Saturday, 23 February 2013

Teachers collaborating

As I've mentioned previously, in addition to the 'Art Project' (which produces Passionfruit Magazine), this year we're also running the 'Music Project'. This project is designed to work with students who are musically very able, but who have struggled to gain the literacy and numeracy qualifications necessary for them to move into tertiary study. This group have a couple of timetable lines allocated to music and integrated curriculum learning, as well as being in an English class on their own. Most are also in an NCEA Level 1 Photography and Design class that I teach.

Because of the dense nature of many Visual Arts texts (often written in International Art English, as it has sometimes been termed!), I put quite a bit of effort into building the students' capacity for unpacking complex written texts. As you might imagine, this has brought up a few challenges for a group of students who aren't exactly lovers of written texts, let alone complex ones!

One of the major benefits of having a group of teachers focused on working with the same students is that we've been able to tackle the same challenges from different angles. A recent case in point was the English specialist (Laura Green) being able to use some English class time working with a text unpacking exercise that I'd set the students for homework. As a result, five of the of the six students who had barely attempted their initial text unpacking assessment handed the most recent one in complete, in most cases the day after they'd been given it, despite the deadline being a week away!

This may seem a small step in some ways, but considering the academic histories of these students it's a success I'm more than willing to celebrate!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Permission to screw up

When we focus too much on doing things perfectly, we don't engage in the kind of exploratory thinking and behavior that creates new knowledge and innovation - Halvorson

Recently I came across Heidi Grant Halvorson's piece about our attitude to making mistakes and how this effects out ability to be innovative: 'Why You Should Give Yourself Permission to Screw Up'. Given that we're at the start of a major project with Passionfruit Magazine (ie beginning production of Volume 2!) and that many of the students were feeling the pressure of the first deadline (for article concepts to pitch to the editor) approaching, it seemed a good idea to sit down with the crew and pull the article apart to see what we could learn from it.

In essence, Heidi's argument is that people approach any new task with one of two mindsets: the 'Be-Good' or the 'Get-Better'. The former mindset dictates that they must be good at any task they try, and consequently can be limiting in terms of approaching unfamiliar territory. The latter mindset approaches an unfamiliar situation as a chance to learn and tends to be much more resilient in the face of unexpected challenges.

Further to this, because the 'Be-Good' mindset makes us see mistakes as something to avoid it tends to result in increased levels of anxiety when approaching a problem, which reduces our working memory and gives us less ability to think creatively and analytically.

So . . . the big lesson for our students (and their teachers, who admitted that they all deal with their fair share of 'Be-Good' tendencies!) as the project gets underway is to acknowledge that what we've taken on is challenging and won't always turn out the way we hope or expect, and to agree to do our best to communicate and seek help rather than hiding from the problems that will inevitably crop up.

I guess you'll see from later blog entries this year how this has all turned out! is Behance's education arm. It's well worth checking out, if you're not already familiar with it.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Unsolicited positive feedback

Earlier is week I received an email alert that my teacher Facebook profile had been tagged in a student post. What a pleasant surprise it was to find that the post was the lovely affirmation shown above! The student who posted it is one of the Year 12s who have joined the team this year.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

2013 begins!

A new year. A new group of students. A new volume of Passionfruit Magazine. A revised approach to making it.

School started back for our seniors on Friday 1 February, so it's been just over a week since we started working with the second group of 'ArtProject' students. We've got four new Year 12 students, three new Year 13's and six Year 13's coming back for a second year of the project. That's a total of 13 students: a beautifully small class and a good number to work with, but not really sustainable in the long (multiple years) term. More about that some other time.

We're trying a few different approaches this year with regard to the structuring of learning. To begin with, rather than last year's 'Hack your learning space' exercise, which gained a lot of interest from parties outside of the project, but was not entirely successful in terms of student buy in and long term working relationships, we're sticking with the physical classroom space pretty much as it was. We'll re-arrange it according to the needs of specific phases of the project, but there will not be a major 'building phase' to begin the project.

We're also taking a more structured approach to the presentation of individual parts of the project - units of work one might call them in a more traditional classroom. While the 'We'll make authentic work for a magazine, and this will provide evidence for assessment' approach was good in theory, in practice many (probably all, to be truthful) of the students found it really challenging to work in this mode. On one hand it could be argued that this is because the school system has trained them to require spoon feeding in terms of 'do this task, then this task, then this task, then hand it in to your teacher and you'll get credits'. On another hand it could be argued that students at secondary level need some degree of breaking down of a big task into smaller, more achievable components if they are to experience success. On yet another hand, moderation requirements currently demand a fair degree of structure in assignments if a school is to retain freedom to offer all achievement standards.

The outcome of all of this is that we are presenting students with a series of open ended assignments that will (hopefully) give them the flexibility to produce the work they want to for the magazine, while at the same time giving them more structure than last year. I (Sam) am still in two minds about this, because I suspect that ultimately we need to produce learners who can break a major task down into parts they can manage, but maybe my expectations are a bit high . . .

We've also changed the teaching team, bringing a different English specialist on board, and replacing one of the Visual Arts specialists with a Music/Technology specialist. So the teaching team is now Sam Cunnane (Visual Arts/Project Leader), Anna Dowthwaite (English) and Jesse Te Weehi (Music/Technology). Jesse's role will be largely in relation to the web-based components of the magazine, but he is also leading a second integrated curriculum project in the school ('MusicPro', but more about that another time).
Chris Hadfield
The Earth has problem skin; one popped, the other didn't.
Finally, we finished the week on a bit of a high, in the middle of making arrangements to do an interview with an astronaut (Chris Hadfield) who takes photographs from the international space station. He's well worth following on Twitter - @Cmdr_Hadfield