I believe that one of the most important roles we have as teachers is to help students discover the place where they create meaning. A place where all the pieces fit together and the world makes sense, if only for a moment. My mother finds it in her garden, among the plants and the seasons, my daughter in the kitchen, creating fantastic new recipes, my husband, in the middle of a renovation, and myself in my basement studio writing songs. I have observed students finding the meaning to life’s most difficult questions in sport, dance, mathematics, art, science and service and been witness to the sense of belonging that comes from that inner knowing.
To assume that this would be a place of comfort would be a mistake. A couple of weeks one of my mathematically inclined students explained it well as he was relating the journey he had taken on completing a project he’d been working on. He said something to the effect of: “I never knew when I started each day whether I was going to be making progress on my theory or just become incredibly frustrated.” Undaunted, he continued on in his pursuit of his question and as he shared his hopes for his work, I discovered a remarkable similarity in my own quest to answer the questions that I have, even in the absence of a strong mathematical background. I think it was the math coordinator in our district who said that a deep understanding of one’s own discipline gives us a strong insight into other disciplines.
As Alberta Learning builds its principles for High School Redesign on the importance of mastery learning, I can’t help reflecting on the complex journey it is to the place we make meaning and how mastery is a part of that journey. No matter whether we are designing something in the woodshop or crafting an argument in an essay, the better understanding we have of the tools at our disposal, the more creative we are able to be, especially when we are able to reach across disciplines to find connections. The daunting task of the teacher? Mastering the movement around Bloom’s taxonomy so students can see how knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis and evaluation will enhance their ability to be creative and optimally, make meaning.
And then, the really hard work begins. I think Mary Gauthier has an interesting perspective on the creative process in her letter to a young songwriter. Maybe you don’t think of yourself as an artist, but at the top (in some versions) of Bloom’s revised Taxonomy is “create” which on the road to mastery transforms us all into artists of one form or another. I’ve included part of Mary’s letter below. You can find the whole letter at CD Baby’s letter series blog.
You must learn how to reject acceptance and accept rejection. People’s opinions of you and your work are irrelevant. The search for love and applause has no place in the creative process. Here is what I know: thriving artists suffer from a feeling of inferiority, a feeling of reaching for something that keeps being just outside our grasp. We make contact with it, and then it turns to smoke. It cannot be held. So our work involves a constant striving. Those that don’t know this feeling are pretending to be close to art and live in secret fear of the aloneness of the deep creative process. Art requires audacity, and if you are not afraid, you are not taking risks. You will simply skim the surface and offer the world nothing new.
I remember telling students, “when we get through the basics we can get to the fun, creative stuff.” Doesn’t sound like much fun at all does it? For my gifted students for whom many things come easy, this struggle with failure, false starts and dead ends, can be a very difficult place to go. In this place the role of teacher and assessment changes dramatically, which can be just as scary for us.
In an act of audacity, I will include a link to my song Before the Apocalypse where I tried to capture the notion of mindfulness (a whole other blog post) using the tools shared with me in the Coursera Songwriting Course taught by Pat Pattison from the Berklee School of Music. It was an amazing journey of rethinking some of the tools I was using in my songwriting to create more meaning. It transformed my approach to writing songs after composing more than 200! If you’re interested in writing songs, a new course starts tomorrow. I would love to hear what you come up with!