Reaction 6: Teaching & Learning Environments

From Getty Images

Reading this week:

Bransford et al. (1999). How People Learn, Chapter 6: Learning Environments

Jenkins et al. (2007). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century

Hattie, John. (2003). Teachers Make a Difference: What is the research evidence?

Reading Hattie’s article about expert vs. experienced teachers went straight to my heart. It made me want to be back in my 7th graders in science class, getting a chance to do many things the same and many more things differently. Several of his points made me appreciate the individuals and the communities from whom I learned to teach. Though both my parents were teachers, I went to school in the same building my mother taught in, so I usually knew the students in her class and got to see her as a teacher. To me, she epitomizes the expert teacher who respected students “as learners and people, and demonstrate[d] care and commitment for them.” (Hattie) I’ll never forget asking her how she could teach 4th graders who “didn’t really know much.” She replied that you just start by asking them questions, and you’ll find out they know a lot. To this day, she gets invited to college graduations for kids she taught in elementary school! The communities that I learned and taught in both had a positive impact on how I saw myself as a teacher. Hattie and Bransford et al. basically say the same thing about classroom and school communities: “learning seems to be enhanced by social norms that value the search for understanding and allow students (and teachers) the freedom to make mistakes in order to learn” (Bransford et al., p.133); “[Expert teachers] build climates where error is welcomed, where student questioning is high, where engagement is the norm, and where students can gain reputations as effective learners” (Hattie). These were the teachers I taught with. One of my colleagues shared with me that when a student answers a question wrong or asks a question that reveals a misunderstanding, he replies with, “Thank you for your answer/question – I’m so glad you said that because that helps me know what we need to do next.”

I think assessment is something that teachers in traditional classrooms (this was certainly true of me) struggle with, whether it’s doing enough formative relative to summative, using it to inform their own practice, or actually assessing “higher level thinking and deep understanding.” (Bransford et al.) The result, unfortunately, is assessments that seem more like judgements about students themselves rather than an accounting of what they learned (or didn’t). Participatory cultures, where there is “strong support for creating and sharing one’s creation” (Jenkins et al.), are really good at assessment, because members are constantly sifting, sampling, and sharing. I see this as a hope of the maker movement in schools, where the artifact being criticized is literally and physically separate from the creator. This allows both the creator and assessor to examine it, and the creator almost becomes a witness to the assessment rather than the target.

It would be interesting to apply Hattie’s characterization of expert teachers to participatory cultures to see what characteristics of an individual teacher might also be present and available, though in a distributed way, to learners in an affinity space.  It would be ironic if networks of people, with dynamic structures and teachers, designed for innovation and creativity, was the “idiot-proof” solution.

Reaction 5: Making and Arts in K12 Education

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.

(Interestingly, this picture, linked from globalfoodpolitics.wordpress.com, is actually also featured with a blogpost about 3D printing food.)

Also this is my 100th post! Reflection on that coming soon…

But for now, this post is a reaction to Neil Gershenfeld’s article, How to Make Almost Anything: The Digital Fabrication Revolution, and Erica Halverson’s paper, Digital art-making as a representational process:

If you are a traditionally trained, career teacher, you likely have no idea how creative processes work in industry. I think one of the most compelling parts of the Youth Media Arts Organizations is that they use real processes of production, like Reel Works pitching to actual directors at an actual film studio. This is what makes it authentic rather than contrived. Without personal experience as an artist, I think teachers struggle to facilitate authentic student work in this area. I know that I personally have assigned video projects without any discussion of what the rules of the genre are, types of films, camera angles, storyboarding, etc. “Creating art mindfully, that is learning how to construct and critically evaluate these representations, requires scaffolded instruction” (Halverson 2010). Being able to scaffold instruction requires deep content and process understanding by the teacher, which the majority do not have. For this reason, students who are good with iMovie flair might dazzle their teachers with effects, and teachers then mistakenly equate the ability to manipulate software with understanding the rules of genre and/or content understanding.

I see three opportunities for bridging this gap between the experiences we want kids to have and what is currently happening. First, I think we need to recruit and enlist second career teachers who come from within industry. I see this happening at the Sullivan Center at the ‘Iolani School, an independent K-12 school in Honolulu, where they have a game designer, software architect, and studio and fabrication artist, among others, as faculty. Alternately, in the same way that the National Writing Project promotes teaching writing by developing teachers as writers, there could be art and maker institutes for teachers to develop themselves as creators. I would also love to see arts integration coordinators who support teachers designing, implementing, and assessing lessons. This might see new literacies (Knobel and Lankshear 2007) and “tasks that put the arts forward” (Halverson 2010) take root K-12 schools.

Gershenfeld (2012) in his article also addresses making, but in a different context and purpose. For the most part, his article is historical or explanatory, but there was one point that I thought stood out: the parallel comparison made between personal computing and fabrication. Although some could not imagine what people might do with personal computers, users adapted its design to their own desires (shopping, connecting, sharing). One of the radical ideas of the Ito et al. (2008) report was that they observed students “in the wild,” seeing how they actually used the tools, rather than assuming that they would just be used as they were designed. I think it is telling that in Gershenfeld’s Bits and Atoms class, it was research students who came up with innovative ideas, adapting it to the “market of one” (Gershenfeld 2012), and that as adults, we often can’t fathom what to do with something like a 3D printer.

One final point is to tie the art and process of “making” in with Sennett’s three key themes for navigating the era of new capitalism: narrative, usefulness, and craftsmanship. I see making, whether digital media or fabrication, as providing opportunity for developing personal narrative and craftsmanship through mindful design, production, and performance, and the performance of making, as seen in participatory cultures (Jenkins et al. 2006) and the FabLabs in Manchester and Barcelona (Gershenfeld 2012), provides spaces where people feel useful and connected. Perhaps in contrast with the fearful reaction by many (Gershenfeld 2012), I see the maker movement as a fundamentally hopeful trajectory for individuals and communities.

References

Gershenfeld, Neil. (2012, September 27). How to Make Almost Anything: The Digital Fabrication Revolution. New York Times.

Halverson, Erica. (2010). Digital art-making as a representational process. Paper presented at the International Conference of the Learning Sciences.

Ito, M. et al. (2008). Living and Learning with New Media : Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project (pp. 1–58).

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A., & Weigel, M. (2007). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21 Century (pp. 1–72).

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M., Eds. (2007). A New Literacies Sampler.

Sennett, Richard. (2006). The Culture of the New Capitalism. New Haven: Yale University Press.