Friday, April 24, 2015

Why creativity in the classroom doesn't matter

Hashtags: #creativity #education #learning #pedagogy

Wait...what?  Creativity in the classroom doesn't matter? After posting comments to Why creativity in the classroom matters more than ever, I've come across several additional posts through my personal learning network (PLN) that have all promoted creativity in the classroom. And just now (freaky), I got a notification that others within my PLN are thinking about creativity as well. So what's wrong about developing creativity in the classroom?  Why would I dare say that creativity in the classroom does not matter?  Let's dissect.

What others say about creativity and my response...

It’s a crucial skill for everybody to master. 

Key words here are skill and master.  I have a hard time believing that creativity is limited to what we usually associate with being a skill.  This ignores any characterization of competencies that also include knowledge and disposition.  If creativity is only seen as being a skill - isolated from any connections to knowledge and disposition - it has no place in the classroom.

...creativity is when one idea branches into a complex, rich and vibrant neural network...creativity means starting with the bricks in the garden and winding up with the universe.

Now creativity is a noun, limited to a single idea, that metaphorically speaking branches into a "neural network".  This definition ignores socio-cognitive aspects of learning that leaves the term creativity empty. Also, the metaphor "...bricks in the garden..." is so abstract that some (like myself) would not recognize what is meant by bricks, garden, and universe. Thus, creativity has not place in the classroom.

[Creativity] doesn’t have to be new to the whole of humanity— though that’s always a bonus— but certainly to the person whose work it is.

So here, innovation comes to mind. Downes (44:00), claims the innovation is taking something new and presenting it in a way that is of benefit of others.  Here, there is no mention of creativity as benefiting others.  Secondly, if it doesn't have to be new to the "whole of humanity", although it might, for whom must it be new? Now we are running into issues of how relativism and rationalism might fit within the classroom (I would argue they don't). Therefore, based on this definition, creativity has no place in the classroom because it potentially means too many things to potentially too many individuals.

Creativity is putting your imagination to work. It is applied imagination. Innovation is putting new ideas into practice.

Again, a definition ripe with metaphors.  Putting new ideas into we again have the problem of defining new.  Is it new for the student who is trying to be "creative"?  Is it new for the entire class?  Is it new for the teacher?  Is it new for the local community?  Is it new for society? etc. And how might practice be defined?  Is it possible to develop a working definition of practice that is applicable across disciplines?  Again, creativity as it's being defined here has no place in the classroom.

The process of having original ideas that have value...the idea you start with is not the one you end up with.

Ken Robinson uses original instead of new, and adds a second component, value.  Whether one uses original or new, the same issue applies: original for whom?  The term value is interesting because it links to what Downes discusses when using the term, innovation. So now there is a transactional element to creativity that employs an interpretive process that extends beyond the person(s) being "creative".  This definition might avoid problems of relativism and rationalism on the part of those putting something new into practice, but ignores the still vast potential for interpretation when trying to objectively articulate ideas of new, valuable, innovative, etc. to those beyond the practitioners - I use the term practitioners to mean those who are setting out to be creative. Finally, the problem with accepting that an idea might change throughout the creative process means that assessment comes after the completion of instruction.  In formal education (for better or for worse), this goes against the reality of adhering to a curriculum, syllabus, scheme of work, and/or lesson plan - a reality.  That is, desired results are established beforehand, and instruction and assessment intertwine to facilitate how these desired results are met. This reality does not automatically mean students are unable to learn.  For this reason, creativity as defined here, has no place in the classroom.


I have never entertained the idea of creativity in my classroom because to do so would mean judging my students as opposed to assessing them.  Judging my students would be like saying...
  • Mary, you sure are creative.
  • Mike, you produced a creative brochure, video, etc.
  • Monica, your group worked creatively on that project.
In all cases, I am labeling my students dichotomously as being either "good" or "bad".  In formal education, the feedback students receive needs to go beyond good/bad, pass/fail, etc.  It needs to be more nuanced.  This is where the alternative, assessment, becomes more important than creativity.

Assessment includes more useful terms like formative assessment, summative assessment, dynamic assessment, diagnostic assessment, alternative forms of assessment, rubrics, portfolios, etc., which if collectively considered, limited the subjectivity of judging students and instead focus more on objectively providing feedback in terms of quantitative, qualitative, and interactional forms of data. 

