Where’s the Text?: A Request for Input

I’ve been wrestling with a design challenge for one of our projects. I’m wondering if you can help.

The Origin of a Design Challenge:

Pulling back the curtain on Compose Our World, it is thrilling that—over the past year and a half—we’ve had the privilege to design several different instantiations of the projects we are focusing on. Along with several other members of the team, I’ve been focusing on the Singularity/Unearthing Humanity project (names are slippery!). Broadly developed to help students unpack and identify what it means to be human—in the past, present, and future—the project’s goal is to guide students toward personal answers to this question through acts of curation. Students take on the role of a museum curator to synthesize their own beliefs and research.

In designing the activities, tasks, and learning around this project a continual challenge has been in considering the role of “text” within the project. Students are producing myriad multimodal products—I feel pretty good about that. However, we have been trying out various texts for students to read, analyze, and interpret. From whole-class graphic novels to reading circles of contemporary literature to non-fiction texts and short stories, this project has test-driven various texts for various teachers’ and students’ needs. However, while we’ve iterated around various models of classroom reading, we have struggled smoothly fitting texts into the broader project goals. That, generally, is the design challenge I’m hoping you can help with. I’m not looking for a specific title per se; I am hoping you can help us think through the process of integrating ELA-centered contexts of reading into the authentic PBL needs of this project.


One Possibility:

So here’s a not-so-fully-formed thought I’ve had around this: what if a museum IS the text? In consultation with outside experts, in local partnerships for public exhibitions, and in online and in-person research within museums, these spaces have served as guiding models for the curation-driven tasks that students create. A museum is a pedagogical experience: it is a text awaiting a reader. From interacting with tangible products in exploratoriums to viewing and listening to footage and recordings to reading printed secondary information and primary sources to navigating the intentional design choices of its physical space, a museum requires an interactive energy that reminds me of this quote from Robert Irwin.

So, by designating various spaces around the classroom for various kinds of texts, students would access thematically linked resources across the project period. Perhaps one corner is narratives of the future or tools of the past (both physical objects, printed images, and stories of tools’ uses). Perhaps, over here students watch key scenes from films like Wall-E, 2001, or Manufactured Landscapes. In short, while we’ve struggled to come up with a singular text, maybe we construct the text as both the model of the thing and the texts about the thing. (Does that make any sense?)

I imagine this creates a versatility (the texts within the museum shift) but we could build in practices around how texts are read and designed. Perhaps the museum begins with kernels of texts that students access but their contributions are added to it across the span of the project; it becomes the sapling on which the public curations are grown.

In terms of design, I think the various branches of the museum grow out of the iterative designs we are building: we provide space for texts to be inserted but also offer some concrete thematic areas to focus on.

I’m realizing this is vague. That’s why I’m asking for help. Does this make sense? Do you have suggestions for how to clarify and design this work? Another model entirely?


More to Come!

One of the many challenges that the Compose Our World team has been working through is identifying what parts of our design process to open up. Primarily, I think we’d error on the side of opening up all aspects of this work, but the fickleness of time often gets in the way: designing openly takes time.

A lot of it.

In any case, I wanted to pause in the midst of iteration to think about one aspect of one project and see what sticks. Let’s see where we go!


November 2016
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