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.
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.
Because writing 3X a week was becoming more and more challenging as my school year progressed, a friend suggested instead of blogging, I try vlogging! Here it is, my first vlog of the new year. Look for a focus on Middle School and Arts Education!
Developing a Sense of Humor Rather Than a Sense of Outrage: Why Reporting Bullying is only Part of the Answer
My husband found an interesting blog post on the idea of the teacher-led school model. The idea of a greater presence in the classroom for decision-makers is one which piques my interest. I am fortunate to work in an educational community where everybody’s involved in student life. It’s a bit like living in a small town. Mrs. Crabtree tells your Sunday School teacher what she saw and the milkman noticed something too and we’re all talking to your mom. But I digress… Enjoy the post:
Barnett Berry Video I gather that some people have had trouble with the embedded video so I am instead making it a link to the Edutoipia site where you can view his video as well as other resources related to education reform. Thanks for letting me know!
Barnett Berry is the president and CEO of the advocacy organization Center for Teaching Quality. In the preceding video he clarifies for all of us just who is going to reform our current system and outlines ways in which that can be done. He bases his ideas on what he calls the Four Emergent Realities:
4. Teacher-preneurs (we used to refer to these progressive educators as mentors) who teach but are also allowed time, space, geography (connecting in person or online) and reward to spread expertise in and out of Cyberspace.
I remember the videos on TV in the 70’s under the title Grammar Rock. I really loved these videos. Grammar seemed like a fun concept when I was a kid. Lately, though, we seem to have lost some of our enthusiasm for excellent grammar. Back when Grammar Rock was playing on Saturday morning television I had a junior high teacher named Mrs. Wallace. She taught me how to diagram a sentence. It was a game to figure out where prepositional phrases fit and what could be done to repair a dangling participle. I believe this activity is now limited to college linguistics classes.
Since the 70’s I have been a grammar champion. I know the difference between lie and lay (thanks to my Aunt Gwen) as well as how to use objective and nominative pronouns. A few years ago, my eldest daughter asked for a book titled Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a hilarious take on the misuse and correct use of English grammar. We referred to her as the Grammar Nazi all through high school though she was not allowed to use the moniker online as it contained the dreaded ‘n’ word. She corrected spirit signs in the hallways of her school with a little red Sharpie. She later took to calling herself the Grammar Bandit. Very few people knew who was defacing their grammatically impotent signs but still she found satisfaction in the act. It’s not a crime to break the rules. It’s limiting, though, if you don’t even know what the rules are. My other daughter is a writer who knows the rules and chooses to break them regularly.
I thought playing the grammar game in junior high was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed diagramming sentences and I work hard not to end a sentence a preposition with. This is, sadly, something many radio and TV journalists have forgotten. Many times, I hear them say things such as, “where the economy is headed to” or “here’s where we’re at” and I cringe. I know the preposition they are adding is superfluous but, clearly, it seems necessary in an age where words seem cheap. But words are not cheap. It’s how we use them that cheapens them.
This series could go on indefinitely but I thought I should wrap up this segment on reconceptualizing education with an idea. Reconceptualizing isn’t just about innovating. It’s about how and why we innovate. So, instead of featuring an education innovator from the national stage, today I want to acknowledge the innovation of teachers a little closer to home. Last night I attended what we refer to at my school as School Out of Doors or SOOD for short. For my team, it was a chance to take 70 7th grade students into the wilderness with tents and sleeping bags and create something memorable for the class of 2016. But we live in the only state about which Will Rogers famously said, “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait five minutes.” With sudden thunderstorms, threats of baseball-sized hail and an eerie tornado warning, we spent our School Out of Doors INdoors. While sirens were blaring outside, we gathered the kids into a cinderblock hallway near the gym and sat them on the floor with all their belongings. The amazing part to me is due to the calm and positive response of the teachers, all the students behaved as though this was an expected part of the weekend. They played cards, sat and talked with friends, read books and seemed genuinely happy to be in a hot, dark, smelly, cramped hallway with 70 of their closest friends. When it became clear there would be no night hike, cooking over a flame, or outdoor games, the 7th grade teachers sprang into action. Okay, maybe we didn’t spring, but we all had a trick or two up our sleeves. The Dean set up a projector and sound system to show a movie on the gym wall to rival any drive in. Parents brought in pizzas, the 7th grade teachers helped the students create an indoor campsite complete with tents and flashlight games. In the morning, they supervised the breakdown of the campsite treating it as they would any clean up they would have to manage in the woods. This morning we took our students to the school’s courtyard where they made pancakes on camping stoves and ate off tin plates. There were buckets of suds outside the library where the kids washed their dishes and after eating they broke down the cook sites. It may not sound wildly innovative but in light of the circumstances the teachers were creative, innovative, encouraging and modeling a critical skill; flexibility.
As teachers and parents we often get caught up in the outcomes game. If the outcomes don’t match our expectations, there is disappointment and frustration. We too often pass this culture of inconvenience to our kids. What would it take to change the mindset that has us become irritable when things don’t go as planned? If we could make that important adjustment and teach our kids that a change in plans doesn’t have to be negative, we would create a generation of curious and motivated innovators. I’m all for making plans and following through, but if change is necessary or a better idea reveals itself, shouldn’t we be vigilant and prepared to shift gears?
Smart Dust, now used as a tool in destroying tumors, was a graduate student’s ruined homework. At USC, Jamie Link accidentally blew up a silicon chip. Because she was vigilant, she discovered properties in the detritus that made her famous in medical circles providing a previously unknown cure. The Popsicle, invented by Frank Epperson, was a result of a mess left outside when Epperson was 11 years old. He left a drink with a stir stick on his front porch. The cold night left him with a frozen treat on a stick the next morning. He patented the dessert two decades later much to the relief of kids everywhere with sore throats. In 1928, Alexander Fleming‘s experiment with bacteria was ruined, or so he thought, when mold showed up in the Petri dish. His vigilance allowed him to see where bacteria were avoiding the mold. This led him to a discovery that has saved millions of lives. Penicillin was the first antibiotic and his flexibility and open mind allowed him to create something exponentially better than what he had initially intended.
The most important lesson we can learn about innovation is this: If we are vigilant, a change in plans can produce greater results than any outcome we could have imagined. There are myriad stories of greater-than-expected outcomes in science, math, art, literature and every other academic discipline. This mindset is what we can teach our kids in an age where knowledge is secondary to creativity. As one of our greatest thinkers once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
This 19 minute TED talk is well worth your time. I have ADD and I couldn’t find a distraction that could tear me away from this man’s talk!
Charles Leadbetter is an unintentional innovator by virtue of his intense curiosity. His interest in finding out what’s available in the world of education beyond the borders of ‘sanctioned methods’ is one of the most exciting reformist efforts today. Rather than speak about education with a collection of theorists, he is out in the field on a quest. His quest is every bit as important (perhaps more so) as the panel discussions, policy debates and academic lectures. He has discovered the purest form of learning; people hungry for knowledge are using available resources to feed their hunger. What could be any more pure? This ties in with the slide show titled “Shift Happens”http://www.slideshare.net/slideshow/embed_code/33834 created by Karl Fisch which compares India, China and U.S. digital and educational revolutions by the numbers. It’s very provocative and I think it informs the conversation concerning what’s happening in education in rising nations.