Human freedom involves our capacity to pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight. — Rollo May
In this post I’m throwing my weight on the side of creative constraints. I know creative constraints sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s that tension between what you expect and what may be hidden just beneath the surface that often produces quite a bit of cranial energy.
I first started thinking about the relationship of creativity and constraints when I was introduced to the infamous (and rightly so) MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), DS106 (Digital Storytelling) in January, 2011. I learned that the whole idea of assignments was to present parameters that challenge the creator to come up with something new and different. No parameters — no creativity.
Since then, I’ve done a lot of thinking about creative constraints (and many “Daily Creates”) and collected some really compelling quotes from some of the most creative people the world has ever celebrated. btw these three I picked up in a Pilobus performance for kids.
My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit. –Igor Stravinsky
Art lives from constraints and dies from freedom. — Da Vinci.
In art, truth and reality begin when one no longer understands what one is doing or what one knows, and when there remains an energy that is all the stronger for being constrained, controlled and compressed. — Henri Matisse
So it’s with a lot of trepidation that I approach this challenge of writing the expectations for blogging in ECI 521: Teaching Literature for Young Adults. I’d like to hit that elusive target somewhere between “here’s a rubric” and “everything goes”.
I’ve done a lot of soul-searching about blogging before, “Hands Off My Blog: Affirming the Right to Blog.” And about creativity: ” . . . though I believe that constraints inspire creativity; I also know that all the joy of creativity can be sucked out if you don’t have some freedom and space to realize your vision” (from Creativity for Hire).
When I think back to my efforts to balance the creativity and constraints within assignments, I remember two graduate students who taught me a lot about creativity. First student was Michael who made the most of my challenge to be creative in the weekly minipodcasts on VoiceThread. Michael was religious about the constraints and he timed his pieces down to the second to meet the two-minute limit. But he was free as a bird when it came to his design for his minipodcasts, always pushing the limit to create tiny, witty, compelling, and, yes, deeply meaningful pieces. He even sang his response once when I pointed out that he may have done everything but sing. Here’s an example of Michael’s creative VoiceThreads. He’s first up.
These VoiceThread responses to our collaborative critical inquiries remind me that offering students a variety of ways to structure their responses is imperative if I would model differentiation and encouraging learners to explore different ways to express their learning. In my POTcert experience, I was so impressed by Nacho, one of my mentees (or was I the mentee?) who used Eyejot to perfection. I’m encouraging students this semester to follow their bliss or at least their communication preference and use audio as Michael did (SoundCloud is a great tool for this) or video as Nacho did (Nacho made the most of Eyejot) — or to mix it up as the assignment/topic moves them.
Michele did not stray far from the written word as she blogged in ECI 521 but every post was as imaginative as it was insightful. Again, she set a goal of blogging creatively, and she succeeded swimmingly. I’ll share her blog, Magistra et Lector, and her response to the topic of boys and nonfiction, “How to Get Boys to Read.”
Chapter 3: Make It Challenging in the “Right” Ways
How many times in the past few months have I heard about our Christian, moral founding fathers? My students have no idea what our founding fathers were like. I also look at their glazed expressions as I giggle over the fact that Petrarch (and a host of other Catholic dignitaries) had children despite his inability to marry. Yes, he was the namesake for the Italian sonnet my students now dread, but he was a complicated man. Ben Franklin was a complicated man. George Washington was a complicated man. I bet even Rosa Parks had her skeletons. Rather than allowing our students to experience the complexities inherent in real peoples’ lives, we gloss over the specifics and generalize…founding fathers=perfect government collaborators, Petrarch=ideal humanist…Rosa Parks=civil rights savior. We think that if we stop sharing cute anecdotes about wooden teeth and instead focus on the realities of these figures’ lives, we will somehow lose our audience or overwhelm them with too much information. Maybe if we added some of the shades of gray, we might actually teach them something that will help them avoid becoming the punch line of a bad Jay Leno skit
Finally, let me share Ashley’s soul-searching post about how difficult it is for her as a teacher to resist responding to every item/question in the blog assignment because that is good academic writing.
Once I realized my block, though, I actively worked to adapt. I always teach my students that they need to mold their writing to the expectations of the discipline or genre. That is a part of writing. So I took my own advice and tried. Turns out, I love it! This is a good example of how far I’ve come.
So Ashley reminds us that writers we must “mold their writing to the expectations of the discipline or genre. That is a part of writing.” What are the expectations for blogging in ECI 521? That you compose (in text, audio, video, graphics, or a mashup) in a creative way that engages your audience and compels them to think deeply about your response to the reading and sharing of resources that you’ve experienced on a topic. And remember that other classmates can be part of that mix as we weave their creative contributions into our comments and possibly our posts.
The constraints? Keep on message, stay focused, and make the composition tight. Edit judiciously to be sure your points are clear and compelling. Use Pink’s creative elements and more to engage and hold your readers’ interest. Above all, say something. Throw your weight.