I work with many different teachers in my district that in turn work with many different grade levels of students. While most of the teachers call for my technical skills for a project to take care of the nuts and bolts of getting the students up and running with a technology-rich project, I usually bring my former teacher self as well to the classroom. When I present students with a potentially new work space, especially one in which they may be connecting with one another through comments, blogs posts, and Google Doc collaborations, I want to make sure that both the students, and the teacher(s) I’m working with understand why we’re shifting to a blended learning environment, and what is expected of them.
This week I had the opportunity to introduce a brand new semester of our 8th grade Writing for Publication students to Blogger, with the help of their fantastic English Teacher, Kyle Krol. I like to ask leading questions, hopefully ones that will generate some conversation (which is really hard with 8th graders, at least for me), and this time around I decided to frame their connected digital work spaces as places for creativity to take root. I wanted to be careful in not assuming too much, so I started with the following question.
I asked this highly subjective question in hopes that we could come to some agreed upon definition of creativity that could basically be summed up with the sentiment, “there are more ways to be creative then to not be.” While I didn’t quite get there with this group of 13 and 14 year olds, I did get a few answers that made me all warm and fuzzy inside. “Taking something that already exists, and creating some new with it” was one of my favorites, as was “making something unique”. Students also gave answers about various forms of writing or videos that they felt exemplified creativity. One rather ambitious answer included “making something for the web with code”. The important piece, that I was hoping to get out of them, was that there was no single definition of what it meant to be creative.
I made a big list of all their answers on the board, and we quickly chatted about each answer, whether anyone felt they agreed or disagreed with any of them. No one disagreed with any of the suggestions, and that’s when I opened up the conversation a bit further and asked them simply about writing.
I expected some simple “yes” or “no” replies, but the learners in the classroom, speaking much to their maturity, didn’t have any “no”s to give me. I asked them the all important “Why?” question that many teachers ask in order to get some rationalization as to why students thought that writing on the internet could be creative? They seemed much more timid in supporting their theories and beliefs of writing as a creative practice than they were when simply giving examples of creativity, but what they gave me was all good. From writing poetry to creating fan fiction, there were a few solid answers among the head nods of agreement, and I’m glad that Ms. Krol has a decent start to her new semester working with these young writers. More valuable to me however, was the time spent trying to connect with the idea of what these learners were going to be using their blogs for, and what the students would be creating and sharing with them and through them.
Only then did I start with the mechanics of actually getting the blogs up and running.