Sunday, October 31, 2010

Jack of All Trades...Master of Some?

Some things are going on in my brain since my recent trip to Arkansas. A LOT of things are. After ten years of teaching I feel like I've only hit my stride in the past three, but I'm struggling to wrap my head around the organization needed to offer the specialized, yet diverse and open media arts course that I would like to have.

In terms of what I'm struggling in my multimedia class, a couple broad statements might help set the stage for the point of this post:

1. I believe that students who see their teacher passionate about something are more likely to buy in.

2. I believe that students are more engaged in their own learning when they have input into the direction of their learning to specialize in areas of interest.

Statement 1: Teacher Passion
I might also call this being the 'Nerdy Teacher'. I remember those teachers that where so passionate about their subject that they lived and breathed what they taught. Hopefully my students can see this about me. It's important for students to see teachers as humans and having passions and interests. Passion for the job and subject comes in many forms, but if that isn't shared with students, there can be a disconnect. My issue is that there are so many things I'm interested in doing in the classroom that I find it difficult to focus my own teaching.

Statement 2: Student Input
Giving students the power to have a say in what they are going to learn: a 'new' concept in education! Within multimedia I have the fortune to be able to offer students the chance to design their own projects to achieve outcomes in the modules. The problem for me right now is working with students to be able to recognize and communicate their learning based on the outcomes. One direction where I see my course going is to an individualized learning model where students pick and choose their path through the course, developing an 'un-course' that is 100% customized. It's what I do when I want to learn something so why not let them try?

The biggest problem with creating a student customized course is the institution of school itself. First, I think students are pre-programmed and trained in school to be passive learners. They know how to play "the game of school." Students have become experts at dissecting really quickly what is most important in each assignment from what a teacher tells them. I see it around me all the time. Students are working on posters in the library for a parti
cular class. They spend hours of time making the posters look great because they are still getting marks for use of colour and neatness!! ARRRGGHHH! Very frustrating. In this case students know what's really important to the teacher is not the content, the concept, or big idea, but rather the flashy shiny stuff. I remember when Powerpoint was thought of by many as such a great educational tool. While it can be, too often teachers who didn't know how to use it as a tool, were enamoured by the glitz and awarded greater marks because of it.

So Where Does This Leave Me?
I recently commented in an email to Dean Senn (who is blogging now and that's just awsome) that this kind of thinking actually keeps my up at night. In the next few weeks I need to wrap my brain around how I'm actually going to pull off giving all students the power to decide of the projects they want to complete. Some might be doing animation, some might be doing TV, some video, and some won't know what they want to do. Perhaps this is why I feel like a Jack of all trades, and a master of some. (My own Jack is on the left)The reality of facilitating true student choice may be too much to handle for me right now, but I'm going to see this one through. The greatest detractor to a 100% customized course based on students needs is that it takes a ton of work. This is going to test my own organizational skills in this uncharted territory. I think I have an idea of how to combine the idea of student choice with my other desire to have students who work to develop skill sets they can draw from when they leave high school. All the while I feel like that to offer this diversified choice in class, my own skills are diminishing in value. Perhaps I'm going to need to get used to being the facilitator who fosters student interest rather than an expert in one field of editing or animation, or photography. More on that to come....

Any thoughts? Comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated on this one folks!


  1. Jared,

    I totally understand your struggle! My students always want to ask me "is this right?" and some get flustered when I say "it's your project!" I also find it very challenging to keep up with each students' progress. Part of what I'm struggling with is, as you put it, the institution of school that requires me to give them a grade EVERY time they come to me! So much of what we do is exploration before we even try to create a product of any kind!

    I find that group projects are easier to manage as you only have a few projects to monitor the progress of, rather than 25 or more. I walk around with a clipboard (old school!) and take notes on how each group is doing, talk to them about their project and answer questions. I force them to switch roles so that I can be sure that each student is comfortable with using whichever tool we are using.

    Sorry for the long winded reply! I've been reading "Standards-Based Constructivism: A Two-Step Guide" and it's helped me work out some of these thoughts a lot.

  2. I've been thinking a lot about the "passion" thing. I am a music teacher, but I would have to say that my real *passion* (and my undergraduate degree) is in art.
    But I think I'm a better music teacher than art teacher. When I've had the chance to teach the occasional art class, I of course jump at it--but find myself frustrated and perplexed by the students who don't love art the way I do. I give them assignments ("draw this thing 25 different ways") that to me would be like, "Here, eat this whole bag of M&Ms!" and when they groan, or drag their feet, or whine--I'm totally thrown! In music, which I love also, but not quite to the same degree, I can understand the less-than-enthusiastic. I anticipate them, and I work really hard to make it "fun." Maybe I could develop that in art, but I feel as though, for now, my passion for art kind of puts blinders on me... A colleague, who fell into teaching PE (not her passion, either)--and is the most phenomenal PE teacher I've ever even heard of!--thinks the same. We actually teach better because we're not in our passion areas.

  3. Jared-
    Thanks for the mention!
    Here's my latest thoughts on this... (by the way now your conundrum is keeping me awake too!) I think you're trying to leap a very tall building in a single bound and unless you're the superman we've all been waiting for, maybe taking smaller steps is the answer...
    What if you, as an intermediate step, chunk the outcomes into units and provide 3-5 choices of product that students can use to meet those outcomes...
    If that works, the next time you could chunk the outcomes and let them brainstorm the product options...
    It that works, the next time you could have them brainstorm outcomes that can be put together to form units..
    Just me thinking out loud... I'm sure that would take some manipulating to be successful in your class, but hopefully my ramblings will trigger something that will lead you in the direction you're looking for!