Tag Archives: process

Art is not just pretty pictures: The deep process of artistic creation

My topic today is Art as a subject in schools. I wonder if we sometimes underestimate or misunderstand the role of Art in a student’s learning. It’s so much more than making pretty pictures. Art personifies learning through a transparent process of deep exploration and problem solving – with an end product to show for it. Just as with literature, the end product can be unpacked to reveal the influences which were part of the creative process. Fortunately this is not a purely scientific process but one which invites the exploration and interpretation of the viewer. Art is a model for problem solving in other areas of learning. We should hold onto Art, and not be fooled into thinking that it is less valuable than subjects which are associated with occupational success. We need Art.

I visited a year 9 class today to see the students happily working on large representations of themselves based on their exploration of the unit ‘Home and Place’. My part in this project was the collaboration with Mihaela Brysha, Head of Art, in resourcing the project  in our library website (Libguides). I’m including the project brief:

This unit explores ideas about belonging and is designed to question our relationship and interaction with:

  • Others
  • Pop culture
  • Consumerism
  • Cultural beliefs,
  • Personal histories
  • The natural world

The aim of the exploration is to make and visually interpret personal statements about what home and place means to you and how it shapes personal and cultural identity.

Australian artists Patricia Piccinini, Fiona Hall, Gordon Bennett, and Howard Arkley address some of these ideas from very different perspectives, influences, art forms, aesthetics, materials and techniques. The study of their ideas and studio art practice as well as interpretation and analysis of their artwork aims to provide stimuli for the exploration of ideas, content and techniques for practical explorations.

The online resources were a starting point for further research into these artists:

Fiona HallGordon BennettHoward ArkleyPatricia Piccinini

The art of Gordon Bennett strikes a chord with many of our students whose families come from different countries. Bennett’s art depicts the cultural tension between his ties to his Indigenous roots and his association with Western culture.

I loved the size of these art works, their bold colours and strokes, delicate details, diverse imagery and visual storytelling. I loved the energy and focused activity in the classroom, the productive interaction between students and teacher. I took photos.

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unnamed (20) unnamed (21) unnamed

 

I’m looking forward to the hanging of these in the art show. Well done, boys, and well done, Mihaela.

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Thinking about teaching writing in a connected world

Image found here

The eye is naturally drawn to things you’ve been thinking about. So it was for me last night when I was browsing my Twitter feed and came across Susan Carter Morgan‘s retweet of Angela Stockman‘s link to her article The questions we ask when we begin to teach writing on the WNY Young Writers’ Studio  website. Angela asks:

“Is it possible to teach writing well if your students aren’t aware of what’s possible now? If they aren’t publishing online?”

An interesting question. Although I hadn’t exactly been phrasing it as specifically as this, I’ve been wondering about the task of teaching writing at a time when our publishing options are so many and varied; wondering whether we’re doing our students a disservice if we continue to teach writing the way we were taught. I mean without recognizing the opportunities for a broader, online audience. I’ve been rabbiting on about this for quite some time.

I also wonder why we are still predominantly text-centered with regard to storytelling options when there are so many other options for storytelling, particularly with the new digital possibilities.

“Composing isn’t just about text anymore.”

And it isn’t. That’s not to say it’s any less important to teach textual writing but there are so many other things to consider. If our students are reading stories online, enjoying graphic novels, following and creating stories in virtual worlds, then shouldn’t we be exploring these new forms of narrative with our students?

There’s a mounting list of technological applications which enable and enhance storytelling. These options incorporate visual and digital literacies, amongst others, but writing is still the crux, that is, creating plot, characters, setting. The story itself, is still a matter of writing. As Angela states:

“I don’t focus on genre or the writing itself at first either. I find myself asking questions about who the writers are, what kind of difference they want to make with their words, and for who.”

“When my grandmother died, she left behind her childhood journals and a whole bunch of letters,” someone mentions to me quietly. “Seeing her handwriting helps me hear her voice. It keeps her alive.” And I appreciate this. I know that when I look at my daughter’s blog and when I skim through her Flickr stream or her Facebook updates, I experience the same feeling. For me, it isn’t about the ink. But I’m not the only audience the writers I work with will have. In fact, one thing I do know for certain is that if I’m doing my job right, they won’t be writing for me—they’ll be writing for other people, and their purposes and the tools they will use to connect with them will vary. As a teacher, what I think and what I need doesn’t matter at all. It’s all about the writer.”

I wrote about something similar in a post a long time ago when I found my grandmother’s old autograph book, remarking:

The autograph book demonstrates a lovely collection of shared sentiments, but at the same time, this generation is collaborating in newly found ways to create.

The tools are always secondary to what is being created. Angela says:

“Our first task is to connect writers to themselves, their needs, their vision for the difference they will make, and their ideas. Who do they want to move with their writing? What is the best way to accomplish this? What’s possible, given the range and access of tools that are available today?” (my emphasis)

Trying out blogging as a platform with year 9 students has shifted something seminal to successful and convincing writing. I was nodding when I read Angela’s words:

“My work involves helping writers develop and share their own. What they are writing has to matter to them. It also has to matter to someone else. Otherwise, they will not persevere as writers. It’s as simple as that. School teachers can force kids to write by threatening them with failing grades. Fortunately, we don’t have that awful luxury at Studio, and I’m grateful for this. It keeps us honest. It keeps our writing real. It helps us persevere.”

