Saying the known in an unknown way

Maya Angelou once said of meaningful writing:

“The writer has to take these most known things and put them together in such a way that the reader says ‘I never thought of it that way.’ That’s a real challenge.” (1 minute mark here)

Angelou’s comment sparked two questions:

  • How skilled am I at reframing my course content in ways that help students say “We’ve never thought of it that way! Wow!”?
  • How often is it my goal to do so?

I write “my goal,” but what I really mean is “our goal” as instructors; as people who have some level of responsibility for thinking about what and how other people learn.

One of my methods for helping faculty (and myself) rethink the “known” questions of education in alternative and potentially insightful ways is with this site. The organization of the site is credited to my colleague Tom Woodward. This project has proven more valuable to my own intellectual development because of the conscious effort I have made to think about the known in unknown, unfamiliar and often uncomfortable ways.

For example, this question, What do you want to get out of your next lecture?, prompted this post. The question forced me to reconsider my assumptions and perspectives about my purpose teaching (A humorous note on this idea and recent blog out of Rice Center for Teaching Excellence). One consequence is that it has opened up new ways for me to communicate, connect with and challenge the faculty I work with….and they have been very receptive. This is particularly true with established, mid and late career faculty.

I can elaborate, but at the core of this post is the question: Do I dedicate concentrated time to think about my perspective: its assumptions, its limitations, its history; and do I actively seek alternative ways to say something that may lead to insight or motivation? I want to make it a habit; a disposition so that I can help students do the same.