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May 14, 2013

While running a couple of errands the other day, I was listening to the radio.  An interviewer was talking with an artist.  The artist explained that in art, the artist doesn’t always know what the final product will be.  This brought to mind teachers and learning outcomes.  Certainly we have a learning outcome in mind when we enter the classroom.  It might be one from our curriculum or syllabus.  The idea is easy enough until I walk into class.  If the class takes off in another direction does the artist in me go with it, or does the responsible craftsman in me work back to the specific learning outcome such as distinguishing run-ons from compound sentences?  The artist identity appeals to me greatly; however, the Puritan taskmaster residing in my consciousness keeps reminding me of my responsibilities.

If we carefully design our activities to reach a specific goal, we may stifle the creativity inherent in learning.  If we plan and shape the lessons so well that they lead to a specific outcome, we take away the artistic license that learning needs to thrive. However, if we abandon the carefully constructed scaffolding, we may well betray the students in most need of it.  This tension should exist but it plays against comfort levels.  

What I mean by this is that when I design a lesson, I need to be careful that I don’t take the creativity out of it.  In other words, if I go into class with a worksheet and only look at whether or not the students get the correct answer, the worksheet and I have worked together to stifle the potential learning that can come from mistakes, different interpretations, and alternative answers.  Without the mistakes and alternative answers, the creative attempts at understanding that lead to “mistakes”, we are left with a reduced understanding of our students struggles with creating for themselves a grammar of their second language.

What a carefully planned lesson can lead to is a well-controlled experience for teacher and learner.  The learning outcome arrived at with a clear path for both teacher and learner means success.  But a less carefully planned lesson may lead to the magic that leads to learning as the control slips a little here and a little more there.  This is the artist’s unknown in the end.  It is the magic of the artist who gives us something special, magical which on the surface may appear simple but only because the artist did his or her magic behind the scenes.  Admittedly this magic happens too rarely, but when it does, a teacher feels like he is part of a masterpiece.

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