This is the latest in a series of blog posts by a partnering cohort member.
By: Leslie Kosanovic
Creativity has been defined in a myriad of ways (irony not lost here) and that definition is typically tied to whatever is the current context. It is often defined in terms of new and useful products, but perhaps we need to consider the processes involved in defining creativity as well. Creativity involves cognitive processes that transform one’s understanding of, or relationship to, the world. As an educator, I must question if creativity is truly valued. And by “truly valued”, I mean valued enough to make it a priority. Remember that to make something a true priority takes time, typically much more than we originally plan. Do we as educators sometimes have biases against the truly creative student? Do we fear that true creativity will lead to classroom chaos? In my time as a high school science teacher, I was so blessed to have learned alongside many creative students and it was only when they became true partners in the classroom that the most wonderful lessons were achieved. In taking the time to reflect, I realize that the “truly creative” sometimes also have personalities that allow them to take more risks, be more impulsive and be more independent. Typically, this type of student in much less compliant and, dare I say, “less well-behaved.” So, I ponder, is there a disconnect between the official stance toward creativity and what actually happens in our schools? How can teachers and administrators nurture creativity in the classroom in an era of rapid technological change, when human innovation is needed more than ever, and children are more distracted and hyper-stimulated? In addition, let us not forget that there are some drawbacks to creativity, such as time. Allowing a creative solution to evolve for one problem often generates other problems. However, the catch is that in times of change, we need to bump up creativity levels in order to generate the innovative ideas that will keep our society afloat. Quite the conundrum, for sure!
Consider that in our high-stimulation environment, our children spend so much time processing new stimuli that there is less time to “go deep” with the stimuli they have already encountered. Reflection time to process information, in a variety of ways, is vitally important to truly “owning” any new information. Liane Gabora, Associate Professor of Psychology and Creative Studies at the University of British Columbia recommends the following as ways to cultivate creativity in our classrooms: Focus less on the reproduction of information and more on critical thinking and problem solving, pose questions and challenges and follow up with opportunities for true reflection, and curate activities that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries, such as painting murals depicting biological food chains or acting out historical events (After all, our world does not come carved up into different subject areas. Our culture tells us these disciplinary boundaries are real and therefore our thinking becomes trapped in them).
Failure has also been defined in many ways as well. Most of these ways tend to sway toward the negative. The word “failure” rarely makes anyone smile, laugh, giggle and/or leap with reckless abandon. That being said, Sochiro Honda, the founder of Honda, once said, “Success is 99% failure”. Therefore, I ask you to continue to ponder. What is the relationship of failure to innovation and creativity? Why do so few organizations have a culture where the ability to fail or experiment is a valued part of innovation and creativity? What are the organizational barriers to this? After all, there are many examples where a huge failure or botched experiment has led to success. The company, 3M, reportedly sells 50 billion Post-It notes every year (I used some in the process of constructing this blog – thank you to the person that failed and accidentally created the adhesive for all those Post-Its). I would challenge that it is not the failure itself, but instead how you deal with failure that matters. Rather than abandon a failed initiative, if you can learn what went wrong and figure how to tweak it, then you will be able to improve on your idea and try again to be even more creative and more innovative. Successful businesses (and education is indeed a business) have both thinkers and doers. There is a problem when you over-think and under-do and vice versa. A truly creative culture is one where there is no gap between thinking and doing. The reality is that successful businesses (schools) must have such “experiments” championed by individual managers (students, teachers, administrators) who collectively support the culture of innovation and embrace a culture of failure as a “trade-off” for future success. A huge thank you to Bridgeport Superintendent, Mr. Zac Shutler, for being the conduit for the Literacy Collaborative and for crafting a culture where it is expected and even OK to fail on the quest to future creative innovation and systemic success. Every student, every teacher and every administrator must all be leaders of change.
