Imagination: It’s a Muscle, Too

I know I’ve referenced this gentleman before, but I find that Marvin Bartel (a professor of art in the United States) has quite a lot of excellent ideas for teaching creativity in schools.

Teaching creativity, you say?  Is that even possible, you say?

Why yes!  Yes indeed it is!

Something I noticed when I was in school – especially in art class – was that when teachers were going through their lessons, they often wanted us to be creative, but they never really taught us how to go about it.  I didn’t mind as much, because I am a creative person.  But even I had trouble coming up with things to draw or write or paint, and when confronted with that problem from me and my classmates, teachers would often simply say, “Well…I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

…Which was not as helpful as I would have liked, incidentally.

Until I read Marvin’s article,“The Secrets of Generating Art Ideas: an Inside Out Art Curriculum,” I don’t think I realized that this was actually a problem for a lot of people.  A lot of students have trouble coming up with ideas for art projects and writing.  One of the ways Mr. Bartel suggests teachers combat this is through the use of the Conversation Game.  If you were in my EAES 201 class, you played this game with me, but I just wanted to elaborate on it a little further.

The rules are simple.  You divide your class into groups, and make sure that each member of the group has a piece of paper and a pencil.  Then they go around to every member of the group and ask each other ‘getting to know you’ questions.  Each student writes down each question and their answer to it, but they don’t have to share their answers unless they want to.  After a certain amount of time has passed, the groups stop and tell everyone in the class what their questions were.  For every question they have that no other group has, the students get a point, and the group with the most points wins.

However, this is not a game you play once and then forget about.  This is a game you keep playing and keep playing, and over time the questions will evolve from the level of, “What is your favourite television show?” to  the level of, “If you could choose any superpower, what would it be?” As time goes on, students learn to ask critical, insightful, creative questions, and they can use those questions or their answers as inspiration for writing, for art projects, for drama – essentially any creative exercise.

I like the idea of being able to teach creativity and develop that skill like a muscle, through constant use.  How about you?

Exceptional Children

Almost every teacher who has ever mentioned this subject to me says the same thing: they don’t teach you nearly enough about exceptional children in university.

The strange part about that, I find, is that many of the teachers who have told me that were university professors.  So they know about the issue, but…they have no intention of fixing it?  Or they are unable to do so? I understand that changing the curriculum for ANYTHING is extremely time-consuming, but…I don’t know.  I don’t blame any of my professors for the lack of training available; it just seems like a strange situation.

To be perfectly honest, I’m pretty nervous about teaching students with special needs.  I have been informed ahead of time that my training here at university will not even come close to preparing me for those students, and that is not a confidence booster.  I worry that I will fail them.  I worry that I will make mistakes, or I won’t do everything I can/should, and they won’t get the kind of care/attention/education they need and deserve.

I have every intention of doing everything in my power to help every single one of my students succeed.  But what good are my intentions when my training is insufficient?  I am a high achiever.  I don’t feel comfortable giving anything less than my best to anyone I serve, and the idea that there is no way I will be able to do that (even if it’s only at first) disturbs me.  I will learn on the job, or so I assume, but…how can that possibly be good enough?

If there is anyone reading this who has teaching experience in this realm, give me a shout.  My insecurities as a teacher-in-training could really use some beating down just now.

The Introvert Myth

This entry doesn’t exactly have anything to do with teaching, but it does have a lot to do with the fact that not every student we encounter in schools will be an outgoing little pillar of social confidence – and neither will every teacher.

I am introverted.  I’ve known that since I was about four years old, although it’s information that my parents and teachers have always had difficulty accepting – which sounds ridiculous.  I don’t have a second head and I’m not a serial killer or a giraffe in disguise.  And yet it was – and still is – as if they thought introversion was a disability or defect of some kind; like they thought I couldn’t possibly live a normal or happy life if I didn’t have twenty-eight best friends.

It isn’t a disability, although it can, at times, be a difficulty.  But even if I’m not going to be that teacher who is best friends with every one of her students, I am going to be the teacher who pushes everyone to be their best and to love what they do and seek/strive/thrive no matter what problems and challenges they face.

People come in all shapes and sizes, and I’m glad of every single one of them – even (if not especially) the ones that make life just a little bit more complicated.

Ten Myths About Introverts

Myth #1 – Introverts don’t like to talk.
This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.

Myth #2 – Introverts are shy.
Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.

