Rhetorical Modes and Experiential Education

I have been planning and executing class trips for the last 15 years.  Some trips have been purely for fun (taking 8th graders to Universal and Islands of Adventure every spring for instance), but many have been educational ( environmental overnights to 4H camps, museum visits, water monitoring etc).  A third category of trips can be defined as adventurous, team and character building trips.   These trips are meant to stretch individuals and groups by taking them out of their comfort zone, and requiring individuals to grow through the process, and to develop team work strategies so that everyone can overcome the challenge presented.  In the past 2 years, we have taken groups of middle schoolers zip-lining in the Georgia mountains, Class III and IV whitewater rafting on the Ocoee, high ropes courses in north Georgia, and recently, we tackled the Georgia Tech Leadership Challenge Course.  We have always referred to these trips as part of our experiential education program.  While they are fun, and we all (myself included) learn a great deal about ourselves and our peers, the “educational” part has been largely untapped.

This year, I addressed this gap by applying strategies that I have used for years as an English teacher- we started using Rhetorical Modes as part of the trip process.  Prior to the Georgia Tech trips (for our 7th and 8th  graders), we engaged the students in conversations and had them write projectively  about their expectations and feelings about the trip.  We asked them to frame their thoughts around the following modes of rhetoric:

Causal Analysis- What are the various causes and effects that you expect to experience at the course?

Compare and Contrast- Compare and contrast this trip to others you have taken.

Narration: Can you tell a brief story of a previous experience that you suspect is similar?

Description: Paint a vivid picture using words of what you think the setting and experience will look and feel like.

Definition: Define some key terms- that is leadership? What is challenge?

Process Analysis: Describe methodically, the process of what you expect will happen at the course.

These rhetorical modes were the core of our pre-trip conversations, and we used much of the same language at the course. Upon returning to school, our follow-up activity once again revolved around these modes.  This time, however, we asked the kids to think reflectively.  

Causal Analysis- What are some causal relationships you observed or experienced at the course?

Compare and Contrast- Compare and contrast this trip to others you have taken.

Narration: Can you tell a brief story of a specific part of the experience?

Description: Paint a vivid picture using words of what the setting and experience looked and felt like.

Definition: Define some key terms- that is leadership? What is challenge?  Did your definition of these terms change? How? Why?

Process Analysis: Describe methodically, the process of what happened at the course.

By using the rhetorical modes as a foundation for discussion and writing, we more successfully executed the educational  part of the Experiential Education concept.

By giving students (and teachers) the tools to think more meaningfully about the experience before and after the trip, and by providing a framework for thinking, talking, and writing about all their experiences, we have provided a greater opportunity for growth in our students through such adventurous trips.

 

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