“School leaders have to empower distributive leadership across the system, or else this change either won’t happen, or it will take so long that it might as well not be happening.” Therefore, in summary, I ask that we ALL hold up a mirror for “one of those really GOOD and HONEST conversations with ourselves” and let us ponder: Are we truly willing to lead? Are we truly willing to commit the time and the energy to allow failure, so that true creative innovation is achieved in our classrooms? I know that I am seeing that commitment throughout many classrooms within the Bridgeport School District. I am hearing from many teachers that are supporting students as they discover their “voice” and “the power of choice and self- advocacy”. Truly wonderful things are occurring in our classrooms and this is being supported by numerous staff and students. I am encouraged that this is true organic, systemic change. John Gordon is quoted as saying, “One of the reasons people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.” As educators, we are after all ensuring the viability of our society, as we are quite literally “responsible for educating our future”. In addition, I love the quote credited to Thomas Edison saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. So, let’s get out there – embrace our failures – learn our lessons – reset – and “try, try again”. Oh yeah, may we all find the joy along this reflective journey!
“What creativity really is – and why schools need it?” - Author Liane Gabora
www.forbes.com - “Why The Ability To Fail Leads To Innovation” - Author – Karen Higginbottom
“How Schools Are Killing Creativity” - Author Lin Dalile, Contributor and 14-year-old student
DA – District Administration – March 2018 - “7 Steps to Deeper Learning” - Author – Tim Goral (based on work of Grant Lichtman in his book Moving the Rock)
The Third Door: The Wild Quest To Uncover How The World’s Most Successful People Launched Their Careers – Author Alex Banayan
This is the latest in a series of blog posts by partnering cohort members.
By Sharon Liston and Chante Adams
Sharon and Chante
We have been working together for eight years. We started out as co teachers in fourth grade. The following year Chante was hired as our 3rd grade teacher. At this time, she entered the mentor program. For the next four years we worked together as mentor and resident educator. Throughout these years, we became classroom neighbors. Working together always allowed us to discuss ways to make learning more engaging and meaningful. At times it was overwhelming because we felt like we were on an island and really wasn’t sure how to implement the changes we wanted to make. Now eight years later, we feel as though we are learning new ways to use technology in the classroom while giving students a voice. This is thanks to having the opportunity to be part of the Fluency Project.
I was grateful for the work time during our last Fluency meeting. As a teacher, getting extra work time is sometimes impossible. I was excited by the end of the meeting because I had two solid plans for using technology in the classroom. My first Idea came from me posing a question to my students. I had asked them “How do community workers make the world a better place.” The students had to do research to find out about community workers and how they make the world better. Since I teach first grade, I didn’t want to just give my students and IPad and have them go searching on their own. They wouldn’t have been able to read the material plus I don’t think it would be safe for them. Instead, I used QR codes. The QR codes took them to safe books that were read aloud to them or it took them to videos that were safe for them to watch. They had to take notes about their community worker. That little project led us creating community maps. The students were given questions that pertained to their map, such as how many steps would it take to get to the firehouse. They were also asked to find the longest and shortest steps to the park. Everything was calculated then tested with their Bee Bots. My second idea that came from that meeting is using SeeSaw to create a Mother’s Day activity. I have been using SeeSaw in my classroom but really haven’t had any luck with getting parents to review the students work. My idea is to do a Mother’s Day Interview with each student. I will record them and upload it to SeeSaw. I will then send home a cute tag, letting the parents know they have a special message waiting for them on SeeSaw. I’m hoping this will spark an interest with the parents and they will continue to check out their child’s work on SeeSaw.
It has been extremely enlightening taking part in the Fluency Project. One of the things that I am enjoying the most is experiencing this opportunity with so many likeminded people. I do not feel held back or restricted to share ideas. I feel encouraged and supported to try new things even though they might fail. One of the biggest goals that I set for myself this year is to encourage and foster student voice. As a third grade teacher, it can be very difficult to give up control with the amount of standards and expectations that are put on third grade students with the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. However, I am learning how to give my students a voice and integrate it in with their learning standards and expectations. Now we are nearly ¾ of the way through the school year and I am so proud of the progress and growth that my students continue to show. I have allowed my students to share what is important to them, what matters to them, and what makes them who they are. This has opened pathways that I have not had in the past with my students. I truly believe that my students are more invested in their learning than ever before. I attribute this growth to my students finding their voice.
