Archive for the ‘creativity’ tag
(Left: photo by Oscar Avellaneda. Right: photo I took of my newcomers reading group in 2005)
Now that I am teaching again (math in an afterschool program & substitute teaching for the Anchorage School District), I am compelled to put words to paper. Teaching is inherently difficult and if we are at all self-reflective, teaching requires of us that we grapple with questions about how best to educate. Here are the questions that have come up for me lately:
How do we marry the need for creative, holistic and culturally-relevant education with the careful, structured and measured approach that seems to help move underprivileged kids forward in school? That is, how do we create forms of education that promote and reward creativity, that encourage children’s curiosity and love for learning, that are holistic and open to the different ways that children learn, that incorporate the best of the “open optional” kind of education I was blessed to receive, and that do this not just for the overwhelmingly white and upper class population of open optional magnet, charter, or private schools? How do we close the achievement gap between kids of color and white kids, between poor kids and rich kids, BOTH using the careful and structured approach of measurement, goal-setting, and data-driven instruction that studies show to be effective AND not leaving the holistic and creative approach behind?
At least in my own short life as an educator, it seems that sometimes in the effort to bring kids up to grade level and achieve educational equity, we are so focused on the core academic areas and on measurable achievements in those areas that we tend to push art, dance, P.E., music, sometimes science, and the open exploratory wonder of learning off to the side. We are so focused trying to motivate kids to bring up their scores or graduate, that we frame education as a means to an end and may not encourage them to get immersed in the fun process of learning. Lastly, we may be so (rightly) concerned with educational equity that we feel all underprivileged youth should have the opportunity to go to college and therefore need to excel in all academic areas, and in doing so we may miss that genius dancer or painter or singer in our classroom, or we may be pushing them to behave better and do their math when they should be in art school instead…On the flip side, of course, more underprivileged kids who have been in underfunded and racist systems may only believe that they can dance and may not have ever discovered their inner mathematician, and we must give them the chance to do so.
This conflict has come up recently with a student in the after-school program who attends a private alternative school and who is very far behind in math. I tested the kids in my best effort to do data-driven instruction and have the kids use scores and standards to set goals for themselves. But for this little girl, seeing her score crushed her and pissed off her mom. Her mother told me, “We don’t believe in putting kids into pegs and levels and scores.” And in a way, I agree with her. Learning should be fun and kids shouldn’t be overly burdened with scores and judgments. But the girl needs to know how to identify fractions, read a clock, divide, etc., and I needed to identify those areas so we could work on them. Yet I felt terrible telling the girl a score that made her feel like a failure. I don’t believe in that. I am conflicted on this still.
This question also came up when substitute teaching for a 3rd grade class. There was one boy with extreme and violent behavior difficulties who, I discovered, loved to draw. After a lesson on the Montgomery Bus Boycott, I had the kids do the silly worksheet that the teacher left behind (ugh, there is WAY too much worksheet teaching going on) and then told them they could write or draw about it in their journals. This kid with the behavior problems drew a great picture. I gave him some ideas for how to make it more detailed and he did, and so here was this fantastic visual demonstration of what he had learned about segregation, Rosa Parks, etc. As a teacher, I knew I had to catch the kid being good at things, so I praised the drawing and put it on the board. When the teacher came in at the end of the day, I proudly showed her the drawing and she said, “Oh, he knows he’s not allowed to draw in my class. But I know what it’s like to be a substitute and sometimes you have to do whatever it takes.” I told her, in the friendliest voice I could muster, that I actually think drawing is a good way to integrate information, particularly for visual learners.
I was fuming.
Yes, the kid has to learn to write, but we also have to have an educational system that approaches writing through the strengths that kids have. And sometimes art is the only thing keeping kids in school! (A great example is that my love, Oscar, excelled in photography class in high school and actually ended up teaching the class; this was what kept him attached to a school system that was otherwise not built for the way he learns. It encouraged him and kept him going.)
In the after-school program, I have enough control to experiment with fun, holistic, real-life learning and data-driven instruction. I tried back when I had my own third grade classroom too, largely scrapping the scripted curriculums and using CELL and ExCELL practices and culturally-relevant examples. I have yet to find that balance between the education I grew up with and the Teach For America-move-kids-1.5 grade-levels-or-more approach in which I was trained. Since I am not a full-time educator, I imagine I will not have time to develop that balance.
I think what this foray back into education is helping me figure out is how I want to combine my love for community based participatory research and social services with schools and education. I have a long and exciting journey ahead to do this and look forward to insight from others on how.