I have a confession. I’m a serial over-planner. I almost always plan too much. On top of this, I made a pretty silly mistake over the summer when I was planning this course and I feel like I should come clean. I didn’t realize that the course was two credits when I began. Typically, college courses are three credits, and the majority of GTAs in our department teach three credit courses. Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me to check. Thank goodness I realized this BEFORE the semester started so that I could make last minute adjustments. But the cuts I made were not drastic enough. I fell in love with my curriculum and that is something to avoid. Fortunately, I feel free to make big changes because there is no number of points that need to be redistributed or manipulated because of “going gradeless.”
The major takeaway so far from this combination is that I need to SLOW DOWN. A big part of this realization is that I need to simply ‘listen’ carefully to the class as it moves forward and adapt accordingly rather than following a rigid sequence. Go with the flow essentially. And it’s clear at this point that the class will benefit a great deal from going over material deeply rather than quickly. I don’t believe the transformational change I’m aiming for cannot be achieved superficially. I’m enjoying our class discussions a great deal and so far I would guess about more than half of the class is actively engaging in our discussions. While I’ve invited those that haven’t spoken yet to speak up, I know it will take more intentional work to make full engagement a reality.
Part of the difficulty for me is that I haven’t learned my students names yet and I’m not learning them very quickly. This makes me feel far more vulnerable and I’m not sure why I feel like it’s going more slowly, except it’s probably just because I’ve seen them infrequently so far. But maybe I was over-confident, as I haven’t constructed a visual cheat sheet for myself yet by combining photos and names – our rosters only have a few student pictures and I haven’t taken class time for taking photos yet either. I may have to do this next class while they are working on their “It’s not just what you say but how you say it” typography exercise – your old-fashioned name cards, which I hope will help not just me but everyone learn each other's names. I have a good lesson to introduce the assignment that I first taught during my own student teaching. I was thinking I wanted to try something a little more fresh, but I think the typography exercise is a strong and meaningful lesson (I think) as opposed to most professors who just give the class paper and supplies. I also think the lesson will be broadly useful to them as teachers. More on this lesson next week! Sure, the students are capable of coming up with things on their own, but I think teachers who introduce this as free draw activity without scaffolding lose an opportunity for students to practice new knowledge or skills seems like a waste of teachable moment and class time to me. On the other hand, this name card design will take up a good chunk of class time. I don’t want it to be the doodle for the week since I don’t want students necessarily working towards completed compositions in their sketchbooks. Additionally, if I developed a name cheat sheet and really tried to memorize their names, I might not need them to make name cards to help me remember. Then again, maybe the name cards will be useful for community building enabling students to learn each other’s names? I’ll have to return to this dilemma at the end of the course to see if this time could have been better used elsewhere.
The other major takeaway is “Kill Your Darlings.” This, after all, is the inspiration for the name of this website. The original quote seems to be most attributable to Arthur Quiller-Couch but has been also popularity attributed to Robert Faulkner, Allen Ginsberg, Oscar Wilde, Eudora Welty, G.K. Chesterton, Chekov, and Stephen King. It’s considered good writing advice and I think it applies to all the arts and beyond. We often have to kill or sacrifice those things we hold most dear in the search for meaning, truth, growth, etc., rather than falling in love with our own work. We should try to see it objectively and make the hard choices that will drive our work forward and our medium or genre to the next level. What do you expect to gain if you are not willing to give up something precious? I have another bad habit in addition to over-planning (thought I sold argue this is a good quality, at least when compared to someone that under-plans – which for me would be panic inducing although I could see a brilliant improviser making it work). That bad habit is a tendency to treat my curriculum as precious (preciousness was somewhat beaten out of me in regard to my artwork by my MFA program. I work very hard on my curricula, pouring days and months over the summer into a single course.
Nevertheless, cuts must be made, if I care about my students learning as opposed to just ‘covering’ material. So this will be a little painful, I think, but it will be good for me. This is the enemy of teaching, in my opinion, when we become our own worst enemies (and the enemies of our students and learning) when our primary objective becomes to just cover as much content as we can. So this is a good thing because it will force me to focus even more on the most essential learning in my course. It just won’t feel that good at first. But if it helps the students transform and adopt “creative growth mindsets” then that is what is most important.
