How Does Literature Fit Into Design Thinking?

This school year, I’ve been working on establishing, with the learners, what Reading Class should look like in the 21st century. )I’ll share a more detailed analysis of the setup we’ve decided on in a later post.) For now, I’ll say it’s a combination of Reading Workshop and PBL. This new class setup got me thinking about the connection between traditional literacy and literacy in the 21st century, about how they connect. It got me thinking,

how does literature fit into design thinking?

Design thinking is the basic framework for a lot of project-based learning and reading literature is the key component of reading workshop; I knew they were both important independently, but when I finally realized how important the connection between the two is, a hardware store worth of lightbulbs went on in my head.

Design thinking is, at its core, a human-centered approach to problem solving. It’s observing people and the world they live in and figuring out how to fix what isn’t working for them. You have to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Reading literature, at its core, is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, about getting so lost in someone else’s life (fictional or not) that it becomes your own if only for a brief period of time. Storytelling happens across all mediums, but only in a book do you get so much exposure to a character’s internal monologue, a primary tool for building empathy.

This transportation from your own perspective, your own life to another, is the key connection between getting absorbed in a book and designing a fix to an authentic problem. A learner who has yet to experience that feeling of getting lost in a book will probably struggle when tasked with a design challenge. On the flip side, helping a learner find books they love, or authentic problems they want to solve, will help them do the other.

I realized that literature and design thinking can’t just coexist, they can build each other up.

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