Tuesday, September 16, 2014

One central misconception of teachers

Our 12-year-old 7th grader has his second "creative" project of the school year--which is just over a week old.

The first was assigned by his Humanities teacher in the middle of the first week of school (they started in classrooms on 9/8--very late. The previous week was an all-school retreat.) The assignment was due the middle of the second week and was this: take a small coffee can (provided by the teacher) and decorate it with your name and photo, from it hang 4-5 items which represent you. Yes, they were assigned to make a mobile in 7th grade. This had no academic content and was explained by the teacher as a way to decorate the classroom.

The second "creative" project is of an academic nature. In Science class, they were assigned to "creatively" show the five characteristics of living organisms: they grow, they respond to stimuli, they reproduce, etc. My nephew asked if a research paper could be considered "creative" and if it would be acceptable, and the teacher replied that he really only wanted students to spend maybe 45 minutes on it...Which left the answer a bit open: could you do a research paper, if it only took you about 45 minutes? I'm not sure the teacher ever answered that. Since our kid has adopted the use of Dragon voice recognition software, writing a short paper in 45 minutes isn't much of a problem. He did a paper last year which was about a page long and had it done in 15 minutes.

What I'm left wondering is: why do teachers think that a "creative" assignment takes less time than a written one? (This puts aside the issue of why they don't think expository writing is creative.) The coffee can assignment took our kid several hours over two days to complete, and required a parental trip to the art store for spray paint and letter stickers. He had to: paint a base layer onto the can, place letter stickers on it for his name, spray paint the top color of paint over the can, remove the stickers to reveal the name underneath, create the dangling objects (which he first did in clay, but redid by printing images from online onto printable shrinky-dink film), tie all the objects to strings, decorate the top string as required in the assignment, print out a photo (also on shrinky-dink) then hot glue it to the can. This came after he had already turned in a summary of his design for approval earlier in the week. All together, this might have taken him three or four hours or more. Academic content: 0.0.

The science class discussed some of the options for the project, with the main one being a poster. But just going to the store to buy posterboard would take 10-20 minutes, which should be counted as part of the project time (and actually, in real man-hours it should count double, as it also usually requires a parent to accompany the student,) as should assembling the craft supplies to be used: markers, stickers, a ruler for lettering, etc. Why do teachers think that creative art projects don't require time-consuming planning and execution? (Not to mention the frustration level when a kid's creativity and artistic abilities are mismatched.) Unless a student doesn't care about the aesthetics of the "creative" assignment, it can take a long time to arrange the piece, add consistent lettering, decorate it, etc. None of that time is spent actually engaging the topic--or even thinking about it!

In the same amount of time, a student can often create a solid page of writing which actually concentrates on the educational material and not on the crafting materials.

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