Myth #3 – Introverts are rude.
Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting.

Myth #4 – Introverts don’t like people.
On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.

Myth #5 – Introverts don’t like to go out in public.
Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public FOR AS LONG. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be there for long to “get it.” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for Introverts.

Myth #6 – Introverts always want to be alone.
Introverts are perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts. They think a lot. They daydream. They like to have problems to work on, puzzles to solve. But they can also get incredibly lonely if they don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with. They crave an authentic and sincere connection with ONE PERSON at a time.

Myth #7 – Introverts are weird.
Introverts are often individualists. They don’t follow the crowd. They’d prefer to be valued for their novel ways of living. They think for themselves and because of that, they often challenge the norm. They don’t make most decisions based on what is popular or trendy.

Myth #8 – Introverts are aloof nerds.
Introverts are people who primarily look inward, paying close attention to their thoughts and emotions. It’s not that they are incapable of paying attention to what is going on around them, it’s just that their inner world is much more stimulating and rewarding to them.

Myth #9 – Introverts don’t know how to relax and have fun.
Introverts typically relax at home or in nature, not in busy public places. Introverts are not thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. If there is too much talking and noise going on, they shut down. Their brains are too sensitive to the neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Introverts and Extroverts have different dominant neuro-pathways. Just look it up.

Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.
A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race. In fact, one study (Silverman, 1986) showed that the percentage of Introverts increases with IQ.

History and French: the Best and Worst

My single most positive experience as a student came out of an essay I wrote for my grade eleven history class.  I received a mark of 76% – the lowest mark I’ve ever been given on an essay.  I was deeply hurt and ashamed of that mark.  I was a high-achieving students, and up until that point every teacher I’d ever had loved my work inside and out.  As far as I was concerned, I was sixteen years old and the model of academic perfection, people.  Teachers did not criticize me.

…But this history teacher did.  I hated him for it, at first.  My next essay, I worked my butt off just to spite him, and was given a grudging 82%.  Again, unacceptable – and again, I could do nothing but work even harder.  My next mark? 87%.  It was by no means the best mark I’d ever had in a class, but I was flying on that 87%.  I’d never had a teacher push me so hard before.  I spent most of that year and the next wishing I could have him as an English teacher – or, better yet, Creative Writing – so that he could beat the rest of my writing into shape, as well.  I craved the kind of teacher who expected absolutely nothing less than my very best.  Knowing that I’d succeeded in giving him that was the best feeling in the world.

My worst experience as a student came a couple of years before that, in my grade nine French class.  My teacher in that class…well, she hated teaching.  And I mean hated it, to the depths of her soul.  One day we were doing an exercise where we were given a sentence with a blank space and we had to fill it in with the appropriate French word.  We were going around the class reading out our answers to what career we wanted when we grew up.  A girl sitting two seats behind me answered, “I want to be a teacher.” (In French, of course…but that was five years ago.  I don’t remember much of anything from that class.)

Our teacher just stood there at the front of the classroom for a moment, her face suffused with shock and disgust, before saying, “WHY?” like the idea left a bad taste in her mouth.

My classmate did not answer.  None of us said anything.  I was a little scared.  I thought her head might explode, or else she would start to spit venom.  The girl two seats behind me sank down in her seat a little and we continued with the worksheet.

Now, not everyone is suited to teaching.  Miss French Teacher had clearly just gotten to the end of her rope, which I cannot really be upset with her for.  The fact remains, however, that that was the most miserable year of French classes I had ever had.

How about you people?  Give it a shot: tell us all what your best and worst experiences as a student were.

What Do You Believe?

A lot of people believe a lot of different things about learning.  Last semester in ECS100, one of our lecturers gave us a whole slideshow of learning and education quotes from various people, most of whom were dead.  It was lovely and gave us a lot of important/intelligent/interesting/unique opinions on education.  However, I feel that sometimes we get too caught up in what other people think and believe, and as teachers that is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions.  If we can’t think original thoughts, how can we expect creativity and curiosity from our students?

As someone who spent her childhood collecting quotes, I know I sometimes had difficulty finding my own words.  I’d think of something I wanted to say, and then think, “Oh – but this person said it so much better!”

Well, today is about eloquence.  It’s about OUR words, OUR beliefs, and OUR knowledge.

