Time does not feel like my friend right now. Not only am I behind schedule but I don’t feel like I’m moving the class along efficiently either. It’s not my students. It’s all me. It feels like I’ve planned twice as much as I should’ve and everything is taking twice as long. I know dialogic teaching and artmaking take time; that quality takes time. I suppose that I would feel better about the time I’m taking if I knew my choices were the best use of time. I hope the students are getting a lot out of what we have been able to do but I won’t know until they do their responses this week. Personally, I have my doubts. I don’t know what to do with these doubts and the feeling that I keep making mistakes. I’m in process and it’s a vulnerable place to be, trying to maintain faith that your efforts will bear fruit. Or trying to get comfortable with the possibility that there may be no fruit. I need to reassure myself that the first time you do anything will probably be the most challenging. I have to expect from myself what I expect from my students - comfort with discomfort. But I can encourage my students. Who is going to encourage me?! My research and my belief that this is the right direction encourages me - but I find myself feeling the needy. It can be good to keep a role-model in mind - an imaginary friend of sorts to emulate. When I teach this semester I try to teach like Dr. Edmiston from Teaching & Learning because his teaching feels vital and life-affirming and in his class I feel like I’m part of a community of learning and teaching. I just wish I could shake this feeling of constantly falling short of my expectations and ambitions.
I’m going to be very interested in how my students respond to the name banner exercise I call “It’s not just what you say but how you say it.” I think it’s accessible, and I think it is something they could use themselves, but was it worth the time we spent on it? It introduces basic metaphorical thinking, which I think is useful in all classrooms but especially so in artmaking. And it encourages students to think about how the way something looks can communicate ideas, similar to body language. The lesson has to be very truncated, as I would prefer them to have more time to sketch and brainstorm Am I doing more damage than good by not engaging them more deeply in artmaking? Or would they even be ready for such a thing? So many questions over just a simple name card. For what it is worth, there are other ways I could learn their names and I still think that I will have to make a rough seating chart just to learn everyone’s names, something like the visual map of the classroom with spaces for names like my Cooperating Teacher Tish Kilpatrick showed me back at Littlewood Elementary in Gainesville, FL. Not being able to name everyone by sight adds to my feeling of vulnerability. I feel less confident calling on individuals and I don’t like that feeling. I’ll be much more proactive about this the next go around.
Likewise I have my doubts over whether or not it was useful to spend class time going over the results of the intro survey. The survey itself is critic/ al to my conception of the class, but is it critical they get an idea of the interests of the group? I was very interested in the results obviously as the instructor and researcher, but I’m not sure it was mutual. Some seemed engaged at points but it wasn’t something we spent much time discussing. It was more like food for thought. I took the text from their responses to several of the questions, including all of their comments and responses to the topic of “What is creativity?” and visualized the text using a website Wordsift.org. I thought this might be a fun tool for them to know about - a visual way of looking at data. As I’m writing this, I think next semester I could probably post the survey results on the website and ask students to review the results and respond, which might be a more fruitful way for them to analyze and interpret the data. Additionally, their answers to “what is creativity?” were based on videos they watched and I think that it would be more useful to ask them to answer this question un-primed next time, without any exposure to course content. Here I am, only 5 weeks into this semester and already planning the next class! This just reminds me of the creative process, as we discussed in class. I’m already feeling a bit down that my grand curricular schemes are not unfolding the way I’d imagined - like always - and yet I’m already finding my next source of inspiration in planning a fresh attempt. There is so much overlap between artmaking and teaching. Craig was right. Teaching is an art.
A few results from the survey worth sharing:
Another interesting part was the poll that students took today in class. After realizing that I would have to cut significant parts of my curriculum, it dawned on me that I could turn the hard decision over to the students and share more control over the curriculum. I gave a little explanation about each topic on the chopping block and the students voted anonymously using strawpoll.com. The results were not what I would’ve expected and would probably not have been the topics I would’ve cut. Oh well!
We will most likely have to cut both of their lowest choices - What do designers do? (Where I was going to cover gamification and STEAM) and Is there more than meets the eye? (discussing subjectivity and critical thinking, especially thinking about fake images). While I only asked them to cut one, I doubt based on my current pace we will get to either of those. No students wanted to cut the Museum Field Trip or Art & Storytelling covering Narrative Art & Illustration (which is probably one I would’ve cut, since the Education College has a strong focus on literacy already). I’m glad I put the ball in their course and I’m interested to try this each semester. But I’m a little bummed that students didn’t seem that interested in critical thinking. Maybe I didn’t do a good job selling it? Que sera sera!
A reading that I love to give students is Nicole Gnezda’s Cognition and Emotion in the Creative Process. The article walks the reader through the ups and downs of the creative process and discusses creativity in relation to art education. Gnezda tries to demystify what is going on in the head and the heart when one is engaged in creativity and I have found over the years that this information is incredibly relatable to creative students and relevant for all students. In the past, I’ve had art students say things like, “Wow! This is me! I had no idea this is how I work!” To which I might respond, “I know! Isn’t it insane that you’ve gone all the way through school and no one ever thought to teach you how your brain works?!?” Yep. That’s our education system in a nutshell.
