Engaging Ideas:  The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking and Active Learning in the Classroom

By: John C. Bean

Book review by Elizabeth Richardson Viti

The goal of this text is to help teachers design engaging writing and critical thinking activities that they can appropriately integrate into virtually any course, whatever the discipline.  Ideally, these activities change students from passive learners to active learners who have a more profound understanding of the subject matter at hand.  Students should learn as well how experts in a particular discipline ask questions, conduct inquiry, gather and analyze data, and make arguments .  Furthermore, Bean points out that, after Barbara Walvoored's visit to his campus, Seattle University, it became clear to him and his colleagues that embedded writing assignments anywhere in the curriculum can be used for assessment of writing but also for disciplinary assessment of inquiry, research, problem solving, critical thinking and subject matter knowledge.  On a practical level, Engaging Ideas gives numerous suggestions for incorporating writing and other critical thinking activities into a particular course and provides detailed assistance in the design of formal and informal writing assignments.  Because the book assumes that there is no single right way to integrate writing and critical thinking into a course, it provides a variety of options to fit a given teacher's personality and goals.  Of particular interest is a chapter new in this, the second, edition of Engaging Ideas.  Entitled "Designing and Sequencing Assignments to Teach Undergraduate Research," it offers a new approach, one that hopes to avoid the simple regurgitation of accumulated sources.  The chapter begins with the conceptual difficulties that research poses for undergraduates and moves on to look at short research assignments that, in many cases, may serve as more effective substitutes for the longer research paper.  In addition, it looks at the design of short scaffolding assignments at the beginning of the semester that prepare students for a lengthier, culminating research assignment.  Finally, this chapter also looks at ways that any given department can work together to devise research assignments for sophomores and juniors that prepare students soundly for the research they must do in their disciplinary capstone course.  "Designing and Sequencing Assignments to Teach Undergraduate Research" appears under "Coaching Students as Learners, Thinkers, and Writers," but the text's three other areas--"Understanding Connections Between Thinking and Writing," "Designing Problem-Based Assignments," and "Reading, Commenting On, and Grading Student Writing" are noteworthy, too.    

This book is available in the JCCTL library.