By Sonia Maldonado, Assistant Professor
Approximately a year ago, I was asked to teach a Creative Arts Class (EDU 107) as part of my assignment for the fall semester. As soon as I accepted, I started reading about the topic and realized that this class could easily become one of my favorites but undoubtedly it also posed a great challenge. In order for the class to be most effective, theories of creativity needed to be combined with the application of effective teaching techniques, thereby merging theory with practice. My summer was a process of self-reflection during which I constantly asked myself the following:
- What can I personally bring to this course?
- What are the most important experiences I want my pre- service students to have and what do I want them to learn?
- How can I help my pre-service students develop their creative skills and then apply them in a classroom setting?
- What type of project could we develop during the semester without losing perspective that the process of creation is more important than the end product itself?
After having brainstormed, considered, and reconsidered my options, I came to the conclusion that the development of a bilingual children’s book written in English and Spanish was a good choice. Once I decided that a bilingual book was the project I wanted to do with my pre-service students, I contacted two publishing houses of children’s books. After explaining my idea of what the book should include, both expressed concerns about the amount of work that my project entailed, my lack of knowledge working with art software, and the considerable time constraints. Although we shared the same concerns, I understood the importance of collectively and collaboratively developing this book. I knew that this book could also be used by my students as a tangible way to show their work at any job interview since it would include theories of teaching and learning. Moreover, the book could be used to increase and improve the bilingual reading and writing skills of my students’ own children.
To carry out this project, I broke down the most important topics of the textbook to be taught in class. I also organized each lesson in advance, including the learning outcomes, despite knowing that improvisation needed to be present in each of the lessons. At the beginning of the semester, I identified students who could contribute to the development of the images through more sophisticated computer programs. I understood that, without a digital artist, this book would be a difficult and perhaps impossible task to complete.
Luckily, one of the students enrolled in the class, Ms. Angélica Rodríguez, had the digital skills we needed. With Ms. Rodríguez’s assistance, we improved the visual representations drawn by my students with respect to color and form. The images made by my students were transforming slowly with Ms. Rodríguez’s help (Figures 1A and 1B). What at first seemed to be a great challenge became an educational experience in which we all understood the importance of developing and applying our own creative skills in the teaching-learning process. And, although our slogan as a group was always “the process is more important than the product,” without a doubt, the final product was better than we had all anticipated. My students managed to capture in their illustrations educational concepts and theories such as inclusion and special needs (Figure 2), bilingualism (Figure 3), multiculturalism (Figure 4), music and movement (Figure 5), and so on.
As envisioned during the planning process of the project, the collaboration of many people within the college made its completion possible. For instance, the secretaries of my department, Ms. Marietta Mena and Ms. Rufina Amadiz, contributed to this project. Marietta edited some of the Spanish stories while Rufina scanned all images weekly to send them to Ms. Rodríguez. Also, without the help of some of my coworkers in other departments, this project would have never come to fruition. Prof. Lizette Colón, from the Counseling Department, Prof. Minerva Santos, a member of the Language and Cognition Department, and Prof. Rosa Velázquez, from the Modern Language Department, helped translating and editing all the stories in the book. Additionally, Ms. Ana Valdéz, Ms. Diane Beckett, and Mr. David Lloyd from the Office of Duplicating made this in-house publication a reality. In the end, our resources turned out to be so much more than I initially expected.
Lessons learned and recommendations for teachers:
- Organize your lessons a priori and develop your learning outcomes with the understanding that the process of teaching entails a certain level of improvisation or lateral thinking. Lateral thinking is a way of solving problems through an indirect and creative approach. When using lateral thinking, students use their imagination to try to think about a situation in a different or unusual way.
- Conceptualize the classroom and the college itself as a learning community:
- Work collectively: By fostering a culture in which students learn the importance of solving problems using each other’s knowledge and skills, students learn to work collaboratively. The intent is for students to come to respect and value differences within the community. Additionally, think about the expertise of other members of the college and invite them to be part of the students’ project.
- Be a facilitator: In a learning-community approach, the teacher is responsible for organizing and facilitating student-directed activities. The power shifts to students so that they become responsible for their own learning, the learning process of others, as well as the final outcome.
- Support the development of community identity and a sense of belonging: A learning-community approach also proposes the notion of developing a community identity, a sense of belonging, and an urgency for playing a central role in the entire learning process. By working toward common goals and developing a collective awareness of the expertise available among the members of the community, students develop a sense of who they are as well as a sentiment of respect about all the differences within the classroom. The degree to which people play a central role and are respected by other members of a community determines their sense of identity and their sense of belonging (Lave & Wenger, 1991).
- Include an informal evaluation when assessing students. One way of doing this is to integrate a project-based assessment like the development of a book. This type of assignment is usually quite extensive and allows students to demonstrate their accomplishments in a variety of ways. Project-based assignments and assessments are a good way to demonstrate an understanding of what the student has learned over time.
- Think of yourself as a creative being and enjoy the process!
Figure 1A: Image Before
Figure 1B: Image After
Figure 2: Inclusion and Special Needs
Figure 4: Multiculturalism
Figure 5: Music and Movement