Saturday, August 27, 2011

Making a difference

This week I visited the Avenue Scholars Foundation in Omaha. Jef Johnston their chief operating officer said something that resonated with me. Referring to recruiting diverse teachers he said (I am paraphrasing here): this problem is solvable, if it has not been solved yet it is because they don't really want to.
I found this approach to be very much inline with my feelings about many of the problems I encounter in teacher education.
At the heart of it it is a design problem- not the external shiny stuff but design in the full sense of the word- the way someone like Steve Jobs would use it:

In most people's vocabularies, design means veneer. It's interior decorating. It's the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.

Steve Jobs

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Visual Art and Reading Comprehension

In last weeks post I described a student who improved his writing using visual art representations and learning about the writing process through the drawing process. This time I'd like to describe the use of visual art as a reading comprehension scaffold. 
J.N. is a student who had a really hard time comprehending texts that were two grade levels below her biological age. Her decoding and fluency were adequate but when she tried to retell a story or answer comprehension question it was clear that she was not able to locate main idea. In fact in text retell she would often mention details sporadically with no connection or clear understanding of what the text was about. After a conversation with me J.N.'s tutor decided to use drawing after reading as a comprehension strategy.
After each chapter in the book J.N. was asked to choose a scene from the chapter. Here, the direction were aimed at creating a thought process that would lead J.N. to choose the key scene - the main idea. The tutor used modeling and scaffolded self-talk to promote this kind of thinking. Next J.N. was asked to draw the scene in as great a detail as possible. As she draw she explained her choices to her tutor and how they made sense based on her interpretation of the story. Finally J.N. wrote a summary based on her drawing. 

Within a few week J.N. acquired a deep understanding of locating main idea and supporting detail using the scaffold and metaphor of visual art decision making process. This strategy was extremely useful and J.N. ended up raising her comprehension level to grade level expectations by the end of the five week session. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Visual Art with Struggling Readers and Writers

This summer I spent nine weeks in our reading center working with pre-service teachers who tutor struggling readers and writers. I love the work but what struck me was how effective visual art supports were.
One student A.S. was a student headed for second grade but having significant delays in achievement and some challenging behaviors to boot. The most challenge was getting A.S. To write. We were lucky to get more than a short sentence. I then suggested starting with a drawing. Now A.S. was more easily engaged, persisted, produced a picture, contributed significant oral language about the picture but still wrote very little. Finally we decided to insist on details during the art creation. In addition we modeled a questioning technique that exposed A.S. to ways of generating text. This time his writing filled a page and was full of detail and interest.
I truly belive that for young writers this link is foundamental and will help all writers do well- as we have seen in our work in Arts LINC.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Composition- Teaching Creativity and Problem Solving

A few weekends ago Kurt and I found ourselves in a Uhaul truck moving furniture. Kurt as is his habit levels a multi-layered question in a matter of fact way. This is in no way a direct quote but the essence of the question was How do you teach and evaluate [musical] composition at the graduate level? What I love about Kurt is that he asks this just as if he was asking "Should we make a right here?" That is while the question is complex it is also very concrete in his mind (and mine I think).
Anyway this post are some of my thoughts about the topic that applies directly to creativity in other domains and has clear parallels in the writing process and in visual arts. I borrow here from Ken Robinson and define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. In the context of education as a process I think that most often creativity is about finding novel solutions to meaningful problems. The problems themselves can be defined by an educator or the learner. When teaching composition, writing or visual arts this definition holds, and one can see how we can ask students to create in a familiar style or form (say painting a still life picture or writing a Haiku) making it uniquely our own by identifying the problem and providing a solution to it. In a sense teaching writing is very much just that. Lucy Calkins coined the phrase "Teach the writer not the writing" (I am actually borrowing it from Evi who is one of the best teachers of writing I know) which I take to mean there is no one uniform way to go through a program, instead as educators we must allow room for learners to define their own problems and find solutions to them. In a way teaching creativity is about teaching our students to identify problems, learn how others solved similar ones and then coming up with their own solution.
This is exactly the reason that I believe there is no universal creativity factor but instead expertise leading to creativity in a specific domain. The process in broad strokes has parallels but the details are often too different. For example I have no capacity to identify problems  in [music] composition , but I am extremely capable of doing that in educational research (it is a strange field to be creative in I know).
The area that has the most to offer I think for educators interested  in developing the ability to compose is Teaching Writing. You must decipher the parallels of course and the elements that are uniquely linked to writing but I still believe that it is useful.
A place to start might be:
The work of Lucy CalkinsLinda Flower, and unl's own Robert Brooke.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Twenty First Century Learning

We are here at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century and yet the "we" of education and teacher  education has not arrived. I retweeted some interesting comments recently (@tgite) about this phenomena so I will not go back into it. Instead I choose to imagine here what a Masters level program around 21st century learning might look like.
The drive is to provide an interesting, relevant, flexible "just structured enough" experience. It makes me giddy with anticipation!
1. Creativity- a class on current view on creativity that will include the work of Pink, RobinosonCsíkszentmihályi, Gardener, Eisner. (this one is all mine)
2. Problem Based Learning
3. Teaching and Learning in Digital Environments (currently taught by my colleague, friend, and web based education pioneer D. Brooks)
4. Action Research Methods for the Digital Classroom
5. Arts Integration in K-16 environments (a class we have been teaching at UNL for the past 5 years or so)
6. Teaching as an aesthetic text (a fantastic class by M. Latta)
7. Assessment in rich environments

As I was looking for images it occurred that we are once again turning to the Renaissance Man: Leonardo Da Vinci as an ideal, part scholar, part scientist, part engineer and part artist. 

Welcoming any comments, this may very well turn into a reality soon!