Monday, October 19, 2009

Studio Time today, and why I'm not a Good Constructionist

It could be because I normally use Monday mornings to play with my daughter. It could be because I couldn't sleep well last night after viewing Jarhead and raging about the ludicrosity of war. It could be because I'm pretty sure I'm PMS'ing. But today, I found being crammed into a small room with other delightful members of class (I really don't mean this sarcastically, you all really are delightful), trying to learn about a new technology and its pedagogical potential, somewhat . . . how do I put this . . . frustrating. I, immediately, of course, attributed my frustration to my new media inadequacy (which is, quite naturally, the first place I usually go), but then I got thinking . . . does difference always infer hierarchy? I never would think this of my students. SO maybe I shouldn't do this to myself.

So here I attempt to critically reflect on why studio time wasn't doing it for me today.

1. I couldn't see the particular affordances working independently sitting beside my classmates gave me. (I realize the point was to work together, to share out ideas, and Steve and Jenna actually did this quite well, but at the early stage I was at at digital storytelling, I was just gathering initial articles and information. Once I get to the actual software, I will be ALL OVER getting help from folks, like David, who the good guy that he is, offered to help me out with Windows movie player.)

2. I felt distracted by the animated conversations going on around me, and found it nearly impossible to concentrate. (So, yeah, at 27 I'm one of those old folks that prefers to work in near complete silence.) Everyone had such interesting stuff to say about what they were doing, and Kylie offered such interesting responses, that I kept half-reading things, wondering if I should change my topic, second guessing my choice. It could be argued that this is a positive thing, but I think, for someone as perpetually indecisive as I am, it's helpful to have a goal and go for it. I felt somewhat paralyzed by the good stuff going on. Oh- and Mike's cool music kept taking me back to sixth grade band, when I was first learning simple melodies to play on my trumpet (good times, good times), which, though interesting, wasn't really where I wanted to spend studio time.

3. I felt pushed to create something, show something, contribute something tangible (although Kylie was quick to reassure me that I didn't need to!) I felt somehow vaguely guilty that I kept finding myself resorting to reading articles, looking at digital narrative examples, doing the typical research I always do when learning about something new. I felt like I was supposed to be a PRODUCER, not a CONSUMER. My work was, in some way, elementary and non-new-media-literacy-like.

So a lot could be said psychologically about me from this piece. And I should point out that I LOVED the share-outs other folks did at the end of the class; it's safe to say that Mike blew pretty much everyone's mind with the concept map craziness. I guess my main concern is for all of my middle school kids (who are FAR more A.D.D./distractible than me). How can we allow the collaborate tinkerers to talkatively tinker and the quiet, independent thinker/researchers to think ? And how can we keep everyone on their particular "task at hand"?

These are the universal question that will always plague/confound educators: How can I effectively teach a class (which is usually limited to one single classroom in a fairly traditional building) with so many different students? How can I both provide autonomy and push students to work at their highest potential? How can I maintain the focus of some without stifling the creativity of others? For those of you who have taught non-honors students at the middle school and high school level, I think you know these are very real questions.

So, any takers? How do we do these things?


  1. I don't think you were the only one who was distracted by the amount of sharing. It was the main reason why I pulled out my earphones because I needed to drown out the other voices so that I could concentrate. To be honest, I was interested in collaborating with you since we were both leaning towards digital storytelling, but you were across the room, and I was intent on exploring interactive fiction. Ironically, through my mini Phun presentation, I became interested in using Phun as a tool for digital storytelling. I'll try to post this on my blog so we can discuss this there/here if you're interested.

    As for questions regarding the classroom, there can be group moments for collaboration and sharing, but also breakout moments in which students have quiet time to reflect on what they have talked about. While I have had no experience with teaching students in the US, I used to teach normal academic track students (perceived as weaker in academics). I found that it was quite effective to let students self-select who they want to pair with, and then dispersing those self-select dyads into different groups for greater exposure. All in all, my method doesn't present anything new or different, but the framing of these activities is important. How the teacher chooses to frame activities and participation is vital in enlisting student interest/participation. Ultimately, I'm not sure if this really answers your queries.

  2. Thanks, Ant :) It makes me feel better that "I wasn't the only one," and, by the way, it would be fun to collaborate on this topic. I love how you emphasis the importance of reflection after group work, which is something that I've found is really emphasized in ALL of my courses this semester . . . the empowering role of learning how to be aware of how you learn, think, and process. . . this is critical literacy at its core!

  3. Oh man! I wish you would have said something in the moment - it would have been nice to reflect and to seek out places where conversations could have developed separately from the group. Let's revisit this as we pull ahead during studio time. I really like setting aside in class time for this work so that we have time to share but at the same time I'm committed to creating an environment that we can all develop our ways of working. In my mind, you were being a Constructionist as you were doing your research. Reading articles is certainly material in which you are constructing your notions of digital storytelling. I do hope that eventually you try to construct your own digital stories and explore various media but gathering information along the way is an important part of the process -- don't guilt yourself too much for being a good student! :)