This morning, Carol Becker at Columbia University School of the Arts referred me to a recent piece in the New York Times titled “Writers as Architects” in which the author Matteo Pericoli, an architect and teacher, describes a class he taught recently at the M.F.A. writing program there at Columbia, wherein he asked writing students to reconstruct, with the assistance of architecture students, three dimensional models of an essay, short story, or novel they felt they knew well.
Here is an example response to Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”
When I assign my students to draw their responses to essays, stories, poems, and novels, I provide them with 21 visual formats as “thinking guides” so that they have some options for how they might depict their responses in two dimensional color drawings.
Here below are some recent examples from a first-year writing class in response to pages 9-47 in Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle. These drawings are students’ first attempts of the semester at what I’ve termed “handmade thinking.” Some are simple portraits, and some are more complex depictions of ideas in relationship.
While my first-year writing students probably did not expect to practice drawing as a reading strategy in my class, they are performing a very similar kind of visual thinking exercise introduced by Pericoli. They are being asked to translate textual information into visual information, to re-see and create images that reflect and re-imagine a scene, characters, journeys, or the overall structure of a text. In my classes, however, I am providing students with guided practice and choice among common visual formats for critical thinking. Still, in both cases, it is through that making that students are prompted into fuller engagement and comprehension and memory, developing more intimate visual, emotional, physical, and cognitive relationships with texts.