Anyone who says you can’t apply computational thinking and digital learning strategies to strengthen students’ writing skills is wrong. To the contrary, this innovative learning style helps students hone critical-thinking skills across every discipline.
In my classroom, I teach students computational thinking through free materials from Ignite My Future in School, a partnership between Tata Consultancy Services and Discovery Education. I especially enjoy using their Curriculum Connectors, online resources for teachers across disciplines to help their students apply computational thinking techniques.
The core tenets of computational thinking are the building blocks that help my students become better learners and problem-solvers across every area of their work—from all areas of reading and language arts. Here’s how five core computational thinking approaches help my students build stronger critical thinking and writing skills:
5 core computational thinking skills every student needs
In The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock famously says, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” This lesson is also true for students. When they read a new book or prepare to write an essay, their process must begin with finding data. However, the data in this case is not numbers and computer code, but examples present in a given work. It is essential to begin with quotes and examples from the text, which help students construct more compelling essays and arguments. With the computational thinking approach to collecting data, they become explorers who are sifting for the most compelling evidence to tell a story or make a point.
Before students can process what they’ve learned, they need to analyze the data. In the classroom, this means getting creative with visual data, graphs, or imagery that helps them evaluate the evidence they’ve collected. This can be anything from building out the timeline of a fictional character’s journey to illustrating statistical data uncovered in research to create an infographic. This technique encourages students to ask questions, look for themes, and sets them up well to distill a classic English literature text.
“Decomposing” is a technical term that comes from computer science but is just as important for succeeding in English and language arts. Decomposing problems describes how computers break down large problems into smaller pieces and work toward solutions. Like computers, students must learn to sort out details and reduce complex ideas to analyze a text. To improve writing skills, students can also break down the works of other writers. Decomposition allows students to break down a sentence from Homer or Hemingway, analyze the structure, and apply what they’ve learned.
As any good writer will tell you, a key part of analyzing a text requires noticing patterns. After students have broken down the text into smaller pieces, they are tasked with taking the examples they have collected and making meaning out of them. One of the ways they do so is by finding patterns: What might Shakespeare’s repeated use of birds mean? What does the presence of the green light mean in The Great Gatsby? I love seeing my students’ eyes light up as they put these pieces together. Together, my students and I apply patterns to everything from our analysis of non-fiction text to our English literature discussions.
This is the skill that best sets up students for real-world problem solving. We all know how important it is to distill complex information into easily digestible content, and that’s what I teach my students with the process of “abstracting.” With this component of computational thinking, students sort out details and reduce complex thoughts. Students that can identify the main idea or theme when reading a text and summarize it concisely while writing can build stronger essays and arguments—an important skill in and out of the classroom.
By using the five computational thinking strategies outlined above, students will have the tools to analyze and write about any text, no matter how complex.