A Picasso painting is viewed as creative because the work is completely finished, and enough time has passed that enough people have determined that something new has been developed and that this object (the painting) have value. Picasso, the man, is viewed as creative because he has produced enough works that collectively are viewed by others as creative.   Creativity is retrospective of the process and product together. The term serves a purpose, but not in the classroom.

Assessment is (or should be) more prospective; that is, formative.  Assessment of learning is more guiding, facilitative, coaching, leading, etc., moving students towards understandings, skills, and dispositions that they haven't experienced before.  Learning is a result (and process) of an individual being able to do something or think/feel a certain way that previously was not possible.  Assessment allows this to potentially happen in varying degrees.  In formal education, like scenarios found in the classroom, words like assessment, feedback, etc., should replace words like creativity, creative, creation, and creatively. It's possible (perhaps likely) that students learn something in the classroom that others deem uncreative.  It's possible that educational stakeholders (students, teachers, parents, admin, etc.) deem a classroom experience as creative where students fail to learn much.  Creativity in the classroom doesn't matter because it ignores other more useful terms like assessment, etc.  If one wishes to articulate what creativity is in terms of assessment, wonderful.  My only point is why not just talk about assessment and leave creativity out of it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Phenomenal Learning

Hashtags: #BeSmartOnAir #education #esl #efl #tesol

At the end of the month, Be Smart On Air #17 will discuss Phenomenal Learning. Never having heard of the term, I decided to look it up. I gather that phenomenal in this sense means of the nature of a phenomenon; cognizable by the senses ( I particularly like looking at learning as cognizable by the senses, and am curious how Niilo Alhovaara and others decide to approach this topic. What I found online about phenomenal learning sparked a few questions. For the purposes of this post, I’m confining the notion of phenomenal learning within the context of formal learning (learning that occurs in schools).

At the time of this writing, the domain,, was currently unavailable. The only specific reference to phenomenal learning that I found was Davidove (2008), who contrasted it to traditional learning:
  • Centrally developed courses (traditional) vs. developed by workers (phenomenal learning)
  • Modules lasting hours vs nuggets lasting minutes
  • Delivered by an instructor vs. delivered by anything
  • Often just in case vs. just in time
  • Often competence driven vs. more performance driven
  • Paced by the agenda vs. social and participatory
Other key ideas associated with phenomenal learning include seating arrangements, few opportunities to collaborate, among others. Three key principles associated with phenomenal learning, according to Davidove, are the following: everyone instructs, learning is memorable and unique, and the notions of learning and working merge. These three principles lead to excellence “in every aspect of the learning experience”.

Although Davidove seems to be referring more to organizational (or professional) learning, I have a particular interest in this topic as it relates to formal education (in schools). Some key concepts to unpack during this discussion about phenomenal learning might include a) teacher/student roles (“removing the ‘middle man’”), b) freedom of choice on the part of the student (differentiated instruction), c) assessment, d) content delivery (or interactivity), e) student collaboration, f) course goals vs. individual goals, etc.

What other aspects of phenomenal learning should one consider in order to make it "cognizable by the senses" for each student? And is phenomenal learning related to phenomenal field theory (and the phenomenal self)?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dogme language teaching…what is it?