As a teacher, what is your most firmly held belief about teaching, education, knowledge, or learning?  If your teacher-y soul was stripped down to its bare threads and bones, what would we find carved into your core?  If you had to throw away every single thought and idea about learning EXCEPT ONE, which one would you keep?

This is mine:
The only think more precious than knowledge is the people who carry it, find it, desire it, hate it, want it, and need it.  My students are more precious, more priceless, more infinitely beautiful and full of potential, than anything in the universe, no matter how much they do or do not learn from me and my peers.

What Will YOU Do?

As a student, I witnessed that not many students excelled in/cared about/wanted to pursue a career in art.  Oh, they enjoyed the projects for the most part, and did their best in class, but for most students art was an ‘easy credit’.  As someone who plans to teach art, that’s pretty much the definition of unacceptable to me.  I’m under no illusions that my classes will produce hundreds of little artistic geniuses, but my hope is that I can make art more than an easy path to graduation for my students.

I believe that learning art is like learning a universal language: it can help you communicate with just about anyone.  I personally follow the work of artists from America, Brazil, Russia, Korea, Denmark, Japan, India, Switzerland, and a hundred other places – painters, digital artists, sketch artists, photographers, fashion designers, comic artists, storybook illustrators – you name it.  The internet is instrumental in this, of course, but the fact remains that the common language there is ART.  And that is one h*** of a beautiful language.  I don’t think there is anything better than being able to teach that language to children.

Because of that, I essentially have only two simple goals as a teacher.
1. I want my students to be better artists when they leave my class than when they started.
2. I want my students to feel that art, in whatever form they desire, can be a part of their lives even if they don’t pursue it as a career.

So here’s the part where this is relevant to you: most people become teachers because a) they love their subject, and/or b) they love and want to help kids.  But we talk about why we want to teach in general all the time.  My question for you people out there is: why do you think it’s important to teach the specific subjects you intend to teach?  Why did you choose your major/minor?  Why do you feel it’s important to contribute that knowledge to your students’ future lives?

Why do you, or will you, matter as a teacher?

Motivation

Many of my classmates in education seem to be anxious over this one common thing:  How do we motivate our students?  How do we keep them interested?  How do we inspire them?  How do we get them excited about learning?

Last semester in ECS 100, whenever someone asked a question like that, the response was always the same.  “When you find out, let me know.”

Helpful, no?

….

…No.

But I can hardly blame them.  What I’ve gleaned during my almost-year in this program is that there isn’t an answer to that problem because – and here’s the shocking part – we are not robots.  We are not the Borg.  We are individual people, which means that the techniques that work for one teacher in one classroom in one year may not work for another teacher, or even for the same teacher with a different group of students.

I’ve come to realize that when we ask our professors how we are going to keep our students interested, we are falling into the trap of thinking that we are no longer students.  We are still students.  In fact, we’re entering a profession where we have to be even better students than our students, because in order to do well at our jobs we need to learn quickly and efficiently all the time and then, every single day, prove and apply what we learned.  We need to sit up and pay attention, which I will be the first to admit I don’t always do.

I think that, somewhere in our heads, we all already have some kind of idea of how to answer that question.  How do you keep students interested?  Well…what kept you motivated?  What made you stop chatting with your friends and pay attention to what the teacher was saying?  What bored you?  What made you turn away or fall asleep? We’ve been witnesses to this profession our entire lives.  Now we just have to put it all together.

For instance, when I was in the eighth grade I made a powerpoint presentation on the country of Ireland.  It was a terrible presentation – half an hour long or something ridiculous like that.  The only advice my teacher gave me afterwards was to not put anything in a presentation that I wouldn’t be interested in hearing about from someone else’s presentation.  That is something that stuck with me, and which I still use as a personal standard to measure my presentations and lessons against.  If someone else were saying that, would I be interested, or would I silently be praying for the building to collapse on their head?

It’s not always effective.  Not everyone is like me.  I’m sometimes interested in some pretty obscure things, or subjects that are boring or strange to most people.  But until mankind comes up with a way to read minds, it’s something that keeps my wandering brain in check…most of the time.

There is no absolute answer – nothing that says, “If you do this, your students are guaranteed to be interested.”  Professors can show you how to work out the problem, here and there, but they can’t fix it for you, because if you’re going to be a teacher, you’ve got to be a student, too.  This problem of how to keep your kids interested and motivated – that’s your project; your pop quiz; your final exam.  And really, when was the last time a teacher wrote a test for you?