Crafts and Art Part II


Photo credit: Knit from Jothina’s photostream on flickr

This is the second part of post on Arts vs. Craft that came out of recent post from Dan Meyer, dy/dan » Blog Archive » How Do You Solve A Problem Like Cigotie? The post asks should we be satisfied with students who are great at “copying” the work of others, but still haven’t really created something of their own?

Dan’s post and the comment thread also are about form vs. content. Dan is often a critic of poorly done presentations/videos that ruin their message with sloppy execution (poor form), but here he’s saying and many of the commenters are discussing, how perfect form is not enough, you have to say something, some message that is uniquely your own, for it to be true art.

The comments were sometimes about ourselves as teachers and our own attempts at creativity and craft, and how we perfect that. In the end Dan seems to agree with the commenters that this kid will probably end up doing okay and finding his own voice, but says he still feels uneasy in a way he can’t put a finger on. I’m going to suggest that maybe what he’s uneasy about is not an auto-didact like Cigotie, but the teacher who may be teaching with some of the tools he is using.

I am myself a crafter. I knit, and I’m pretty good at it. Early on, I began to deviate from patterns, and do my own thing. Since I hadn’t learned the craft perfectly, not all my stuff is all that it should be, but as with many things I try, and I’m not afraid to do my own thing. Maybe I needed to spend 10,000 knitting flat scarves, and dish clothes before I started designing my own sweaters and hats on the fly. Even when I do knitting that demands a pattern, I deviate. I did a nice Aran sweater once, and messed up the stitch, BUT it was symmetrical so I just ended up creating my own pattern of loops. There are lots of knitters that do the same patterns, and the same stitches all the time. I do have some things I always do the same, how I throw my stitches, my cast-offs, those don’t change, but I like being creative, even in my ignorance. There are purist who would urge me to perfect my tension, so I had no loose stitches, and to do a million other things differently (I’ve read advice like this many times). I DON’T CARE! I’d rather be be a van Gough, than a Ingres. I’ll never be a Cigotie, but I may be that teacher who puts “Tales from the Crypt” photos in the middle of a slide deck.

What about my teaching? I think something Nancy talks about is critical, time. I also think you can add allowing for mistakes that can inform and teach. Let’s look at her example, Christopher Paolini, writer of the Eragon series. I’m a fan, but his first book borrowed heavily from Tolkien, but was lacking in character development (not a strength of Tolkien’s either). Each story seemed more mature and well-developed. Maybe that was just the unfolding of the tale, but I wonder if part of that reflects the author’s growing maturity.

Here is my example of using time, and letting a mistake be a lesson. Recently the second graders (that’s 7 and 8 year olds) have been doing a unit on fossils. I did a Voice Thread for the KWL as they study this topic. I asked students to come up with questions they had. One question on the third slide has an error. It asks, “How do fossils become dinosaurs?” This is a pretty easy to make error for language learners (reversing the order of things in a way that really changes it’s meaning). The next step in the lesson is to “answer” the questions orally. Every student who has picked that question to answer, even the ELLs has discovered the error. Sometimes I have to probe a little with questions (is that true?), most of the time it’s just to prompt them along as they are shy once the recording is going on, and they picked out the error just fine when we do the “pre” discussion before recording. By letting that error stay, and using questions, rather than saying, “you’re wrong!” I’m thinking the kids will learn more.

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