Hashtags: #dogme21 #elt4 #clivage3 #polqc2 #thatcher2 #bêtise1 #croyance1 #méthode1 #dégâts1 #eltchat #dogme
Trying to seek a better understanding of Dogme language teaching…
Dogme language teaching is considered to be both a methodology and a movement - a communicative approach to language teaching that encourages teaching without published textbooks and focuses instead on conversational communication among learners and teacher (Wikipedia, 2015). Dogme has ten key principles:
  1. Interactivity: the most direct route to learning is to be found in the interactivity between teachers and students and amongst the students themselves.
  2. Engagement: students are most engaged by content they have created themselves
  3. Dialogic processes: learning is social and dialogic, where knowledge is co-constructed
  4. Scaffolded conversations: learning takes place through conversations, where the learner and teacher co-construct the knowledge and skills
  5. Emergence: language and grammar emerge from the learning process. This is seen as distinct from the ‘acquisition’ of language.
  6. Affordances: the teacher’s role is too optimize language learning affordances through directing attention to emergent language.
  7. Voice: the learner’s voice is given recognition along with the learner’s beliefs and knowledge.
  8. Empowerment: students and teachers are empowered by freeing the classroom of published materials and textbooks.
  9. Relevance: materials (e.g. texts, audios and videos) should have relevance for the learners
  10. Critical use: teachers and students should use published materials and textbooks in a critical way that recognizes their cultural and ideological biases.
The Twitter hashtag #dogmeelt was active from April 15, 2015 through June 21, 2014, but hasn’t seen much action since. Presumably, Twitter activity has migrated to the hashtag #dogme. Top hashtags include #dogme21 #elt4 #clivage3 #polqc2 #thatcher2 #bêtise1 #croyance1 #méthode1 #dégâts1 #eltchat1, while top languages include French and English (#dogme statistics, March 14, 2015).
It seems that the main reason Dogme came about was that English language teaching (according to Scott Thornbury)...
had become similarly dependent on a constant fix of materials and technology, at the expense of the learning possibilities that could be harvested simply from what goes on “within and between" the people in the room (to borrow Stevick's phrase). ELT needed a similar kind of "rescue action". (as cited in Meddings, 2003)
Others seems to agree. An ELT Dogme Yahoo Group was formed that shows an active message history being primarily between 2002-2011. Trending topics include ELF workshop and teaching project-based learning. The Yahoo group was founded in 2000, currently has 1,564 members, and includes a website link to Scott Thornbury.
I recently had a discussion about Dogme in LinkedIn where the following manifesto was presented as follows (derived from Dogme 95)…

  1. All teaching and practice of language must be done "in situ", in the real location. No fake props or sets but only using real language in a real location.
  2. Teaching is holistic. There must be no separation of function and form and language is treated not in discrete parts, nor dissected but rather as it is used.
  3. Technology must be simple and hand driven. Chalk, pencils, pens etc.... No use of electronic devices; computers, screens, CD players and so on. The speaker, the human being, is the focus.
  4. Teaching must be real. It can't be a play, a scripted event. The plan is that there is no plan other than the main objective to start things off. No fakery, no lying on the part of the teacher.
  5. Extrinsic motivators are forbidden. The class must not be tainted by point systems, rewards and competition.
  6. There should not be any role playing in the classroom (this is artificial). All language takes place and arises from a real need and impulse.
  7. No use of video to show learners language used in a different time and place. It all happens in the here and now.
  8. The teacher can't be an actor or use different teaching styles. Nor are there any different types of English to be taught (business, global studies, finance, hospitality and tourism etc...). The only English used is that of necessity that comes from the learner, there is no imposed structure given from the instructor.
  9. The class must be 10 or less students to facilitate real use of the language and proper instructor intervention.
  10. The teacher is part of the class and a learner. Credit goes to the whole class for any success, not just the teacher.

In summation, I can’t quite connect the Dogme 95 list to the Dogme Manifesto list above, and can’t quite reconcile the Dogme Manifesto list above with the ten principles listed at the beginning of this post. I´m willing to reservedly accept a definition like… 
a communicative approach to language teaching that encourages teaching without published textbooks and focuses instead on conversational communication among learners and teacher…(emphasis added)
but can’t quite accept a definition like Dogme ELT is a materials light methodology (What is Dogme ELT?, n.d.).
The main problem I have with the notion of Dogme is the uncertainty in the use of the term "materials".
I use terms like authentic learning using authentic materials to describe many aspects that Dogme seems to embrace. This would also include the Socratic Method and many principles from Mortimer’s Paideia School. At this point, still am not compelled to use the term Dogme as a “rescue action”, although such action is definitely needed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

MOOCs, PR, and Popularity

Hashtags: #mooc #education #pedagogy #distancelearning

Read OP-ED: MOOCS AND THE ROCKSTAR LECTURER and thought differently...

So the argument is that quiet professors are at a disadvantage when it comes to teaching in MOOCs (but not in face-to-face scenarios) because incompetent but popular professors have more opportunities given the high production teams that promote this type of online delivery? The argument is that society places more value on extroverts regardless of knowledge/pedagogical competence?

