Been a while

So, I have not contributed in a while.  Lots of reasons, mostly related to time, but also in some degree related to inspiration and motivation.  These two are inexorably linked as well.  As a result of being very busy, both personally and professionally, I have not had the time to write, and more importantly to think about writing, but I think even more important, is when I get bogged down and busy, and at times stressed, then I lose initiative to create.  This covers all creativity.  I dabble in song writing and have on my plate a goal to record a full length album…CD…whatever you call them these days.  I still call them albums.  Anyway, a few weeks ago, I was alone in my house for 10 days.  What an opportunity!  I set up my music gear, recording gear and could leave it set up.  I should have been able to record a lot of test tracks, learn more about my recorder, and get working.   It did not work.  I was simply not in the mood.  I just could not summon the creativity required to create.  Of the 10-12 songs I want to produce, I have ideas for most of them, rough lyrics for some, and music ideas for probably half.  This is a great accomplishment, if only I can take it to the next stage and actually do something with it.  What an opportunity lost, but what could I do?  Nothing.  Even on a few evenings when I dabbled, (I wrote a short blues song that was an inside joke for a few friends), it was not great.  It just did not flow.  Attempts to be creative within the structure of the song, in particular short leads and fills, were simply garbage.  I even left them for two days and went back.  No.  Garbage.  Alas, I am no further ahead than I thought I would be.  I own a camp (we do not call them cottages in this part of Northern Ontario) and I usually spend a few days at Christmas at the camp.  Perhaps I will drag all my stuff through the snow, and find inspiration….perhaps not.  I just cannot tell.

So, the long and short of all of this, and I do intend this to be short,  Brandon, is how many other people are affected like this?  I know your “traditional artsy people”, and I say that with tongue firmly in cheek, have blocks.  I think we all have blocks.  The stereotype of the writer, or the painter, stuck on that first line, or first stroke apply to all of us.  Most of us in our profession, are able to find ways around it, because we can probably put some things off until later, rearrange schedules, etc.  Journalist and artists and film makers and musicians do not have that luxury, but most of us do.

However, my thoughts lie with students.  Our system is such that a bout of “creative block” can seriously challenge our students.  Our education system is designed on an agricultural/industrial model.  When one is on a thrasher, or an assembly line, we do not worry about creativity, unless we are thrashing our way through creating a crop circle.  The process is simply repeated step after step until the product is done.  In our increasingly complex, connected and digital world, this is failing us.  We are, in my mind, not inspiring minds much more than we were in 1984.  Guess who graduated from high school in 1984 feeling rather uninspired?  It is not a trick question.

So, how do we approach this?  I am not a proponent of the heady days of free time, unstructured lessons, open walls and little responsibility.  I know we need to have kids leave this system with marketable and transferable skills, but I am unsure of how well this system can deal with the fact that our over structured system surely leave some out, and most surely does not allow terribly well for creativity and blocks.  We try.  We have “deadlines”, “drop dead dates” and “due dates” and “okay, you can have until Friday..”, but in my experience, the kids who need these, are not fighting through blocks, they are disorganized, dealing with stress in their lives, ill-prepared for their work, etc, etc, etc.  Very few students who are handing in work late are doing so because they are fighting a creative block, yet those blocks have to be happening.

I am a relatively mature 46 year old professional, who knows how to meet deadlines, most of the time.  I planned to spend time creatively, on my own time, for my own pleasure, something I have been dreaming of doing for years (and which technology now makes possible…but that is another post) and I had difficulty summoning the creative mood to accomplish much more than write and record a joke song about a fish.  My conditions were perfect. The only way they could have been better, I supposes, was if I was in a recording studio in the Alps.  My conditions were optimum, but I could not summon the creative mood.

How must so many of our students be struggling with creating when they are dealing with the lives some of them deal with?  And, my creativity is just for me.  I mean, i will try to get my album on iTunes, but let’s be real, it is not becoming a gold seller.  But, our students have a lot to lose when they cannot summon creativity, and our world is demanding more and more of it, and their marks, but far more importantly, their learning will be affected.

I do not have an answer, but I think that we need to think about it.

3 thoughts on “Been a while

  1. It seems to me that we assess and evaluate students based on our schedule instead of giving time and space for them to perform in.

    I often hear people say things like, “If we don’t make them _________ then they’ll never learn.” _________ is usually hand things in on time, write a test, be punctual, etc. And while I agree that we should be helping students to develop punctuality and respect, I don’t agree that a 75-minute window in a 7000-minute course is the time that will make or break that development. And I certainly don’t think we should punish students in their grades if they aren’t punctual.

    I’m giving more consideration to longer tasks with more complexity and more room to explore. In my computer science class I’ll have my students design and write a game or another application of their choosing. They’ll have a long time to complete it (maybe 3 weeks or so). I’m hoping that’s enough time to get in some feedback cycles, to make mistakes, to work at a part-time job, to have relationship problems, and to complete the task to the best of the student’s ability.

    Giving them such a large completion window isn’t really a gift – some students will probably waste time, especially at the beginning, thinking they have ample opportunity to complete the task later. These procrastinators will have trouble meeting the due date. Some students will go overboard, fretting about every tiny detail of the task, tweaking and retweaking their work. Some students (hopefully most) will start early and spread their work out over most of the allotted time while allowing for problems and solutions.

    The hard part for me in this approach is staying in contact with students so that I know where they are in the process and so that I can light a fire if I need to.

    I’m rambling, David. My comment might be longer than your post.

    One more thing, though: I’m trying to “overlap” tasks in my online course – give several different types tasks that can be completed in any order so that a student can work on the task that most appeals to them (or most fits their state of mind). Right now students have an algorithm to code, a game to start designing, and a research report to write. They can work on the parts they want to, as long as they finish them all in time.

    Thanks again for making me think. We keep coming back to engagement on this, too, eh?

    • Its always going to be engagement. I wonder, how many more teachers could be more engaged in getting kids engaged if they “engaged” in these conversations across boards, schools, borders and oceans?

      • We’re at the point now where engaging beyond the walls of your school to develop as a teacher is essential. Catherine Montreuil said it best: “Independent practice is inconsistent with professional practice.” We all absolutely need to talk if we want to improve, and we all need to improve. There is tremendous fear associated with carrying on these conversations, though, and a lot of work to do to make the dialogue a safe one for all participants.

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