One example of this happened a few days ago. My class and I were having a great discussion about immigrants coming to America. We discussed why these people would want to leave their countries to come to ours. This led to discussions about what America has to offer and what makes America special. The students were given time to turn and talk to one another and have meaningful discussions about their beliefs. As we were sharing, one of my students talked about how cool it would be to take what we were learning about America and teach Kindergarteners about what they learned. I immediately encouraged this idea and so many of my students became excited and in agreement. I am excited for this opportunity to be a student led authentic learning experience. I look forward to watching my students to use their creativity, their passion, and their teamwork skills to research and create special presentations. I have high hopes that this will be a stepping stone in fostering their voice for the future.
Sharon and Chante
As we sit and reflect on our 8 years teaching together, we find that the Fluency Project has become full circle for us. Four simple words have taken on such a deeper meaning. Equity, compassion, authenticity, and agency are guiding us to find the best in ourselves and our students. We feel excitement, courage, and promise for the future of our students and ourselves. We are thankful to take part in such an empowering opportunity and look forward to continuing to grow and evolve with the Fluency Project.
This is the latest in a series of blog posts by a partnering cohort member.
By: Melesa Swartz
This is the latest in a series of blog posts by a partnering cohort member.
By: Kristen Fischer
My colleague Wendy and I joke that sometimes, an assignment or unit needs a little “sprinkle” of fluency: “How can I throw some ‘Fluency’ into this?” isn’t an unusual line for us. While it isn’t always a one-step process and usually isn’t as easy as it sounds, I’ve had some successes. The evolution of my culminating assessment for The Crucible is an example.
I’ve taught Arthur Miller’s The Crucible almost every year of my career, and in three different schools, each with different cultures. I’ve rarely taught it the same way, or assessed it the same way, more than once—not even in the same school. For those unfamiliar, the play depicts the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, with some basis in actual history, but is also meant as an allegory of the McCarthy era.
At first, my culminating assessment focused on theme, or some other literary element. I do think this work has a rightful place in ELA classrooms, but many students aren’t engaged by that work, and the internet offers endless temptation for inauthentic shortcuts. (These days, I usually make these in-class exercises or formative assessments of smaller point value.)
Later, I introduced a research element, where students looked at how a concept--such as pride--functions in the play, and compared it to a real-world scenario. It involved some choice, and some research; it was better, but not great.
Since my work with The Fluency Project, my culminating assignment for this unit has take a much more relevant direction: I threw some Fluency into the mix.
By the end of Fluency “boot camp” during my first summer of involvement, I crafted the Witch Hunt Infographic Project, which involving researching modern-day witch hunts, creating an infographic displaying numbers and narratives about a chosen incident, and writing a one-page analysis of how the Salem events and chosen event were similar. My advocacy element consisted of a gallery walk to review the prevalence and diversity of witch hunts and of a discussion on preventing and combating them. Both the students and I enjoyed this project, and it also challenged students to produce contemporary media that would engage and educate each other.
Though mostly satisfied, my teacher brain is rarely at rest, and I inevitably struggled with some aspects of the project. Some students wanted to look at topics that weren’t quite witch hunts, yet seemed to have some connection worth looking into, and I wondered how to frame my assignment so it would welcome these inquiries. Additionally, while the project engaged students in the traditional skills of researching, reading, analyzing, and writing, I wanted deeper analysis, and I also wanted to amplify the writing and research more.
