Theater Major: An Excellent Choice

Interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Why Theater Majors are Vital in the Digital Age.

I wholeheartedly agree…  but perhaps for additional reasons.

The author puts for this argument:

Solving a STEM equation is important, but discoveries in the sciences will occur only when people know how to be alone with their thoughts. Who is teaching that?

In acting classes, students grapple with the effects of technology on their brains, bodies, and social selves. Cellphones must be turned off and put away. The goal is to disconnect with technology and to connect with one another and themselves.

….From 2011 to 2014, the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation worked with theater artistsin Chicago through an online survey and a battery of aptitude tests to determine whether there are innate skills shared among theater workers. The aptitude called “foresight,” which is the talent to envision many possible outcomes or possibilities, was present in all theater workers (playwrights, directors, designers, actors). When actors try out various line readings or interpretations of a scene, when they improvise or create backstory, they are using foresight.

But foresight would be impossible without empathy. The actor’s ability to envision multiple outcomes or motivations in a play must be based on the character’s circumstances, not the actor’s. That requires a kind of stepping into another person’s shoes that social scientists say is dwindling among college-age students.

I love these arguments. Theater makes one more away of the human centered skills. Theater is a true cross disciplinary subject, as well. Theater teaches the soft skills that are hard to measure. In this world of STEM focus, these soft skills from theater are also as important.

Theater majors work in English (script analysis), history (theater history), sociology/diversity (theater from different communities), communications (writing and oral skills), business (marketing, sales), project management (schedules, building), art (design). I’d hire a theater major any day!

Homework was a Cold War fad

I love Cold War history. It’s probably my favorite period of American history. Going to Los Alamos was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done – it’s a whacky place.

This article, How Sputnik Created Homework and Hurt American Kids, by Ryan Klein, just makes me love the Cold War even more.

…homework was a Cold War fad. Before then, Americans had always thought of homework as a bad idea because it distracted kids from families and chores. Many schools banned it altogether. But during the Cold War, Americans were desperate to get ahead, and a “we’ll try anything” mentality led to a new idea: Maybe homework does distract kids from good things, but if it makes them smarter—smart enough to beat the Russians—then we’re all for it!

 

Motivation

I have read a number of articles about student motivation. I may have blogged about them once or twice… This post, “5 Questions to Ask Yourself about Your Unmotivated Students” is one of the first to admit it might be the design of the school that is contributing to lack of motivation. I love it!

There’s a very good chance that the technology, the parents, or the entitlement are playing a role in what we perceive to be reduced student motivation. But there’s a very good chance that our instructional decisions play a role as well.

The author outlines a  number of questions to ask (I have paraphrased):

  1. Relationship: what is the teacher’s relationship to the student?
  2. How much choice do students have in their work?
  3. Do you reward with candy?
  4. Do you have a growth or fixed mindset?
  5. How do you make the content relevant to the student?

This is a wonderful set of questions. The author admits things she’s done wrong in the past, but isn’t accusatory about teachers. Just really pushes her fellow teachers to think about their approach.

I watched a highly motivated student turn into one that probably looks like one that couldn’t care less. But guess what – she does care. She cares deeply. But, over the years, she learned that it didn’t matter how much work she did. Traditional school/testing is not how she thinks. She shut down. But, she still cares. A few teachers were able to get good stuff from her — and those were the ones who made things relevant, had an honest and caring relationship, gave students choice.

I bet even the most unmotivated student cares….

History Case Studies

How do you make learning history dull, boring, monotonous and tedious? Teach broad survey classes with lots of multiple choice questions!!!

Sound familiar? Yup – that’s how most of us learned history and how most history courses are taught now, sadly.

Not this class! The article, “A Better Way to Teach History,” by Christine Gross-Loh outlines a college history course modeled on the Harvard Business School pedagogy of teaching through case studies. Professor David Moss gives students the arguments on both sides of a controversy. Students read, discuss, argue and make a decision. Only then does he tell students what actually happened. This method uses critical thinking, primary source analysis, decision making skills and communication skills.