In her excellent article Remaining seated: lessons learned by writing Judith M. Jester advises teachers to write if they’re teaching writing.

“As a teacher of writing, I consider writing to
be one of the most important things I can do for
my kids. I need to put myself in their place on a
continual basis so that I more fully understand
what I am asking them to do. How can I know
what difficulties they face if I don’t face them, too?
How will I know what strategies to suggest if I
have not tried them first? How will I know the
joy they experience when they are genuinely
pleased with a draft if I have not felt the same joy?”

It’s a shame that teachers are so busy teaching, assessing and writing reports that they don’t have time to do what they teach. Judith is passionate about the teacher modelling writing:

“What they fail to understand is that they will produce better writers if they pick up a pen for something more than evaluation. If they do, they will learn far more about teaching writing than any instructor’s manual can ever tell them.”

I’m not sure that teachers have much of an opportunity to do much more than keep up with teaching their classes, correcting work and writing reports. The expectation of schools, of a curriculum which drives teachers and students towards the final assessments in senior years so that students enter tertiary institutions of their choice – does this allow much room for senior school teachers to choose between what they want to do and what they must do?

The article gives food for thought. Judith writes about the power of process, the power of feedback, the power of audience, the power of modeling, the power of thinking. Definitely worth reading and thinking about.

Wouldn’t it be nice if teachers’ lives were balanced to allow time for themselves – to think, to try things out, to model what they teach, to alleviate the relentless pressure and give them some space just to be. Teachers should be nurtured as learners too, not just have their last juices squeezed out of them.

Image found here.

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Filed under teaching, writing

Process, process, process

Kuhlthau

 Kuhlthau, 2004.

The Year 8 immersive big picture project has come to an end. After an intense and productive week, students presented their perspective on what makes the human race worth saving with creativity and technical flair. Though the bell sounded the end of the week, the learning process, I imagine, will continue visibly and invisibly beyond the project itself. 

I’ve always been more interested in the unseen learning, the mental moments and shifts in between the visible structure.  Supported by a 7 day continuum, uninterrupted by regular classes, if learning moments were audible or contained in comic speech bubbles, we would have heard ‘ping!’ and ‘zap!’ and ‘kaboom!’ If learning was a visible chemical reaction, we would have seen from discussion and interaction marvellous blended colours and awesome explosions.

 Watching and assessing the presentations (mainly film or photostory), a  spectrum of topics and creative approaches was noticeable, as well as depth of thought and synthesis.  Some of the presentations were obviously stronger, and others weaker, but sitting next to the teacher who knew the class well, I was able to glean valuable insights such as whether the student had come a long way, pushed boundaries or surprised with hidden talents. Choice and big picture questions had allowed students to connect with topics of interest, and some had run with this. If the idea behind this project (or one of them) was to engender passion-based learning, then this was successful in a good number of final products, but the architecture of learning and teaching is multi-layered, and in the aftermath, there is much to be reflected upon and pulled apart.

These are some of my thoughts throughout the week as I roamed from room to room:

  • the confusion and mess at the start is normal, and should be a warning  point to students and teachers
  • Carol Kuhlthau’s graph of ups and downs in the affective domain during the research process may be useful to provide an insight into what can initially be a frightening undertaking
  • teachers are just as much learners in this situation, and a forum throughout the process would be great support as well as make transparent the learning journey if recorded
  • there was a noticeable difference between some classes in terms of concepts grasped and degree of synthesis, so teacher support in unpacking questions, leading discussion and debriefing at different stages of the process cannot be underestimated
  • time needs to be taken by teachers to equip themselves for this journey
  • assessment encompasses the whole process through recording in One Note and is more valuable than the assessment of just the final product
  • a celebration involving the entire project cohort is an important part of the journey, and although this was done by some teachers to some degree, there was insufficient time to do this properly
  • the learning process will continue silently after the last day, and we should not lose this but provide opportunities for discussion and reflection, and record these.

I’m looking forward to a recorded presentation of this journey, especially comments from students and teachers about how they felt at different stages, and what they learned along the way.

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Filed under creativity, learning, research, teaching

Creativity, a sense of purpose and belonging

In his latest post (6 May), Will Richardson asks this question:

So when I read Jay Cross’s latest piece in CLO magazine, I wondered how many schools could point to someone, anyone, who is in charge of learning. By that I mean someone who manages the culture of the school by focusing not on outcomes as much as how learning is writ large in the system.

Learning is occurring at my school this week. Learning with a capital L. We are coming to the end of a pilot project where the entire Year 8 cohort, along with its teachers, has been involved in researching a big picture question culminating in a multimedia presentation of their choice.  Normal classes have been suspended, and each teacher has stepped into the continuum at different points, providing the support needed at that time. Teachers have been in a unique situation, supporting not content, but skills; and this often meant that they were learning alongside the students, at times from the students. The process seems to have taken on a life of its own, and teachers have reported being surprised that students’ projects are taking shape, and that they are on task and engaged, even excited.  Trust in the students’ abilities and creativity has been growing.