The following are warrants that I don't fully embrace:
  • If teachers lack professional competence but are outgoing, have a “MOOCish style” (?), and are “splashy” (?), then students (or society) will place them on a pedestal and will have a professional advantage over “quiet” teachers.
  • “Quiet” teachers are inherently placed at a disadvantage that exists in MOOCs that do not exist in face-to-face scenarios.
  • “Quiet” teachers are modest and MOOC teachers are not.
  • If a professor teaches a MOOC, a certain pedagogical style is a given.
  • If the production value of a MOOC is high, then so too is its educational value (and vice versa).
  • If the production value of a MOOC is high, then so too are the odds of hiring a “MOOC-style”, “rockstar” professor.
  • All teachers are qualified and/or have an interest in teaching in a MOOC.
  • If teachers are quiet and competent, no student will appreciate them, if they teach online although they may if the same teacher teaches face to face.
Further phrases that obscure…
  • …they’ve raised the status of the rock star lecturer to the point where normal teaching looks shabby in comparison. [What is “normal” teaching?]
  • But there are also quiet teachers who are just as effective for other reasons. [Just as effective for other reasons suggests that rockstar professors are effective for reasons other than their love for the subject, the clarity of their explanations, etc.]
  • It’s important to me that we not leave these teachers behind. [Who are “we” and what exactly are “we” to do? Whose responsibility is it?
  • …not all MOOCs have documentary-style pizazz, but those that do create unrealistic expectations about what online courses should look like. [So MOOCs with “pizazz” create unrealistic expectations - an anthropomorphism…about what online courses should look like? Are looks all that important? Or does this refer to all aspects of an online course?]
  • “Quiet”, “splashing” and “MOOC-style” teachers…vague.
I get the sense that there is actually some underlining problem here that is being glazed over by making broad claims with little evidence (i.e., details, examples, etc.) and shaky warrants. If a certain group of teachers are being neglected for specific reasons, have that discussion. Getting past the hyperbole, I have a genuine interest in getting to the root of this argument so to better understand what truly distinguishes teachers between those who succeed online and face to face, or if there are more similarities than differences.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Teachers as doctors...

Due to word count limits in LinkedIn, I am posting my response to Teachers, focus on preventative medicine! in its entirety here...

Thanks David for your followup and welcome to blogging in LinkedIn...was curious about how it would appear and what kind of interaction (if any) would result.  Let me say that your post is certainly not inflammatory (and applaud you for being idealistic) and have come to recognize your style as one of provocation...a good thing. Having had the pleasure of conversing with you in the past, I'm certain we agree more often than not. The only real difference in opinion that I see is what kind of language best provokes a change in another.

What caught my attention of your post were two things: attempting to decipher your own beliefs and (more importantly) envisioning how others might interpret your message.  I'm constantly curious about how language is used and spend a fair amount of time discussing this with teacher trainers.  As I tell my students, my interpretation is only one and should be placed among many others before attempting to understand the "true" message (intent), the person who wrote the message, the target audience, locutionary/illocutionary/perlocutionary forces, etc.

Your point about "playing teacher" could very well be true.  My point is simply to ask, should we generalize this idea as fact or idealistically look at it as a potential problem and make suggestions towards fixing it.  Unless they are conclusions from empirical evidence, I tend to avoid blanket statements about groups of people...but that's just me.  Perhaps in your post on preventative medicine you might clarify what you mean when you say "teachers should prescribe".  For me, prescribing is saying that a group of individuals (e.g., teachers) should do the same thing in different contexts: same teaching techniques, methods, approaches, strategies, etc. - I'll admit that teacher-doctor analogy falls a bit short in this regard.  My point is that we should attempt to expect similar student outcomes regardless as to the technique, method, etc. teachers employ.

Regarding your reply on $$$...I completely agree with you.  My only point is whether or not this message addresses a slightly different target audience than the target audience you sought for the overall post - teachers. This shift in audience seems to cloud the intended message...again, one that I completely agree with.

Always appreciate your point of view and will continue to follow your ideas and perspectives that continue to help further my own understandings.