Traditional history teaching values facts over skills, something that has long been debated. I fall strongly on the side of teaching skills over content. Even back in the early 1990s, pre-internet, I taught students that it was the process of finding information and analyzing it that was important. I gave only open book assessments – rarely, if ever, did I give “tests.” Today, it’s even more useless to memorize tons of facts. It’s not possible. It is possible to teach students to find information. Do students need a minimal amount of historical content in order to analyze? Of course. But that can be learned in the process of analyzing and doesn’t require excessive rote memorization.

Multiple choice tests definitely favor facts over process. As the article states, there is little context to facts in a multiple choice test. This article promotes the use of narrative over fact – one I wholly support. Narrative gives context, reason, rational, instead of random, disconnected facts. “…the narrative provides context and a more effective way to learn and remember.”

Love this quote:

The argument I make all the time is, it’s like if I were to ask someone to assemble a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle without the box-top picture of it. You could of course eventually put it together but the effort to match shapes and colors on each piece would be monumental, and you’d likely give up quite quickly. Such is what happens to many kids in school

 

Influencing Young Minds

I read other blogs because they make me think. Also because most bloggers are really good writers and they can often put into words what I am thinking but haven’t expressed – or don’t feel I can express because I’m not a teacher. Blogging allows a conversation when it’s not possible to have a real life conversation.

One of my favorite bloggers is a former high school teacher. He has left the world of K12 for the hallowed halls of higher education. I hope his philosophy can benefit many new teachers going into the world. Instead of directly impacting students, he can benefit more students by teaching new teachers to question the current state of education.

Snippets in today’s post were perfect reminders of why he is an excellent teacher – and why the current public school system drove him away.

Standardized tests are silly and do not account for real teaching. I am referring to the complex work of mentoring young people as they grow up in an infinitely complex, unsafe universe. Story is a better way to represent that work than test scores.

Seriously, how wonderfully insightful is this? Truly, does it matter if a student can remember the street some character in a book lived on, what year a battle occurred, or what equation you need to find the area of a parallelogram? Yes – a professor of literature, history or math might need these pieces of information at their fingertips, but not the majority of us. Do we need to be exposed to many types of information, ways of thinking and problem solving? Yes. Do we need to memorize all this stuff. No way.

A more important piece of a teacher’s job seems to be just what Sam says: mentoring people to grow into healthy adults. He was a creative teacher that did not rely on tests, extraordinary amounts of outside work or reciting facts. He asked students to think, apply knowledge to other situations, consolidate information and use their own experience. But he got a ton of flack for it. Personally, I am grateful my kid had a chance to be in his class. I know she got more out of that class — he made her think, he challenged her — than she did from those “advanced” classes that were crammed full of content.

I particularly like this quote:

First, I think teachers should not pretend to be transmitters of ultimate truths. Our truths might not work for somebody else.

Agreed. This respects diversity of thought, of opinion, of belief. Let’s encourage students to develop a belief system of their own instead of forcing them to swallow someone else’s. This does not mean students don’t work with content – it means truly there is too much content in the world to know it all. Learn to work well with smaller amounts so you are better equipped to work with it all.

How can teachers empathize with students and help them adapt to their circumstances with the understanding that realities are diverse, dissimilar, and require nuance to navigate? Throw out the tests. Most tests assume an arbitrary truth and then impose that truth at the expense of questioning.

This statement I find sums up the problem with standardized testing in a nutshell. There is no room for critical thinking or creativity in these tests. There is only room for spitting back material. What do we value more?

Way back a hundred years ago when I was teaching, I told my students (7/8th graders) flat out that I didn’t want them memorizing dates. I never used tests. All assessment was done using projects, often of their own choosing. Projects had to show an understanding of the issues and how it applied. It wasn’t a spitting back of dates. This was in the years before the rise of standardized tests and in an “open” school that left teachers a ton of flexibility. It was awesome….

I hope Sam’s current work in higher education teaching teachers allows him to plant this seed of thought in all these young people going into education. Maybe that’s how we start moving in this direction.

PD

In my work, I talk about professional development quite a bit. I do training with staff at my job, but a huge part of my work (and that of my colleagues) is teaching teachers.

