← Conversations

Beyond Boxes, Borders, and Binaries: Thinking with More Complexity

Session 1
Thomas Jones — NYC iSchool (H.S. 376)

In both my public speaking and English classes, I’m noticing a pattern in the arguments that students develop and attempt to defend in their writing and presentations: they’re too simplistic, to begin with, and they usually reduce a topic down to a binary of us/them, right/wrong, or black/white. The Common Core standards almost encourage this reductive thinking, boiling down argumentative writing to establishing a claim and addressing “the” counterclaim, as if issues don’t have multiple sides and many shades of gray.

In this session, I will share my initial successes and failures in attempting to develop a syllabus that includes texts from a multiplicity of perspectives, as well as the writing assignments and classroom activities I’m developing to uncover and unpack the complicated and complex worldviews contained within them. I’ll show participants examples of the student work that has come out of these readings and assignments, pointing to both areas of growth as well as places of persistently superficial thinking.

Conversational Practice

We will adapt two NSRF protocols (Four “A”s Text and Last Word) so that teachers can grapple with and respond to two polarizing texts (excerpts from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy).

With the Four “A”s Text protocol, teachers will read the Coates text in small groups and then take turns sharing their responses to each of the four following questions:

What Assumptions does the author of the text hold? What do you Agree with in the text? What do you want to Argue with in the text? What parts of the text do you want to Aspire to?

Then, all groups will come together to share some of their tables’ reactions.

Next, the Last Word protocol will be used after each participant reads the Vance text. When they’re ready, participants at each table will take turns sharing one quote from the text and why the quote made a strong impression on them (in no more than 2 minutes). Then, each of the other participants will get up to 1 minute to respond to the quote and what the presenter said, the purpose of the response being

To expand on the presenter’s thinking about the quote and the issues raised for him or her by the quote, To provide a different look at the quote, To clarify the presenter’s thinking about the quote, and/or To question the presenter’s assumptions about the quote and the issues raised (although at this time there is no response from the presenter).

Finally, the presenter has one more minute to have the “final word.” Now what are they thinking? What is their reaction to what they heard?

After the initial presentation and the two protocols, the group will come together as a whole and share their final thoughts about what role, if any, these protocols could play in their handling of texts from across the political and ideological spectrum.

Conversation Links

Presenter Profiles

Thomas Jones
Thomas Jones
NYC iSchool


JSON feed