This past class went well and resulted in some solid discussion and also increased my student’s comfort with the class structure I think. We began class more traditionally this time and this proved to be an excellent point of comparison with our previous class’ open-ended clay “Task Party” beginning. Because the first class had been so open, loose, and low-pressure, it made the second class seem much more formal and stiff. Perhaps people tightened up a bit. This was because they had a writing prompt to respond to as they came in the room: “What do you believe about creativity?” Afterwards, we constructed cardboard sketchbooks, which felt very different to them since there was a right and wrong way to do it. I circulated a great deal but students were left to their own devices for the most part after a brief introduction and demonstrations from me. Some expressed that they felt more comfortable asking classmates for help since they had been able to socialize last time. There were several occasions when I stepped in to correct something, which always causes me to reflect how active a role I want to take in their learning. I felt that I was a little rusty with some of my old tricks. For example, I gave a lot more affirmative answers to “Did I do this right?” than I would’ve preferred. I think it is better to turn it around and say, “Do YOU think you did this right?” and then asking them to explain how they know. I need to work on this, but then again, I wonder if I’m overly concerned i this specific case since the cardboard construction is much more a straightforward sequence of steps moreso than other art exercises we will try.
It was important to me that we reviewed the syllabus a little today, especially working towards buy-in of “going gradeless.” We covered the previous assignment and I encouraged anyone that had not turned something in to do so asap. We had about 4 - 6 who did not complete each of the 4 tasks. I’ll contact those students directly. While we discussed some of the nuts and bolts of the course, I encouraged students to doodle and we talked about one of the assigned articles they were asked to complete, The Atlantic’s The Cognitive Benefits of Doodling which seemed like a great jumping off point for our course. We talked about how some students were surprised that their assumptions about doodlers being distracted might be incorrect and that doodling actually might help learners stay focused. When we unpacked this belief, it seemed most could attribute this belief to what a past teacher had told them, especially when they were punished for doodling. A few students mentioned that they would even be punished in some of their current college courses if their notes were ‘messy’ or included doodles or did not follow a rigid format. A little micromanagey for college, no? It seems that notetaking and recording information is a skill that could be developed and that there is confusion, if not conflicting messages, about what actually constitutes natural, effective notetaking. I encouraged my students to “take notes for life” and write down the things that seem meaningful and relevant for them - we’ll see what this results in over the course of the semester. This is what I do in my journals and sketchbooks.
I’m asking that students use their sketchbooks every class for doodling, especially during discussions, and submit a photo of their doodles each week. I’m doing this for many reasons. First, this might be a rich source of information about the type of thinking and connections being made in my class from the students’ points of view. Second, I’m hoping regular use of their sketchbook for doodling will develop a creative habit - and certainly I could always catch up with my students after they’ve left my course to see if they are still doodling semesters or years later. Third, I’m trying to correct this negative assumption about doodling. For my own research, I’m very curious what, if anything, might come from being able to see their thinking from week to week and the possibility of being able to compare their first and last doodles as well as their weekly doodles for each student for each class. Will these sketchbooks be more informative than my pre and post surveys or their creativity belief statement? What might their doodles reveal, if anything?
I had originally planned for another art exercise, as well as a discussion of the creativity videos I had assigned, but we ran out of time. Clearly, I over-planned. The wonderful side is that I think the students are engaging already and that’s exciting and motivating. But we also must stay on track. This is the dilemma of every teacher, and the cuts they choose can say a lot about their individual priorities. What is cut becomes the hidden curriculum. I feel that I should probably at some point post my original calendar/outline for the course and then my modified version for the sake of transparency. And as I’m writing, I realize that, while I could make an executive decision and unilaterally make cuts to my beloved curriculum. But now I’m wondering if this doesn’t provide a valuable opportunity to involve my students in the decision-making? Perhaps inviting them to vote on the topic(s) they might wish to cover or jettison this semester. Perhaps I make my over-planning, which I consider a weakness, a strength for the students that encourages more control over guiding the course and directing their learning. Let’s try it!
Are you also a serial over-planner? Under-planner? Do you tend to go for more depth or breadth? How have you had to adapt? How do you include students in guiding the curriculum?
You can find my ridiculously over-stuffed day two outline here.
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.