Dr. Judith M. Newman



Thinking With

Everything we read has the potential to help us view our professional work in a different way. I say potential because the questions we're looking for aren't in the writing but in our engagement with what an author has to say. If we start out reading for "tips" we may miss whatever opportunity the writing may afford for allowing us to think about our work rerflectively; whereas coming to a text open to seeing comparisons with our own work lets us think with an author.

Patti Stock wote:

Sometimes we begin by testing the dimensions of an anecdote one of us has told the others: Telling and retelling it, we place an dreplace it in contexts that enrigh its meaning. As we add and subtract details, we translate the anecdote into an event, a significant occurrence within one of tohe larger narratives that define our teaching practice....We compare, contrast, sort, elaborate, and refine our anecdotes until we have identified those elements that name the 'family resemblances' in them....We replay them, inviting colleagues who have not experienced those moments with us to examine them with us as we re-search them....Drawing attention to those frames, we present our colleagues with problems for study. In so doing, we invite members of our research community to reach into their memories for analogous teaching-learning moments that have occurred in their classrooms and, in light of those moments, to join us in making what sense of them as we can in order that we may improve our teaching practice. [Stock, 1993, The function of anecdote in teacher research. English Education, 25(3): 173-178]

This is probably as good a description of thinking with as I've come across. Stock is talking about creating this potential as an author; but from the other side, as a reader, our engagement with what she calls "the anecdotes" is what draws us into a reflective reading stance. The important difference between thinking with and a more traditional reading stance is one of purpose—instead of looking for "tips" we're reading for connections and opportunities to understand our work from a different perspective.

Wendy Peters-Epp (journal entry) discusses this in something she wrote:

I'm reading your article, Judith, for the first time in a few months and I'm suddenly aware of how many layers of meaning are embedded in a text. Except on a relatively superficial level, the meaning of a text is almost entirely reader-dependent. Each reader picks out something different depending on what issues are dominating the scene in his or her life. And what the indificual reader picks out will change as the reader's thinking evolves. ...

I survey the physical evidence: different colour inks; hurried scrawl...;careful, neat script...; and highlighter versus post-its. These tell the tale of at least three readings at very different stages in time, and in my way of thinking, and of making meaning. EAch time, something different has crawled out of the woodwork of my understanding.

In some sense this is an illustration of what Patti Stock has in mind, I think. We need to revisit our own narratives, our anecdotal accounts, in order to think with them, to see the situation with new eyes. What Wendy experienced was that her understanding of someone's published ideas afforded her a continuous unfolding of understanding.