This is the part of the project that gets me going – the learning process of both students and teachers. This is what I hope we can record, make transparent, discuss collaboratively, reflect upon, project into the future with. I’ve been enjoying discussions with teachers at different stages of the project: the initial feeling of not knowing how to begin, being overwhelmed by the enormity of something new and big, the joy and relief with the first successful day, the surprise when students took the task and ran with it, in all different directions, in a variety of ways, the excitement upon seeing things take shape, and the anticipation of the final presentation.

I’d like to record all of this. I think that this discussion is the guts of the learning. It’s exciting to see shared discussion in a shared project, and I wish it would happen more often. For a change, the teachers are not in charge, they are facilitators, they are not in control, but are taking one step at a time, and trusting in the students, they are not keepers of the content, but observers of the process.

This is learning. I hope we can capture this for reflection and evaluation. We can base next year’s project on what we have observed, what we’ve learned. I hope we can come together for discussion, reflection and evaluation, modifying the assessment rubric from experience of what the process has involved. Teachers have been talking excitedly not of perfect products or best products, but of the learning leaps for individual students.

I read Will Richardson’s latest post (6 May) and he says

I wonder how many of us can look at our colleagues and answer the question “How does that person learn?” And think of the leaders in our schools in that light as well.

This week, Year 8 teachers have seen with new eyes how their students learn. I think they’ve had an insight into their own learning process. Learning has been shared by teachers and students alike.What does Will Richardson say about teachers’ learning? In discussing Jay Cross’s latest piece in CLO magazine, Will wonders if any schools have one person

 ‘who is in charge of learning. By that I mean someone who manages the culture of the school by focusing not on outcomes as much as how learning is writ large in the system. Someone who also understands the ways in which social Web technologies accentuate the need for the learning skills we’ve desired all along: creativity, critical thinking, independent thought, collaboration, etc…

And it really is about a culture that supports, celebrates and shares learning.

The Year 8 immersive project has given those involved a taste of the learning culture which supports, celebrates and shares learning.

In the article about Chief Learning Officers in companies, Jay recommends looking at the workplace through different lenses: from the point of view of the anthropologist, the Web 2.0 specialist, the informal learner.

Some of the questions posed through these lenses are:

From the anthropologist:

Are people sharing the information or are they just hoarding?

Are people taking time for reflection, or are they so busy they only live in the moment?

Are they experimenting and taking risks, or are they doggedly following the rules?

Are people working collaboratively or are they in isolation?

Through the Web 2.0 lens:

Are people using instant messaging, social networks, search engines and multimedia resources that are as good as or superior to those they are accustomed to in their homes?

Are discoveries recorded and shared with one another and documented for future use?

Do workers have blogs or other means to express themselves?

The informal learning lens:

Are there comfortable places for people to talk?

Are workers intrinsically motivated to learn and increase their professionalism, or are they waiting for their next class?

Is informal collaboration encouraged?

Are people learning from observing others… and reflecting on experience?

These are questions I’ve chosen which are most pertinent to the school situation. As Will says, do we or should we have a CLO in our schools,

 … people to lead that work, …  who understand deeply the passion-based, self-directed potentials for learning in a connected world, and the importance of a vision for true learner-centered classrooms and curricula for everyone in the building.

Do you have such leaders in your school?

(Now, I’m not sure about this, but it seems that the Chief Learning Officer is like our Training (or Learning) and Development Manager in Australia).

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Filed under 21st century learning, creativity, Education, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

What is learning?

Further to my last point, I’d like to ask anyone out there what their definition of learning is. Without thinking for too long, in my opinion it should be a transparent process, one that could be mapped. It might read like this: wondering, confusion, asking questions, organising the answers into categories, processing this data, asking more questions, sharing that information and receiving responses, debating these, synthesizing and evaluating results, and so on. Learning from mistakes is a big one. Fear of making a mistake or obsession with the right answer impedes learning. Poor Wile. E Coyote never did learn from his mistakes.

I would love to hear other people’s definitions of learning.

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The web will never replace human interaction


Restoration… Hagia Sophia scaffolding

Originally uploaded by annpar

Every day I’m reminded of the importance of the human presence behind the use of technology in teaching and learning. We need the good old-fashioned teacher to support the resource-based and student-centred learning more than ever. Before, during and after the research or learning process, we need, more than ever, the educator to explain, inspire, moderate, explain, encourage, supplement, support, explain …   Otherwise the joy and understanding will go right out of the student’s assignment and the student will loathe the assignment and loathe learning. These are my thoughts as a teacher, teacher-librarian and parent.

Here’s what someone else had to say  – scroll down to the halfway point.

It’s not a dichotomy – the old fashioned teacher and the 21 century teacher – it’s the same teacher.

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Filed under Education, Teacher librarians, Uncategorized, Web 2.0