This fall, I themed my unit around misinformation and how misinformation can be used to empower and disempower. While studying the play, we looked at fallacies used by some in power—like Danforth, Parris, and Putnam—to preserve their power, and how circulators of misinformation—like Giles Corey, or perhaps Hale, at times—sometimes did so unknowingly, for various reasons ranging from ignorance to confirmation bias, yet perpetuated injustice by doing so. We looked at testimony from 1692 and the 1950s (primary source documents!) to examine what this looked like in history, not just literature. At the end of the play, after a “Can you spot the fake news?” activity, the students worked in groups to complete a new assignment: a three-part misinformation project, which involved investigating an incident of misinformation and analyzing its roots, consequences, and more. Topics ranged from historical incidents (The Cardiff Giant, the June Bug Epidemic, from my list of suggestions) to present-day 2016-election related subjects.
This misinformation project involved an annotated bibliography (skills: researching, reading, summarizing, and evaluating), an outline (skills: formatting, organizing, citing, and deciding between quotes, summaries, or paraphrasing), and a public service announcement on a misinformation-related topic, such as responsible social media usage of confirmation bias (skills: analyzing audience & purpose, articulating & supporting an argument, designing, and more).
I concede that this culminating project took longer than my prior projects. Maybe I am okay with that, or maybe I will look for ways to expedite the unit in the future; I’d also like to improve how I circulate the PSAs. Nonetheless, my students have a deep understanding of the consequences of misinformation, and have looked critically at the media they consume. They also became producers of media themselves. The project is my favorite version so far, and surely the most rigorous one.
So, this is one version of what happens when you “sprinkle some Fluency” on a unit!
This is the latest in a series of blog posts by a partnering cohort member.
By: Gail Adams
There’s an old saying that goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That might work well in some situations, but it is no longer working for education. Education is broken. Educating our children according to the Industrial Age model is educating them for jobs that no longer exist. In his Huffington Post article “Industrial Age Education Is a Disservice to Students” (May 28, 2013), John Baker, founder of Desire to Learn, says education must change from the industrial model of equipping students with the ability to read and write and also recall memorized facts for a multiple choice test--a one-size-fits-all model--to an education suitable for the knowledge economy--an education that equips students to be lifelong learners. The knowledge economy is when value is created using human intelligence. In the knowledge economy, a large number of jobs have shifted to professions that require extensive knowledge and the ability to create new knowledge (Spacey, 2018).
Skills needed to for the knowledge economy, according to Spacey (2018), include the ability to create, analyze, design, discover, develop, and improve. These skills do not come from learning random facts that will be on a multiple-choice test. These are skills that are nurtured over the educational continuum, beginning with our youngest learners and continuing throughout their lives. Baker (2013) says he needs “employees who can take solution A and solution B and figure out how to come up with a new solution, C. People like that are rare. They have to understand the problems, analyze the bigger picture, predict the ramifications of what they are proposing, synthesize new knowledge, be creative as they problem solve and collaborate.”
That’s where the mission of the Fluency Project enters. The paradigm shift in education from Industrial Age to knowledge economy is probably the most salient issue facing education today. It surprises no one that employers like Baker are having difficulties finding employees with the skills they need--how to create, how to invent, how to solve a problem, how to continually learn. But in addition to these skills, employers want employees who can work as a team, collaborate, communicate, who are flexible and adaptable, just to name a few. These are known as soft skills. Our work with the Fluency Project is so important because it provides us with the opportunity to expand our capacity as educators in the knowledge economy world.The ability to understand the equal footing of narrative data with numerical data and the ability to engender this skill set in our students is just one of the ways we will be agents of change to prepare our students for their next steps. Fluency’s focus on presenting technology in a way that is descriptive rather than prescriptive, meaning the technology is available as a tool for students to incorporate into their learning, but students are not told how it must be used. Our work with Fluency is empowering us to empower our students to acquire knowledge in meaningful, collaborative, creative, reflective ways.
The Fluency Project (and other initiatives, like Project Zero out of Harvard University) is leading the revolution in educational reform. Unfortunately, change in education involves changing the mindsets of the people in the ivory towers who think standardized tests are a true indicator of students’ capabilities. Change is a slow process. However, as Fluency educators, we can be the boots on the ground to be the agents of change. We know that we are not the “sage on the stage” as teachers were once called to be. We are coaches, facilitators, nurturers who are tasked with developing the full potential of our students in ways that will make them wealthy in the skills of the knowledge economy.
