought that the instructor was trying to get groups to work together [to] have better communication [on] things they agreed on. I felt like it was a good assignment. It got us thinking about how we really feel about entering college and what to look forward to.
  • Being a good student in college [means I should ] choose the seat all the way in the front so I am engaged the whole class period.
  • We just got out of high school or we never went to college, [so we should be able to] relate to each other with all the responsibilities we have now.
  • [This] activity made me feel different. I thought  things that I haven't thought before. I saw that I have worries and needs, but I also have solutions. The only thing that matters at the end is that if I feel excited for college,  I will get over all my negativity and [follow] my suggestion. This activity really helped me.
  • [Someone suggested new students should]  have connections with teachers and peers. For me it's not very hard to connect with students But I don’t think there’s ever been a time where I had a friendly relationship with a teacher. During the [exercise],  I felt that I could actually use this activity to help me set goals I would like to reach and figure out  how I’m going to reach them.
  • I’m going to search deep for my motivation to get me through it, but I know I will succeed, sooner or later.
I suspect that the students’ responses wouldn’t have been as clear or well-thought out had they not made their thinking visible. The process of generating ideas together, compiling them on to a single white board, and debriefing as a community pushed learners to reflect more deeply - their peers’ words nudging each other into riskier honesty.  

I bet publicizing their honesty helped reduce the social isolation folks might have felt joining a new community. Especially when their experience in school communities might be less than positive, which  is true for a pretty sizable chunk of students in basic writing classes.

I also used Compass Points in other classes. Instead of focusing on the problem of “being a new college student”, I posed questions that had to do with the subject material in our classes. I used it to introduce the storytelling unit on one class; in another, the issue was focusing on African American topics for the duration of the semester (something I found out only one or two students had ever done). In my fourth class, the question had to do with reading, writing, and discussing race and the criminal justice system.

Making thinking visible got all my classes off to a good start. Their answers helped me meet students where they were. The variety of responses brought diversity of opinion front and center, helping us to anticipate conflict and debates. 

The calls for help and the making of suggestions helped me fine tune lessons. Sharing needs and suggestions compelled students to take on solving our problems together, encouraging them to take ownership of their experience. And discussing what excited us about our studies became a touchstone we returned to when motivation flagged. 

Compass Points fit into every level class I teach because the routine promoted fluency and served as a pre-writing strategy for the topics we would eventually write about. Generating the lists was about analyzing (breaking up and dissecting their attitudes and ideas about the subject) and the reflections compelled them to synthesize and make meaning of their lists.

Hooray for Making Thinking Visible (and, no, I'm not a shill for the publishers)!