Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Replace Completion with Creation

Packets, Worksheets, Study guides…call them what you will, and yes we all have had them inflicted upon us. For years, teachers who were more concerned with “covering” material instead of “uncovering” passions relied on these excruciatingly tedious methods of “learning” that, in my opinion hold very little to do with learning. I cannot think of a better way of turning off students to great poetry than to have them write answers to questions posed my teachers, or look up and transcribe dictionary definitions to words that will probably never enter their lexicon.

I must admit that, yes, I too, passed out those packets in English classes. And like many gray-haired teachers, I remember a time when certain limitations did not allow us to do a whole lot more; the goal was to get them ready for the “test.” However, many educators are coming to grips with the fact that we owe our students much more than that.

The problem stemmed from a “completion” mind set. We thought that the primary purpose of an assignment was so students could show proficiency. However, as the “modified” Bloom’s Taxonomy shows ups, the pinnacle of learning and thinking is manifested through “creation.” When I began teaching, “creation” was limited to making posters, or for those few who had the means and the skills, creating a VHS video.

These limitations no longer exist, but many teachers are still operating in an “analog” world while kids can learn and create digitally. Right now. Don’t get me wrong; “creation” and “technology” are NOT fused together. Just ask any fine arts teacher… all they do is have their students create. However, a novel, student-centered, creation-based classroom can be more of a reality than ever before. This structural change allows us to assess Learning Targets in a more organic, realistic method. Instead of checking “completion” we can assess learning by how it is displayed in projects. This does, however require us all to rethink our original Learning Targets to reach beyond our original, short-sighted intentions. If not, and we begin using these slick applications available now, is yet another example of a “digital fix for an analog classroom.”

But how do we go about developing these “creation” opportunities for kids? One of the most important decisions is to avoid making the assignment “tool specific.” How often have teachers started a unit with “for this project, you will all create a Powerpoint.” First off, the introduction and the focus should be content related, and second of all, unless it is a tech course that requires proficiency in software, why limit your students? Your learning targets should focus on what you want students to do and should not be geared toward software. Perhaps a student likes using Prezi, or has had experience with Keynote. The bottom line is that tools need to be student selected. I use Photo Story 3 to create Digital Storytelling projects, but if a student has a Mac, why not use iMovie. What if another student has used Voicethread and has a comfort level with it? There are some limitations, however. The application must have the ability to achieve what is expected. Because of its emphasis on visual flash rather than story or content something like Animoto or Stupeflix would not be a good choice. Always be wary of “wow” tools that do not afford much learning for students. Here are my views on Animoto.

To illustrate here are some examples from my school of more “Creation” applications:

Health Class: Students select a non-communicable disease (diabetes, ALS, Alcoholism, etc) that has affected them personally. Create a Digital Story telling the struggles of a family member, and include research on the disease.

Digital Photography: Create a photo blog chronicling the photos you have created. Have students follow each other and comment on images. Later, this can be used a s a portfolio for college.

Literature class: Students select a poem and create a movie that focuses on themes motifs of poem. The only narration is the reading of the poem itself.

Chemistry: Students create a poster-sized document of research or an experiment they’ve done. Posters are then placed throughout the school. It’s done in college all the time, why not in high school?

Biology: Multi Needs Classes: Using something like Scrapblog, multi-needs students do research on specific animals and create an online scrapbook. These are then shared with classmates to learn about other animals.

Health class (yes, another one) Students studying Digital Citizenship, create an online poster to share with grade school students via Edmodo. The grade school then respond back and ask questions.
At this time it would be expected--no, cliché--to supply you with a list of “creation” tools. I will resist that urge. There are tools out there, and I trust you can find them. But before you do that, think about what you want your kids to do. Chances are, they can find the tools as well.