Saturday, February 7, 2015

Google Art Project, Critical Thinking, and the OSSLT

I know what you're thinking--what in heavens name does the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) have to do with Critical Thinking or the Google Art Project?

One of the tasks of the OSSLT is for students to write a News Report.  They are given a title and a photo and need to make up the details in a formal news report.I contacted the Education Quality Assessment Office (EQAO) a few years ago expressing my dismay with this task.  My argument was that journalists don't even use the formalized report style the kids are expected to use.

The Educational officer responded to my query with the following information:
1) the news report is a writing activity that does not require excessive prior knowledge and thus works well in a timed (standardized test) environment;
2) because the task requires students to infer W5H about a picture before writing the report, it is a good gauge as to whether or not students can think critically and creatively.

While this does make some sense to me, for many students (especially for students who have issues writing tests or who have slow processing speed needs) this is an extremely challenging thing to do in a timed situation. But, for grade 10 students in Ontario who wish to earn a diploma, the OSSLT is a reality and so is the News Report Writing Task.  So how to we help our students with this task?

The typical way teachers try to support students to write this task is to have them write practice news reports.  Many teachers try to incorporate this task into their courses, while other schools have preparation booklets with the task in it.  This approach can be somewhat effective, but it can be boring and sometimes out of context for students.

How about just focusing on the critical thinking and creative part then? Combining  a strategy from the Critical Thinking Consortium with The Google Art Project allows kids to think critically, practice making inferences, and potentially delve more deeply into art.

Observation, Inference, Conclusion Chart

Garfield Gini-Newman, from the Critical Thinking Consortium engaged a group of teachers at my Board in an activity using the Observation, Inference, Conclusion Chart.  Essentially, he placed an image up on the screen and asked each group to agree on when and where the picture took place.  The result? We talked and argued for over 20 minutes.  Throughout the activity, Gin-Newman came around and did some "additive teaching" using statements like, "Did you notice....?"  "I wonder what that detail in the corner could be? "Hmm, I wonder if there would be a shadow there if it was 2 o'clock in the afternoon", etc...

O.k. Great for teachers--we love to talk!  But would students find such a task as interesting? Would they engage in conversation for as long?  I tried it in several grade 9 applied and academic classes and the answer is a resounding YES!  (We did provide students with sentence stems to help with their conversations, but they rarely needed them!).

The strength of the activity is the open-endedness, the fact that it builds inferencing skills, and that it really engages curiosity and critical thinking. It's also relatively low risk: students have to use details in the image to support their claims but otherwise, there is not real right or wrong answer. It can work in any subject and with any image that has enough detail to infer W5H.

Here's the graphic organizer I adapted: Click here

The Google Art Project

The Google Art Project is a resource where you can find millions of images to use in the activity described above.  I can find images that connect to any subject area and, as a bonus, will expose students to some of the most famous artists in the world.  I always hear teachers complain that students don't come in with any prior knowledge or culture-- well here's a great way to bring Art Galleries into the classroom.  Click here for a quick overview of how to use it.

Now of course students will need to organize their thoughts into actual writing of a news report for the task, but if we engaged students in regular critical thinking around W5H  and images, we are not just preparing them for that OSSLT task, but we will be helping them make sense of the world around them as well.