Education might be broken, but through our work with the Fluency Project, we are acquiring the tools needed to fix it.
Baker, J. (2013, May 28). Industrial Age Education Is a Disservice to Students. Retrieved January 21, 2019, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-baker/industrial-age-education-_b_2974297.html
Spacey, J. (2018, January 21). 11 Examples of the Knowledge Economy. Retrieved January 21, 2019, from https://simplicable.com/new/knowledge-economy
This is the latest in a series of blog posts by a partnering cohort member.
By: Zac Shutler
Studying perennially thriving organizations can be difficult because there are so many ways to gauge success. It is no wonder that so many leadership experts study sports organizations and what drives the most successful franchises. Quantifying success through the observation of division standings and accrued championships seems like a simpler way to study leadership. Walker dives into the most historically successful franchises and finds that there is a common thread that ties them all together. It isn’t simply leadership, it is the leadership of the team’s captain. He attempts to prove that the character of the player that leads the team has a direct correlation to the sustained historic greatness of that team.
Using a multitude of scientific studies, research from Daniel Goleman and Carl Dweck, and numerous historical examples, Walker paints a compelling picture of the importance of leadership, not only on the field, but also within the classroom and the boardroom. Below are the seven traits of an elite captain based on Walker’s research:
I believe that all of the above qualities describe many of the leaders that are part of the Fluency Project. We are focused on improving the lives of those in our charge, we are pushing the limits of what others deem the “rules of education,” we do the work for those who need us the most, we build relationships throughout our buildings, we inspire others with our actions more than our words, we strive to create powerful moments for our students and our staff even if others question the value, and we are at our best when we are purpose driven. I am so proud to be surrounded by a group of elite “captains.”
Walker closes the book by detailing that leaders are not born, they are developed. He breaks it down into a simple formula that was shared with him by a former army colonel. Leadership = Potential X Motivation X Development. As educators we are responsible for discovering the human potential, cultivating an environment where we inspire motivation, and developing leadership potential. It is as important as reading and mathematics.
Walker ends with a quote that I believe perfectly encapsulates what leadership is. He states: “The truth is that leadership is a ceaseless burden. It is not something people should do for the self-reflected glory, or even because they have oodles of charisma or surpassing talent. It is something they should do because they have the humility and fortitude to set aside the credit, and their own gratification and well-being, for the team-not just in the pressure-packed moments but in every minute of every day.”
This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Lee Cristofano
This past Spring, I was invited to co-facilitate a workshop for some colleagues regarding a piece of technology that teachers might use in their classrooms: a camera that captures 360° photos and videos. I received my camera courtesy of the Carnegie Mellon CREATE Lab’s Fluency Project two years ago. I remember leaving that meeting and running all over the campus of CMU, taking dozens of pictures with this new camera like a tourist in a strange land. I couldn’t wait to get home to download all the pictures to my computer and explore. Struggling through typical Parkway West traffic would be especially bothersome.
I have used this camera for quite some time both at home and in the classroom, so I had no hesitation in accepting the offer to facilitate. The CREATE Lab team set up a time for a conference call so we might review the expectations for the workshop. In the days preceding, I did what I thought any responsible teacher should do: I planned to prepare lessons, make some handouts, anticipate technical issues and create several final products to show my colleagues.
And then we had the conference call. The objective of this workshop was, in fact, not to have every participant be proficient with the camera after an hour-long session. Rather, the objective of this workshop was somewhat the opposite: Let the participants play! Let them be curious as to what this strange piece of technology is. What does it do? Where do I even turn it on? What would happen if I push this button? Why is it blinking? What does this flashing icon mean? How do you take a picture, and where does the picture go? Now what? And ultimately, where might I use this in my teaching? In education speak, we would be taking a constructivist approach to learning.
