I’ve been missing my blog for quite some time. The new year seems as good a time as any to get back to this format. Watch for updates in the coming months!
At a recent 8th grade campout, students and teachers could choose to be harnessed and hiked up a pole. From this uncomfortable position (think: major wedgies), campers released a rope, propelling helmetted and harnessed humans into free-fall, followed by a wide, swinging elipse as screaming, laughing, gasping participants were gradually lowered to the kissable earth. Unlike my students, I could not compel my hands to release the rope, trusting only my harness.
Slam Poet Emily Hedgecock (my daughter) presents to a Teach for America audience.
Kids are wonderful creatures. We often see them through the lens of our adult experience. The novelty of life can dissipate after years of repetition. The first trip to McDonalds is magical, the second is super fun, the third is great, but after dozens of Happy Meals and crawling through yellow plastic playground toys and running on Astroturf, the place starts to become a burger joint full of loud children and tired parents. But when kids are in the beginning stages of discovering everything, even the most mundane experience can have appeal. It’s one of the reasons why teaching kids how to express their feelings when faced with a new experience is so important. It’s what creative teachers do. This video of slam poet (and my kid) Emily Hedgecock, is one of the reasons why I support the arts in schools (besides the fact it pays my salary). If art is a unique expression of a universal experience, then teaching kids how to share these experiences in their own way can connect kids in their shared understanding defining both themselves and their world.
Ayah Bdeir at TED: Building blocks that blink, beep and teach
How does approaching a complex problem with the mind of a child elicit fresh, creative, accessible new things? Ayah Bdeir, an artist/engineer looked at Legos and was inspired to consider transistors in a new way. I have often told my students that art is a unique expression of a universal idea. This broadens the concept of art significantly. If we want to inspire creative thinking, we must be willing to encourage and celebrate differentness and its contribution to the creative process. Diversity, a buzzword for racial and gender integration, takes on powerful meaning in the world of art and education. Diversity is a necessity for artists. But children who are different often feel at odds with a system that rewards sameness. I look at a classroom full of middle school kids and I sometimes wonder if teaching them how to work to a standard is one way to let them off the hook. Kids do the minimum required rather than push for greater understanding, deeper knowledge, and personal best skill development. Once a student recognizes the objectives of the academic game, he or she is free to play at any level. If good grades are the goal, many savvy learners do what is required to get to the goal, but no more. For those not interested in the game, playing at academics is boring, annoying, or off the radar. For those who have been trained to believe their grades have some connection to an individual’s character quality, the game of school can produce paralyzing anxiety.
How do we, as educators, provide the assessments kids want without attaching them to a child’s self-worth? This non-judgmental assessment feature is no fantasy. Children who play video games live in a world of action assessment. When a character dies on a video screen as a result of a lack of skill or knowledge, there is rarely a response like some I have seen in school when children do poorly on tests. The gamer’s reaction to a lack of skill is to get better at the game whether through repetition, research, or online cheats (don’t be fooled by the name; cheats have their own learning curve). When the expectations for schoolwork reach beyond skill building and touch the sensitive nerves around a student’s developing sense of self, there is room for reassessment of our assessment tools.
Rather than push for homogeny, we could reward new ways of thinking. The weird girl who thinks differently will be included at lunch because the school’s environment embraces and rewards her contributions. The weird boy who daydreams will be lured into conversations to mine his mind for unique ideas that cause an upward spiral of abstract thought in the classroom. We have a role to play as teachers in creating an environment where divergence is no longer frowned upon but encouraged. In fact, we now know it is this divergent thinking that creates great ideas such as Legos and littleBits. It’s about time we stop rewarding imitation. Let’s celebrate the weird kids and give everyone permission to reveal his or her diversity.
Image via Wikipedia
Lately I have been doing a lot more researching and a lot less writing. I apologize to my two fans who wonder what in the world has happened to me. I want to share some of the stuff I have discovered over the next few posts so I will start with a wonderful article from Edutopia (the George Lucas Educational Foundation website for education). The author has a lot to say about the resources available to teachers that will help us all connect in the 21st century. While not all the ideas are pertinent to every teacher, it could inspire you to use the available resources, most of which are free, to improve the classroom experience for you students. Enjoy:
This is a terrific article written last May for the Washington Post online magazine. My friend and fellow arts instructor, Jan, sent it to me today. It reiterates what I have been saying to anyone who will listen: Improved test scores are not an adequate reason to include or exclude a subject area. Arts have intrinsic value not specifically related and yet foundational to learning in core subject areas.