Drawing Out Research Questions

Monday, September 21, 2009.

I have been sharing over the past month or so how I have incorporated visual thinking into my college writing course here at Angelo State.  This is a first-year research and writing class that I’ve organized around the general theme of human relationships with the natural world.  The two texts for the course include John T. Gage’s The Shape of Reason: Argumentative Writing in College

GAGE.0778.cvr mech

and Bill McKibben’s American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau.

american earth

I have asked students to use drawing in three main ways so far.

1. During the first class, I asked them to draw their relationships with the natural world.  Here’s a sample:

Relationship with Natural World - Big Mtns Little Me

2. On the second day of class, I asked them to draw a picture of what happens when they read. Here are three samples:
what happens when I read 1302 003


what happens when I read 1302 002


what happens when I read 1302 001


3. For almost every class period thereafter, I have asked them to draw responses to assigned readings following format guidelines I’ve developed from Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin.  Here’s a sample a response to Buckminster Fuller’s “Spaceship Earth.”

Spaceship Earth by Fuller 002

This last week, I added a fourth drawing task.  I asked students to use drawing to depict the questions they intended to research in their first writing projects.  Then, they brought those drawings to a conference with me so that we might discuss their questions and possible sources for their research.  I found these drawings remarkable; they were very useful in helping me understand my students’ interests and in helping us refine together their research questions.

Here are nine of those drawings with the corresponding research questions.

Drawings Argument 1 OC Fisher Dam
Question at issue: “What are the environmental consequences of the OC Fisher Reservoir Dam?”

Argument Logic Visual 1

Question at issue: “What is being done in San Angelo to promote recycling and what impact is the economy having on those efforts?”

Argument 1 001

Question at issue: “What policies are in place to certify the safety of the food supply?”

Argument 1 002

Question at issue: “What are the current UN programs related to population control?”

Argument 1 003

Question at issue: “What is the status of current knowledge on damage to the ozone?”

Argument 1 004

Question at issue: “What can individual households do to increase energy efficiencies and reduce energy costs?”

Argument 1 005

Question at issue: “What is the role of the USDA in certifying the safety of beef?”

Argument 1 006

Question at issue: “What kinds of recycling programs in San Angelo are under consideration by city government?”

Argument 1 007

Question at issue: “What sort of pollution controls are instituted at the San Angelo Cattle Yard?”