Reflecting on our conversations, I had two new thoughts: First, a favorite book by Richard Feynman titled The Pleasure of Finding Things Out popped in my head. About winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, Feynman wrote, “The prize is the pleasure of finding the thing out, the kick in the discovery…” Secondly, I remembered all the fun I had running around campus, taking pictures, rushing home to get them downloaded to the computer to see exactly what I managed to create.
Had I followed through on my original plan, demonstrating the camera’s workflow, showing my own work and implementing a rubric of what a satisfactory, good or excellent finished product should look like, I would have denied my colleagues the pleasure of finding things out. The joy of figuring out how something works on your own. The intrinsic joy we all feel when we master a monumental task, and the joy of learning how to use a new tool in your own way, not just the way someone else thinks is the “proper” way to use it.
After teaching for 25 years, I wonder… Have I designed my classroom instruction for optimal efficiency, delivering maximum content in minimum time? Have I spoon-fed my students all the knowledge they would need just so they could meet curriculum goals and pass assessments? Have there been times where I denied my students the pleasure of finding things out?
This is the first of hopefully many blog posts by a partnering cohort member.
By: Zac Shutler
Hard Skills to Learn: LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner says the biggest skills gap in the US is not coding
As a school superintendent in the state of Ohio, I get the opportunity to attend numerous conferences that stress the importance of “preparing students for careers that don’t yet exist.” These conferences are led by many intelligent people from the state education department and by various officials from universities across the state. When they begin these lectures and they use that phrase about preparing students for careers that don’t exist, two thoughts immediately come to mind. The first is: “It is impossible to prepare someone for something that doesn’t exist.” And the second thought is: “Isn’t this a challenge that our society has always faced?” I believe that is why this article by Simone Stolzoff resonated with me.
Prior to entering the administration side of education, I was a high school social studies teacher. My role was to discuss issues of the past with our students and connect those lessons to our modern lives. One example is how Guttenberg’s printing press changed the way that books were consumed and put many calligraphers out of work. Another example is how prior to Carl Benz inventing the first automobile and Ford’s assembly lines making the vehicles affordable, city streets were over crowded with the horse and buggy model of transportation that came with pollution problems of its own. A more recent example would focus on how the internet and Amazon have changed the game for traditional retailers. What I am saying is that public education did not specifically train students to create these technological shifts, nor did they prepare people to fill the jobs that these new industries created. What the combination of formal education and supportive parenting did do was give our kids the social and emotional capacity to adjust and meet whatever challenge or change the world had to offer.
When I reflect on my time as teacher fifteen years later, I see how understanding our past validates my belief in the ever-evolving nature of technology and how the education system and more importantly, families, have instilled timeless principles into the next generation. I believe that it is a growing concern that the standardization of the American education system and the toxic stress that many students face at home is threatening our ability to meet the next wave of challenges. In his book, How Children Succeed, author Paul Tough details the importance of “non-cognitive skills” or, as the article refers to them, “soft skills.” These skills can also be referred to as character traits or grit. Whatever we want to call them, research shows us that these principles can be taught, and we are missing the mark in education if we don’t make the concerted effort to educate the “whole person,” especially for our students who are immersed in “toxic stress.”
In closing, I would like to share a brief story that started me on a path of personal growth. First, I was blessed with supportive parents that modeled leadership through their actions. Not every child is born into a situation that lends itself to a strong foundation built on universal principles. Even though my parents modeled personal leadership, I did not think about it, study it, or realize I could improve as a leader until I took a course during graduate school at Franciscan University. I can’t remember what the title of the course was, but we mainly studied Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In short, it changed my life and improved me as a person. A story that always stands out to me from one of Covey’s books is the story of the ship and the lighthouse. The ship is on a collision course with what the captain believes is another vessel and the ship’s captain is desperately radioing for the other object to change course. The light house represents universal principles that are unchanging. They do not move and are effective in any era. Principles like: Commitment, Courage, Generosity, Initiative, Listening, Integrity, and Teamwork. Modeling these principles at home and within our educational system will prepare the next generation for the “careers that don’t yet exist.” They always have and if we are vigilante, they always will. Modeling universal principles and teaching social emotional intelligence to students who are lacking those skills is imperative.
