“too much choice?” or “my workshop of filthy creation”

Hmmm. Fourth period has just ended and I feel violated and unprotected. But it’s a good thing. Right?

Let me explain. Minutes ago, my resident fourteen-year-old techno- expert approached and asked, “Did you get my email requesting to be made an organizer of the class wiki?” I quickly read his request as he stood by, then proceeded to make him an organizer, wondering inwardly whether this would grant him access to any of the wiki content I had worked so hard to create this summer. (Turned out, it didn’t) But it would give him shared authority with me to alter any of the pages he had created, and to help manage the rest of the student input, which I have to admit is becoming unweildy.

My experiment with using a class-created wiki is finally paying off, or taking wing, metaphorically less blundering along and more floating into the water like Rilke’s “swan” after its hobbling toward water is over.

Today students are gathered in two small groups of four each around the class projector cart, editing the wiki by adding content they have generated moments ago. I vacate my seat at my own terminal and allow another cell group to edit further from that station. Classroom content editors for the quarter will groom new entries for correctness as needed; the ideas students are posting have not been “vetted” by me at all, except that they are the responses to a topic of mine: to design a unit for an English class. My sense of helplessness is part of a complex reaction to all this activity; another part is gratitude to God for answered prayers – that students assume ownership for their learning, and especially over the wiki; then there is my admiration for seeing the learning process in action: their collaboration on a task that is meaningful to them and to me, their freedom to construct an original plan based on their individual interests, and their engagement with each other over this task. Added to these strands of barely conscious awareness tomorrow will be my comprehension of how the students are carrying over skills from last year as they imagine what learning can look like, sound like, and feel like.

I suppose I am wondering, then, if I am useless, and if I have created a monster, as Victor Frankenstein did, when in his workshop he stitched together a new person who would learn by discovery how to think, speak, and act. Better to use the term daemon, as Mary Shelley herself frequently does, for the product of his experiment. If I am truly offering my daemon life, I must allow it freedom to think, write, and act. In Victor’s terror he abandons his protege at the stage of its infancy, a betrayal of his obligation to the creature; I must patiently wait out my creature’s nativity, inquisitiveness, and development if I am to caringly see it through to maturity. In education-ese this final stage in a process may be termed “mastery”. But what do I want them to become masters of?

In this case, I expect proficiency at wiki skills as sophomores to lead to personalized blogs as juniors and seniors. That is, a 10th grader will be able to say “I can contribute to a class wiki”, but a 12th grader will “post regularly to a blog”. Independence at such a skill could be demonstrated by either an independent personal blog such “pradlfan”, or a collective blog such as “Good Letters“.

When the gigantic daemon turns its yellow eye to me and hold out its arms, I will not run away. It is a good thing. Right.


2 Responses to ““too much choice?” or “my workshop of filthy creation””

  1. October 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Haha! The same problem an author has: how much freewill to give our characters? Be a loving but distant creator? Or are “distant” and “loving” contradictions? Oh, but you are dealing in real people…

    • October 8, 2011 at 1:12 pm

      And I wonder daily how much to “script” the dialogue I supposedly expect; ideally I will set up the conditions which allow the characters to flourish, without imposing my viewpoint, and thus limiting their capacity to freely arrive at original thoughts and discoveries.

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