Monday, November 24, 2014

Prof. Anthony Brandt Demystifies the Creative Process: Why Students Need to Create More and How to do It Well

Last year when working on a digital project together, a colleague passed along an article by Troy Hicks and Kristen Hawley Turner called “No Longer a Luxury: Digital Literacy Can’t Wait.” We were having our classes from separate campuses collaborate online via blogger while reading Shakespeare’s play, Richard III. At the time we were discussing quite intensely the purpose of the blog space and more specifically how we could make the site a more student-directed platform as opposed to one that relied more on the direction of the teachers involved. One of the many things the above article made clear was that students needed to be the creators and curators of the digital content and not just the consumers of whatever information may be posted on a platform such as blogger. This has been one of the many ways I’ve tried to push myself as a teacher; I’m continually asking myself: am I creating spaces for learning where students create presentations of information in addition to just consuming it?

For teaching to be maximally effective and relevant in our 21st century cultural landscape, instructors have to do more than employ technology to disseminate information more efficiently and expediently. The kinds of literacies required for today's world include the many modalities of digital communication that have recently redefined what it means to be an effective communicator in the professional and personal realms of human interaction. As an English teacher, I believe that’s one of the more important duties of my vocation - namely to help students discover how to express and communicate their passions and ideas as effectively as they possibly can. Just as students cannot become dynamic communicators by simply reading/listening to others’ impressive displays of verbal eloquence, the same is true of the more recent, nontraditional modalities of communication. Students have to write, make speeches, and give presentations themselves to complete the process of learning how to express themselves well. The same is true of blogs, videos, podcasts, etc.; students need to have opportunities to create such products to hone their digital literacy and rhetoric.

One question that comes up for many educators is how to assess creative demonstrations of learning whether digital or not, and this is something I’ve wrestled with as well. Oftentimes one will assign a creative project that gets students to make media through video or web 2.0 applications; students will follow the requirements listed, completing the project as instructed, but the digital demonstration of learning still lacks in presentational, aesthetic quality. What I’m getting at here is that all media-based projects will have an aesthetic component that, if ignored, could make or break one’s ability to reach their audience, and the fact of the matter is a lot of times students turn in poor quality products, aesthetically speaking, while the work still meets the requirements listed by the teacher. It's awkward to demand students to be more creative, especially when we tell ourselves that considerations of creative, aesthetic value are subjective in nature...

So how do we get students to make better products aesthetically speaking without seeming subjective? How do we assess the aesthetic component, namely its creative quality, while remaining fair and transparent? Teachers (myself included) often shy away from assessing creativity because we tell ourselves it’s too subjective, and I think this is partly why the arts gets relegated to the sidelines while the monolithic “high-stakes” testing industry emphasizes the more objective, quantifiable skills for each student’s curricular development.

I saw Prof. Brandt give a talk at St. John’s School in Houston when presenting at the SummerSpark conference back in June 2013. Watch Dr. Brandt's TED talk on creativity, the arts, and the need to value them more in all core-curricular programs:

Dr. Brandt's demystification the concept of creativity immediately triggered idea after idea for me in relation to helping students make better, more creative demonstrations of learning. I want my students to create, but I want them to do it meaningfully by doing it well. I don’t want them to just communicate information clearly; I want them to express it effectively by moving, inspiring, or pleasing their audience. That takes creativity and a keen aesthetic sensibility, and Professor Brandt’s breakdown of the creative process gave me a conceptual vocabulary that enables me to have that conversation with students. Creativity is not a mystical concept that some of us get while others don't; creativity is a core skill that can be learned and cultivated by anyone who is genuinely curious about the process. Our job is to fire up that curiosity by finding ways to structure projects that are relevant, meaningful, and interesting for each of our unique students. And there lies one of our many exciting challenges as 21st century educators...

-Jared Colley

Friday, November 21, 2014

Albert Camus's Letter to His Teacher After He Won the Nobel Prize...

I got this from Thank you Maria Papova for posting this! She writes:

When Camus was less than a year old, his father was killed on the battlefield of WWI. He and his older brother were raised by their illiterate, nearly deaf mother and a despotic grandmother, with hardly any prospects for a bright future. In a testament to what happens when education lives up to its highest potential to ennoble the human spirit, a teacher named Louis Germaine saw in young Albert something special and undertook the task of conjuring cohesion and purpose out of the boy — the task of any great mentor. Under his teacher’s wing, Camus came to transcend the dismal cards he had been dealt and began blossoming into his future genius.

When Albert Camus received one of humanity's most prestigious prizes on November 19, 1957, he wrote his childhood teacher, Louis Germaine. Again, thank you brainpickings for providing this image:

Wow... What an amazing gesture! I think of the mentors and teachers I would should thank for waking me up to my potential. It also reminds me that innovative teaching can only be effective if it begins with "a generous heart" and with building trust, curiosity, and confidence by way of first and foremost cultivating meaningful human relationships. Albert Camus realized his greatness because somebody cared... Thanks again brainpickings!

-Jared Colley

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

From Anxiety to Joy: A Conversation about Collaboration across Classrooms

First off, I am excited to launch this new blog space; it's something I've been meaning to do for a long time. My desire here is to see this space grow into a collaborative network where multiple contributors could introduce and guide conversations about pedagogy, 21st century learning, innovation, plasticity, collaboration, as well as many other topics that could help inform a productive conversation about what we should do with our classrooms.

I'm also excited to announce that Joel Garza and I will be leading a conversation at EduCon 2.7 in Philadelphia this January 2015. Our conversation is titled "From Anxiety to Joy: The Emotional & Technological Anatomy of 21st Century Collaboration." Here's a sample of what that conversation could sound like:

Joel and I recorded that conversation as part of the "Stories for Learning" strand for the 2014 K12 Online Conference: Igniting Innovation. We're excited to take some of what we've shared there to the EduCon conference this January 2015. Personally, I look forward to seeing how a conversation such as this one could be explored more deeply by opening it up to a greater carnival of polyphonic voices. EduCon appears to be the perfect place for such a thing:

Those attending EduCon this year, please join us for an honest, energetic conversation about the emotional anatomy of collaboration for 21st century learners and educators.  We'll be telling our story about the successes and challenges with project-based learning across campuses, but more importantly we'll be inviting others to discuss with us difficult questions about the emotional demands involved in such risk taking. How do we get colleagues to collaborate? Where are the boundaries? How do we handle moments of conflict, jealousy, or criticism? Who owns what in such endeavors and when do we yield to others? What kind of similar demands do we make on our students?

If you plan to attend, leave a comment here. What do you want to talk about in relation to the topics being addressed in this post and in the above video? What are the important questions to be asked when exploring the emotional terrain of collaborating with others - especially when they're strangers from other campuses? Tell us what you want to talk about, and hopefully, we'll see you in Philly this January!

-Jared Colley