One of my favorite authors, Ryan Holiday, summed up the importance of these skills with a powerful message. He wrote, “To whatever we face, our responsibility is to respond with: hard work, honesty, and by helping others the best we can. Duty is beautiful, and inspiring, and empowering. That’s all that has been asked of us. No more and no less. Sure, the goal is important. But never forget that each individual instance matters. The whole isn’t certain, only the instances. How you do anything is how you do everything. We can always act right.”
This is the sixth in a continuation of guest blogs by the CREATE Lab Team.
By MaryLu Hutchins
Qualitative work has always been the hallmark of good schools. With the advent of shared digital data, numerical data points have taken a larger role in learning systems. Subsequently, multiple policy attempts to impose a modified business model of effort and yield pushed the educational use of numerical data often resulting in constrained applications. The Fluency project attempts to re-emphasize the qualitative language of learning, because learning about: 1.) self, 2.) caring for and about others, and 3.) function(s) in larger systems (including educational systems as a primary factor) is and has always been an intensely human experience. Complementing numbers with narratives serves as a force for creating equity across all school settings. The beauty of The Fluency project may be in balancing the process by honoring the importance of both quantitative and qualitative understandings in educational contexts.
The Fluency Project often challenges narrowed purposes of educational measurement by promoting concepts and practices to establish, foster, and prioritize student agency. This is supported by instructional decision-making that co-powers students by combining technology as a contributor to, and a nurturer of, student voice. The Fluency Project is unique to the education world because we seek participant commitment via long-term dedication to personal professional growth, which we believe may result in more opportunities for establishing both student choice and voice in learning processes. It is also uncommon to the technological world as we prioritize being responsive to student needs and serving identified needs with opportunities to embrace technology rather than reacting to, and reinforcing, a competitive motivation for technology implementation.
We are working in service of others, whether to extend the CREATE name to empower teaching and learning, affirm the value of the potential of “learners as producers” in our larger society, open the minds of children to possibility, and/or encourage teachers to take risks with using technologies to help students understand their unlimited capacities. Specifically, we expose teachers to CREATE emergent technologies as well as non-CREATE tech exploration, including but not limited to, students functioning as citizen and social scientist researchers. While researching ideas and solving problems, students develop stronger identities, learn dynamic roles, and begin to think of others responsively. Furthermore as active learners, students are encouraged to present their synthesized works to specifically chosen audiences. In the process, teachers are learning how students use multiple thinking strategies in the spirit of inquiry, which is open-minded, and constructive learning work. John Dewey, the father of modern progressive education, shared this original vision and contemporary educators still seek to preserve wholeheartedness in learning.
In my practice as an educator, a deep and abiding respect for our full humanity outweighs all other forces. Commitment to our collective dream of educational equity is worthwhile and drives my effort. As teachers, we work far beyond the hours we should, we teach from the heart, and we affect the future. There is no “mission accomplished” in education. If we stop learning, we stop growing. When that happens, we are no longer effective in supporting learning for others, from Pre-Kindergarten to the university level. Perhaps, if everyone adopted the “no mission accomplished” attitude, The Fluency Project becomes our collective legacy.
This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Kristen Fischer
“Easy reading is damn hard writing,” noted Nathaniel Hawthorne, and I have to agree. Whether one is writing with images, with words, or multimodally, writing well is not easy.
