Dispatch from My Stepmonster’s Kitchen: 3 Things I’ve Learned About Working With A Teenage Collaborator

So, it’s been awhile since Rosa and I first launched our blog. I have considered writing about what’s it’s been like, from my perspective, a few times but didn’t make the time. Somehow writing about the cute things Cora is doing developmentally always seems to take precedence. And in part, I’m ashamed that Rosa and I haven’t posted more. Maybe ashamed isn’t the right word. Perhaps disappointed tells it better.

I’m disappointed that the blog seems to mean more to me than it does to her. And I’m disappointed that I haven’t been able to motivate her better. I’m always the one who recommends we work on it. Since I was hoping this project would not only help me explore using social media with students but bring Rosa and I together in a motherly-daughterly way I’m taking this all a bit personally. But in the end, these are issues all teachers struggle with. We want our students to care as much about the content of our classes as we do. We want them to bring ideas and information to us, as well as vice versa. And all this had me thinking about the challenges of creating teaching moments with our students.

Part of my philosophy of teaching has always been collaborative. While I didn’t talk about it in such terms, early on I viewed teaching and learning as an improvisational performance – teacher gives instructions, students receive, interpret, and respond to instructions based on their personal perspective, teacher responds to student’s response, and so on, back and forth. I used to liken it to painting with watercolors. You can control the medium but also need to embrace the ways it is in control, since water tends to have a mind of its own. In retrospect this was probably due on some subconscious to the article “The Art and Craft of Teaching” by Elliot Eisner (1983) which Amy Brook Snider assigned early in my studies with her at Pratt. In that article Eisner wrote about conducting an orchestra as a metaphor for good teaching:

“What we do as teachers is orchestrate the dialogue moving from one side of the room to the other. We need to give the piccolos a chance-indeed to encourage them to sing more confidently-but we also need to provide space for the brass. And as for the violins, they always seem to have a major part to play. How is it going? What does the melody sound like? Is the music full enough? Do we need to stretch the orchestra further? When shall we pause and recapitulate the introductory theme? The clock is reaching ten and we have not yet crescendoed? How can we bring it to closure when when we can’t predict when a stunning question or an astute observation will bring forth a new melodic line and off we go again? Such are the pleasures and trials of teaching and when it goes well, there is nothing more that we would rather do.” (p. 11)

I included this long quotation because I think you need to read it at length in order to grasp Eisner’s philosophy. While his examples speak specifically to the practice of teaching, the concept of paying attention to the ways a project is unfolding and adjusting one’s work accordingly could apply to any (creative) endeavor. In other places Eisner wrote about this as “purposive flexibility” and I can think of few places such practice is more necessary than in parenting or making art.

Even now, I’m not really sure where I want or need to go in writing this post. I guess I’ll end with three lessons I’ve learning so far about working with young people as creative collaborators. I’m hoping they can bolster my work. Let me know if they resonate with your experiences embarking on long-term (social media) projects with teenagers.

Teenagers are goal-oriented.
I’ve often argued that parameters breed creativity. A blog is an amorphous and never-ending project. Knowing my collaborator needs structure, I need to provide benchmarks and boundaries. To start, I want to post once a week and I want to take turns selecting what we make and write about. I need to ask Rosa what she wants.

Some teenagers love to talk, but don’t like to write.
I realize others are quiet, but love to write. In my case, however, I am working with a talker, not a writer. So, I am experimenting with ways of helping her express herself – email me her thoughts from the privacy of her own room, talk to me about her thoughts while I type them out – but I don’t want to let her off the hook. I want her to write even if it’s not easy for her. Maybe some writing prompts would help. Like these, but specific to our blog.

Teenagers may be digital natives, but they are still digitally naive.
While more and more teenagers are wired 24/7, I’m not convinced many grasp the power of the Internet to connect people and ideas. If they do, they don’t imagine themselves as active participants in that exchange. Like most folks, they are media consumers, not media creators, and that’s where we come in. Without getting caught up in specific websites or apps, we need to teach teens how to leverage the power of the Internet to make their voices heard and their visions seen.

Hopefully you’ll be hearing more from us soon at mystepmonsterskitchen.wordpress.com.

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One thought on “Dispatch from My Stepmonster’s Kitchen: 3 Things I’ve Learned About Working With A Teenage Collaborator

  1. Pingback: He Crossed the Line: RIP Elliot Eiser | Outside The lines

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