Friday, March 29, 2013

Causal Models Instead of Plot Graphs

Once again thanks to Nogah Kornberg for her input on this lesson.

All of our work to date on integrative and design thinking has focused on real world applications and scenarios. Today we took causal modelling in a different direction and explored how this thinking tool might be used in Language.

In the study of novels and stories,  one of the many tasks students are asked to do is construct  plot graphs.
Constructing a plot graph is a summarizing skill. Can students identify the setting, characters, the problem and the events of the story?  It represents the lowest level on The Thinking Matrix.

Instead of building a plot graph we created causal models of the Little Red Riding Hood story. Causal models prompt students to engage in rich conversation as they play with what ifs, ask questions, construct scenarios, and speculate on motivations.

Why is the grandmother sick? Why did the mom send Little Red Riding Hood on her own? Why did Red go into the woods when she knew she shouldn't? Why did Red stop and talk to the wolf? Why did the wolf not attack Red immediately and go the the grandmother's house instead? ...

Students worked in partners and had a great deal of fun as they speculated about the motivations, attitudes,backgrounds and causes of the plot.

Above are a few samples from our first shot at this. Nothing was off the table in terms of possibilities and there was a great deal of laughter as students speculated wildly on motivations. We had love triangles, negligent parenting, childhood scars, insanity, dementia, rivalries, grudges, fear, loneliness, hunger, hatred and connections to other stories entering conversation.

Things I noticed?

1. This provides a framework for learners to engage in conversations that address curriculum expectations in a non-teacher directed, let's kill  interest in reading way. The frame of the plot graph as a starting point helps keep students focused. It provides the constraint necessary for rich and sustained thinking about the topic.

2. Students can't help but develop a more complex view of story.

3. Creativity and imagination run wild.

4. It's noisy in a good way.

5. Students who struggle with teacher-directed learning are very successful and on-task.

I also see this as a beautiful framework for writing. It is often difficult for young writers to bring complexity and detail to their writing. We try by having them write character sketches and descriptive paragraphs of settings which they then include in their stories. We use story planners - which most hate to complete. We scaffold the building of their stories.  What I see in causal modelling is a way for students to develop in depth understanding of the complexity of their stories and characters before they begin to write. I suspect that this would an enjoyable task. I wonder what kind of writers this approach would produce.

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