Defining True Education with David Foster Wallace Day 2

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SWBAT synthesize ideas about education from multiple sources by joint construction with the instructor connecting Wallace's ideas to other readings.

Big Idea

Synthesizing big ideas can lead to deeper study of smaller, more concrete ones.


Revisiting David Foster Wallace: Defining True Education

45 minutes

We had such a rich discussion yesterday about This is Water that we didn’t quite finish, so we will start today by revisiting that piece, with particular focus on the end.   Part of the students writing task will be to define for themselves what “true education” means, a topic that Wallace addresses in the last third of the speech.   So, establishing his main idea regarding true education will be a great way to enter into the some of the short pieces they read for homework by connecting Wallace’s ideas to the pieces to model how to use many ideas from multiple texts to create an argument.

We have unfinished business with the questions from yesterday, so we will continue with presentations of questions first before analyzing the complex ideas to determine Wallace’s central idea regarding true education.

Once the question presentations are completed, I will ask students to review the last two pages of the speech, and will show them the video again—particularly the last third, to hear Wallace make his point about the value of true education is to be able to move beyond our self-centered default setting.  From here, we will have an open discussion about what he means, and also how his main ideas relate to other writers we’ve read during the unit such as Emerson and Matthew B. Crawford to further model the idea of synthesizing ideas from a variety of texts to develop their own argument.  This last segment will act not only as a model for the thinking they will do for their synthesis essay, but also as a transition to writing.

Mini-Lesson: Charts and Graphs as Rhetoric

30 minutes

Students also had to read a series of eight excerpts in a section called “Conversation” from The Language of Composition textbook (248-263) designed as an end of unit activity modeled after the synthesis essay.  I wanted students to read these to give them some other resources for their topics, since there is a relatively wide range covered here.  Students had to write summary notes for four of them, which I will check.  However, we will not spend much time with these as a whole, except to ask for some general feedback of which ones struck them the most in an open discussion format.  What we will spend a bit of time on, however, are two charts from U.S Math Performance in Global Perspective, which show the U.S. performance, as well as state performance, in math as compared to other countries.

These kinds of charts are fair game for the AP exam, and I think it is a good thing to learn how to read them.  Numbers and charts tend to have an absolute mystique to them—that there is more truth in numbers than in words.  So being able to evaluate the rhetorical impact of how a chart is structured, or how data is shown, is an important skill to have.  So, this is an opportunity for a mini-lesson on this, since some students may use this resource in their papers.

To explore this text, I will first have students spend about five minutes looking at the two charts with the simple task of writing down anything interesting they notice, and why they think it is interesting.   Reader-response like this is a low risk activity, and sharing these observations also lets me see what they understand and where they go with the charts (since I’ve never taught this skill).  I will also ask them to write down questions they have for the writers of the charts about them—this task pushes them to be more critical of them, and consider what is not provided, or what parts may have different connotations or meanings for people (for example, one chart says “significantly outperformed by”—what is “significant?).  

After they have done their observations, we will have an open discussion based on their observations and questions.  Two things I want to consider is which one they think is more meaningful, and which one is more persuasive in an emotional sense.  One is a horizontal bar graph, which visually makes the U.S. look far inferior in a global context, though it is only judging percentage of students at the ‘advanced’ level (which isn’t defined).  The second one is numerical in stating percentages, as well as stating countries at the same level of ‘advanced.’  The lesson here is that that the numerical representation isn’t nearly as dramatic as the bar graph, though both are working with the same data. 

Next Steps:  Students will read two sections in their The Language of Composition textbook (pgs. 148-154, 160-166) that explain the synthesis essay and also provide a model.  We’ve come to the end of the reading unit, and will move to writing their synthesis essay starting next class.