In our experience, the PD for teachers when it comes to technology is lacking. Seriously lacking. Except for a few high flying exceptions at any school, it is more common to find teachers that aren’t getting the support they need to use the 1:1 technology they’re given (or had forced upon them). Many have trouble with the basics – turning it on, etc. This means they are not even close to using the tools in a real productive way — there’s little in terms of teaching pedagogy, classroom management, 21st century skills and how to move up the Bloom’s taxonomy ladder with the tools.

I was recently asked for some input on PD for a district. It may seem presumptuous of me to give any input, and I suppose it is. However, we benefit from seeing this tech PD from a broad perspective. I know the kinds of questions I’m asked, I know how often we get them.

Please note, I am in no way being critical of the teachers asking these questions. Just because I gravitate to tech tools very naturally and it comes really easily to me, I know it’s not that way for everyone – nor should it be. Nor should every teacher be expected to be a master of this. Some of the best teachers my kids have had have been basically luddites. It’s all about the attitude and pedagogy.

Anyway, here is are my thoughts about what a successful tech PD plan should look like:

  • embedded: there is a instructional technology person — not a network person — in the schools and accessible. It’s not a special thing.
  • frequent: happens as needed as well scheduled
  • leveled: lets the rabbits go quickly and the snails move at their comfort level
  • modeled: administrators embrace the tool, show excellent digital citizenship and use the tools when communicating with students, teachers and parents
  • paradigm shifting: includes more than just the hardware/software. It’s a mindset, and it takes time
  • flexible: it is responsive to changing tools and changing needs
  • student focused: both in terms of why districts do this – meets kids where they are, uses tools they know outside school. AND allows students to be part of the process. Embrace these kids. Let them be part of the solution, create student tech teams.
  • 4 Cs: it’s not really about the tool. It’s about empowering us to communicate, to create, collaborate and to think critically about our world. The iPads (whatever) are just a way to get there.

Broken Child

I have to reblog this. It breaks my heart. It hits so close to home.

This is by one of my favorite bloggers. I have tremendous respect for her honesty, her approach to life, her love for children and her love for books. I have tremendous respect for her teaching. She had the courage to completely change how she structured her class. She empowers students in a way not seen frequently.

This is a post about one of her children. I wish I could tell her that no, her child is not broken. Her child is lovely, wonderful, creative, caring. It’s not her child who is broken — it’s the school system. It is hard to tell a teacher that the school system is broken, but she knows it. She changed who she is in the classroom to address the very issues she’s seeing now in her child.

As one of the commenters said,  a world where kindergartners, first graders, etc., are expected to sit still is unnatural. Some kids thrive in it, but certainly not all. We crush the spirit of those who don’t fit that expectation. Why is that the value? Why do kindergartners need to read? Why is it that the only valuable learning occurs at a desk?

I saw this happen in my house. I was stubborn — too stubborn — and thought if my child only tried harder, if she only cared. I watched her spirit get crushed. I watched her frustration. I watched her self-esteem plummet. I watched her level of anxiety increase to the point of being incapacitating. All this for similar reasons — she couldn’t focus no matter how hard she tried. If I could do it all over, there are so many, many things I would do differently.

I wish I could just say to this blogger to follow her heart. Do what you need to do to honor your child. That’s what’s important – not what the expectations are of society, or of school.

 

She’s got my eyes, you know.

Blue mixed with gray depending  on the weather.   She’s got my long legs, arms for miles, and a laugh that comes from her heart.  Her hands look like my grandfather’s who gave her her name.  And those feet of hers are just like mine, growing too fast for her shoes to keep up.

She’s got her daddy’s sense of humor, always ready to make you smile.  And also his artistic eye, declaring one day she will be an artist.  She will paint the sky with every color she knows.

But she doesn’t have my skills of sitting still.  Of staying quiet.  Of focusing in.

She doesn’t smile easy or understand when others are kidding.  Friendships are sometimes hard to find.

Some would say she is a broken child.  Some would say she is a broken child.

We come up with fixes to help…

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