Folding It Altogether in the New Year

As I shift the idea of this blog into a bigger space, the space of educational topics that pull and push me, my hope is to create more room for multiple perspectives on the shimmering shifting turf of educational trends and to create spaces for innovative ideas to converge and inspire. I notice through my own evolution that the writing workshop concept is linked tight to other educational movements that I’m on about. One of these trends is the “Maker Movement.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our human instinct to do and create, to make versus replicate. Despite all the information out there on the writing workshop, or maybe because of it, I still find that teachers want to “get it,” mimic it, learn the formula versus let the workshop be a space, a place where students dream, think and make “stuff” out of words.

In a recent article in the Huffington Post, Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Fox Larsen discuss the power and validity of students using their hands to create and innovate:

“Making creates evidence of learning,” says Dale Dougherty, the founder and publisher of Make. “Students are taking an idea and substantiating it in a way that could be a sketch or a model or something else. That process gives them a lot of feedback.”

Note the word “process;” it’s the feedback along the way that really counts. Jaymes Dec of the Marymount School in New York who orchestrates their Fab Lab says:

“My goal is more about inspiration than education…I don’t believe you can just pour knowledge into students. They have to learn things by trying them out.”

I keep wondering how kids are going to try things out if teachers keep constantly getting in their way? I wonder what might happen if instead of teaching a “unit of study” one day, we just ask students to create a piece of writing that tells somebody about your life, or about your dreams, or about what you know about the world. What would they do? Aren’t you a little bit curious? What would happen? Would they surprise you? Maybe.

Interestingly enough when I attended the Literacy Coaching Institute at Columbia University this fall, their emphasis on units and content has shifted to highlight creativity, volume and stamina. Students need to be able to generate ideas and practice a lot in order to build tenacity and skill as a writer. As the pros at Columbia fold their ideas with the objectives of the Common Core, a whole new mini-lesson concept is evolving, one that engages the students actively, has them think across domains and use what they know to build something new. Students are seen as having resources and skills. Teachers are there to help them activate their thinking and engage meaningfully in their own learning. Being able to solve problems and make important choices independently are now seen as key lesson fodder embedded in the writing workshop.

Abraham Maslow had some interesting thoughts on the topic of creativity that mirror my own:

The key question isn’t “What fosters creativity?” But it is why in God’s name isn’t everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? But why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything.

Unfortunately, Mr. Maslow, I fear education has killed creativity. Want the good news? People aren’t just buzzing about creativity and innovation these days, mapping its history like it’s the bottom of the Dead Sea; people are actually doing something to create change: they’re making things, trying out new ideas, failing, trying again. The tinkering movement and the workshop environment may yet make a difference in 2013! Pssst, “creativity, it’s contagious, pass it on!”

Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Fox Larsen: “Unbored: the Power of Making in the Classroom”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joshua-glenn/hands-on-learning_b_2316955.html

Maker Education Initiative:

http://makered.org

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