Technology is rapidly contributing to new genres of communication; yet, as most teachers and students can attest to, the language arts classroom hasn’t changed much since the days in which perhaps a pencil was considered technology. Resources, training, time, philosophies, and fears contribute to the stagnancy, and the focus remains on the study of traditional texts, with occasional editorial cartoons thrown in. I count myself as guilty. An added concern: We know it isn’t enough to simply study and consume texts and that our students must also produce them. Thus, if we struggle to integrate the study of multimodal texts into our classrooms, it is no wonder we struggle to integrate opportunities to compose them. Our Fluency Project readings and conversations have foregrounded student voice and student empowerment, and surely to prioritize both means to teach our students to be creators of meaningful new media. This is undoubtedly challenging to do in a traditional English class, though I’ve had a few successes (one being the modern-day witch hunts infographic project in conjunction with Miller’s The Crucible, which I generated during the first summer weeks of The Fluency Project).
My photojournalism elective, however, has presented an opportunity for me to foreground multimodal composing, and for the past 12 weeks, students have engaged in a variety of small challenges and a few larger “photo essay” projects. In this class, students aren’t “just” taking pictures. The focus on images doesn’t preclude the possibility of rigor. The photo essay assignments in particular--as I’ve framed them--have required students to brainstorm, conduct research, and construct arguments that rely on both words and images. Consequently, I’ve observed Hawthorne’s remark to be just as true when writing with pictures as it is when writing with words; either way, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”
In addition to affirming that there’s always potential for rigor in composition assignments, regardless of the medium, here’s some other reflections from my immersion into the world of teaching multimodal compositions:
1. Never underestimate the importance of model texts: I realized this when we discussed captions. Students have read captions, but they aren’t sure of what to do when tasked with writing them. Students must scrutinize the dynamic between words and images to understand the role each is playing; in a multimodal photo essay, the pictures don’t simply reiterate the words, or vice-versa. Each adds something the other is less adept at communicating.
2. Just because a picture can be snapped in a fraction of a second doesn’t mean visual composing is quicker or easier than verbal composing: Sure, my students have taken many snapshots, but only a handful of them have been any good. Most quality shots, they’ve learned, are the result of planning, persistence, skill, resources, or a combination of those factors and more. At the end of a project, I usually require a reflection on their best shot. The experience of reflecting on how a compelling shot or argument came about affirms to students that most effective communication is the result of deliberate planning. I’m confident the students who composed the essays on weightlifting and tattoos would confirm they required a lot of revision and numerous hours to compose.
3. It’s going to take longer than you think: I have years of notes by now on how long it takes for me to guide students through the personal essay and the research project; I have notes on the challenges we will experience with resume templates and works cited pages. When it came to these projects, however, I underestimated the time students would need to produce their essays by about 5-7 days. Most of our additional time was spent on the brainstorming at the start and on the polishing at the end, but it’s also important to account for the—wait for it—inevitable technology hiccups.
4. The product may be different, but the struggles will be similar: The student who struggles with generating a topic will still struggle with generating a topic. The student who doesn’t proofread well will still not proofread well. The student who needs the assignment chunked will still need the assignment chunked. Most students will feel frustrated and relieved at various points. The process of composing verbally isn’t that different than the process of composing visually: planning, arranging, polishing... these happen in both.
5. Yes, you can grade this, and yes, I still teach writing: I’ve read articles and blog posts that celebrate the promise of multimodal assignments, yet bemoan the difficulties of assessing such non-traditional products. I’ve also read plenty that fear the integration of images means the death of the written word in classrooms. But if I make the rubric and the assignment, I decide what to require and how to measure its quality. I can choose to prioritize writing quality even though photos happen to be a part of the assignment by choosing to grade the media-rich components for completion and the writing more heavily--or vice versa. I can promote quality in written expression by grading reflections and proposals for organization, detail, clarity, and conventions, while still inviting creative and effective multimodal communication. As long as I’m transparent and clear with the students about our objectives and criteria, I can weigh elements in a variety of ways.
Communicating well is for most people a challenging task; the cognitive demands are high, and a conscientious composer is constantly debating how to best accomplish a goal, given an audience. Just because the medium is images doesn’t mean the rigor has been lost. Sure, writing a verbal essay is different than writing a visual one, but instructors can creative multimodal assignments that value features shared by both and that challenge students to practice skills relevant to multiple avenues of communication.