One thing I like to do with this article to help students understand how the creative process feels is diagram the ‘creative rollercoaster.’ It’s not a common practice (that I’m aware of) but I occasionally enjoy visualizing or graphing a reading for tone or to clarify a concept. I’ve done this with students before but starting with this approach led to almost unanimous downed-heads and eye-contact avoidance. You have to be able to tread water in awkward silences as a teacher. Fortunately, I had already read their responses, which were thoughtful across the board, so I had no doubts that everyone had read the article. So let’s back up. We reset with more general questions - What was the main point? Were there any surprises? After we built up a little knowledge base, I sort of had to lead the students through the diagramming, but I think they were engaged at that point. They just hadn’t considered doing such a thing I think. I should have asked them to diagram it themselves in their sketchbooks before we spoke or in their responses online. I wonder if all these ways of looking at text data, like wordsift.org and diagramming will stick with any of them?
As we were discussing the Gnezda reading, I found an opportunity to present the information regarding research claiming that teachers dislike creativity and subsequent analysis that seemed to raise questions as to whether teachers understood creativity (or at least, could identify the characteristics of creative people according to experts). Based on the survey, the majority of them explicitly support creativity, just like the teachers from the above analysis said they did. Is this disconnect between supporting creativity yet not really understanding it the crux of this course? I’m very interested to hear what students think about this and I will want to try to connect to it again in the future. It seems to signify that our discussions about the nature of creativity will be useful for these future teachers. But will our relatively short time together really impact their understanding and application of creativity in the future? Maybe next time around I should have my students try to identify the traits of creative people at the beginning of the semester to see if their language parallels that from the aforementioned study. Perhaps there will be new insights from trying to duplicate and influence their definitions and notions of creativity in general? But is all of my focus on creativity taking too much attention away from authentic artmaking? We art teachers hate to lose artmaking time - but there is so much more to artmaking than just making art! Something to revisit for sure.
One especially bright spot this week was first feedback! It was WONDERFUL! I was so pleased going through my students’ responses to their first assignments. Almost everyone met and surpassed my expectations and I was happy to reciprocate their thoughtfulness in my own feedback. It takes time to go through the written responses of nearly 30 students - but that’s the cost of quality. I noticed that, for myself, not assigning grades helped me resist getting lazy or taking shortcuts. For example, I could feel the temptation, after going through about more than half of the responses, that a part of me felt like it wanted to stop reading closely and simply assign a point value quickly after getting the impression that a response was satisfactory. I know that this is not dialogic teaching though and simply ends the learning before it starts. Not having points as a tool (weapon?) forced me to continue to read responses more closely than I might’ve if I was assigning points. I did find shortcuts along the way however, and everyone must experiment with what works for them to make feedback more time efficient. My method required me to focus on being concise while making connections between students where I might respond to a similar point or question by copying a bit of text that applied to both students. It seems that at least a little standardization of responses helps - though that can get repetitive and should be switched up.
The richness of their responses is very encouraging and seems to signal that I’m headed in the right direction. I shared with the group that I was impressed and I hope that this level of quality will continue without the ‘motivation’ of grades. Getting to see my students thinking and how they are responding to all the things we’re doing makes me think of what a shame it is that all this might be lost in a more traditional course! In comparison, I don’t think my feedback (a few hours) took much longer than careful traditional grading - and so far is waaaaaay more rewarding. I’m looking forward to our midterm meetings so that I can hear more about how they are responding to receiving this kind of feedback.
A couple students have not turned anything in yet, which is disconcerting, and I emailed them to see if they had questions or need help. Very non-accusatory. Some teachers out there will however accuse me of ‘hand-holding,’ but I think that is the response of someone that doesn’t REALLY care about their students (or only about the ones that do what they say) or perhaps has drank a little too much of the ‘tough love’ Kool-Aid or simply someone who might be more comfortable in the ‘corporate college culture’ than I am. Obviously I’m not going to continue to remind students throughout the whole semester, but why shouldn’t I reach out? Sometimes people just need to know that someone is thinking of them - notices that there might be something wrong. This might just not be the course (or semester or college) for them. Personally, it’s been fairly common in my experiences with traditional grading, especially in large classes, for one or two students to self-select out of doing well in the course by and having a bad start and not keeping up with assignments so I wouldn’t attribute any of this to “going gradeless.”
I’ll most likely still have to figure out ways to re-arrange or eliminate some more assignments for the students, as they are a class ahead of where we are already and I don’t want them to get too much further out or the connections won’t be as readily available for them to recall for our discussions. I’m thankful I’m using the Flipped Classroom model. I don’t know how I would do this otherwise with only less than 2 hours a week of contact otherwise. I just have a ways to go to figure out the best balance. Fortunately, I’m a tinkerer. I feel I am both a student and a teacher in this course, possibly moreso than I ever have before. We have to be as mindful of our own cognition and emotions as we are of our students. As teachers, we are always in process and that can be both an exciting and scary place to be!
Here is my Day 3 Outline
I'll mostly be blogging about my experience teaching pre-service teachers about creativity and artmaking. I teach a class called Art Curriculum & Concepts for Teachers for undergrads planning on becoming classroom teachers. Among other things, I'm attempting to "Go Gradeless" while experimenting with more effective approaches to teaching visual art integration.