Teaching thesis statements to young writers is quite difficult—especially when these writers do not see themselves as writers. Writing often frustrates ELA10-2s because they have a hard time articulating their thoughts and ideas. To them, writing isn’t natural or easy—especially essay writing. So you can imagine how tough it is to teach this kind of student the importance of the thesis statement.
How does one go about getting challenging content across to reluctant learners? Two items in the course text really helped me ACE it with PAT. First, the idea of using a metaphor to make the strange familiar fostered my design concept (p. 77). To this age group, cars represent adulthood and independence. Cars are a positive symbol in their minds. I really needed to make thesis statements (strange) become familiar, so I decided to compare them to a car. Cars take you somewhere, so do thesis statements. From there the idea of a road map developed. A thesis statement takes the driver (the writer) and the passenger (the reader) on a journey. In a sense the writer and the thesis statement are in it together. That’s why the car and the driver are the same colour. This means the passenger must appear differently, hence the green head.
Lohr also recommends that a graphic designer consider the instructional purpose and content classification of the graphic. A graphic intended to make information more concrete utilizes representation (p. 75). Furthermore, a graphic intended to explain difficult information should be interpretative (p. 75). Keeping these two ideas in mind I made sure my purpose for using the graphic was clear. Because I wanted students to realize how important a thesis statement is and why it is necessary, I used an analogy that I hoped would pique the student interest but deliver a clear message at the same time. I think I have achieved that here. More importantly, I needed this graphic to build upon the information relayed in the adapted keyhole model (last week’s assignment). This graphic brings back the parts of the five paragraph essay (Point A to B and Points of Interest) as well as the PEEL method (Points of Interest). The yellow star with a T also connects the two graphics. Scaffolding is really important to teaching and 10-2s respond well to “chunking” information as well as continual review.
Another important feature of the design was the use of organizational cues (p. 82). How do you know if the learner will get it? If you organize your graphic effectively, the learner should understand it. Right? The first two users I showed the graphic to noticed organizational issues right away. I had the informational text “appearing” on either side other of the dotted line—think zigzag pattern. Right away the first reviewer said “everything has to be aligned on one side of the dotted line.” Good advice. Secondly, even though I had the car placed at the top and Point A and B labelled, another reviewer recommended the addition of directional arrows. Again, this was good advice. So I tested “filled in arrows” but they seemed to bog the visual representation down, so I changed the arrows to “outlines” and that seemed to make the graphic less crowded and more harmonious. The next set of reviewers focused on the text. Both of these reviewers teach English courses. For the last descriptor I had written the following: “At journey’s end, the passenger should experience what the driver wants him/her to experience.” One thought the word “experience” was ineffectual (too wishy-washy) while the other thought the last statement had separated the driver and thesis from each other. So I changed that text to this: “After travelling with the car and the driver, the passenger should see the big picture.” This text keeps the car and driver together but also emphasizes the idea that the passenger needs to get it when all is said and done! Plus it reinforces the analogy (of a journey).
Thankfully all of the reviewers thought the graphic suited my chosen audience and purpose. Because I was unsure of the legend I did ask for feedback on that directly. Surprisingly everyone thought the legend was a good idea as long as I explained its intention to the students. I wanted to make it less wordy but I also wanted to chunk and scaffold the information provided by the previous graphic (keyhole model) so I left it as is. I did colour code the words to aid understanding. For example, green is used to represent the passenger. Black is used to represent the thesis statement and the driver as they are linked—you can’t have one without the other. Each colour is purposefully linked to something already introduced and/or the content of the new graphic as well. I am hoping the legend will help clarify certain concepts but also be effective when students go to review what they have already learned. What needs to be done now is a second usability test with new reviewers so I can refine the graphic. I keep thinking of the figure (how to make a cup of hot chocolate) on page 81, which shows what can happen if there are too many images and too much text. Hopefully, in the end, the graphic will not be too busy and will accomplish its purpose.
Lohr, L. (2008). Creating graphics for learning and performance: Lessons in visual literacy (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson Education, Inc.