Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Using Manipulatives in Critical Thinking Exercises


It seems that the more I want to learn "best practice" for teaching high school, the more I know I need to look back and see what elementary teachers are doing on a regular basis. The tried-and-true high school methods I've been using for the past few years are beginning to feel a bit tired. I need to implement some new, fresh ways of getting to what my students are really thinking.

Enter manipulatives. After listening to a colleague gush about a Lego workshop she attended while we were in Atlanta, I knew that I needed some Legos for my high school English classroom. Fast. What she was saying about young students and critical thinking made total sense. When children create abstract or even representative art, they need to explain it for an audience. Too often, we think that older students cannot or should not perform the tasks that younger kids participate in on a regular basis. We feel like kids will laugh at us if we suggest that they use Legos to express their thoughts or feelings. Well, we are wrong. There is something eternally hip and deep about using abstract objects and shapes to express thoughts and emotions.

Now, I have yet to use actual Legos with students. I do have them, though. I plan to incorporate the use of these Legos into some of our work around poetry. Out of sheer curiosity, I did, though, break out some M&M's the other day and ask my sophomores to rate their experiences with SSR. A lot of students shaped their candies into smiley faces, but some made some pretty abstract representations of how they're feeling about SSR. The beauty of this activity is that students needed to be able to explain their thought process behind their creation, whether it was abstract or not. I feel like we had a deeper conversation than if I had just asked them their thoughts and feelings about SSR.

I plan to go bigger and deeper with this type of manipulative activity. My sophomore students definitely showed me that there is nothing childish about taking some representational objects and using them to express yourself, especially if you get to eat the final product!

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