Monday, April 30, 2012

What We Are Talking About When We Talk About Rubrics

School on Bergstrasse, Berlin by Raymond Leggott

Last night I was involved in a twitter discussion about learning, even though the topic was about rubrics. Here's a link to parts of the exchange. Have a look.

Cartesian Ways of Knowing

When we talk about rubrics I wondered what the term is place holding? What's beneath the term? What are we really talking about when we take/make sides about rubrics?

Beneath the talk about rubrics is a larger discussion about what it means to learn.  Rubrics are inherently Cartesian in that they qualify and at times even quantify what is meant to be learned, who the learner is and is not, and how the thing to be learned is defined. David Kettel in Cartesian Habits and the 'Radical Line' of Inquiry defines Cartesian thinking as :
a particular spatial image rules our imagination. This is the image of ourselves as looking on at the knowing subject as in every instance a determinate reality set among the realities of the world. This image offers a picture of the act of knowing, of the knowing subject, and of what is known, as such. Our habitual reliance on this image lies at the heart of Cartesian thinking.
When this image rules our imagination we habitually conceive the act of knowing in a particular way. We picture an individual knowing subject before us on the one hand, and something (or someone) real known on the other hand, and the act of knowing as putting the former in touch with the latter.
Alongside any rubric is a determinate reality where the intention of outcomes has been predetermined.  Rubrics serve to connect the knowing subject with the intended learning. Every state assessment for children and teens that I have seen comes with a set of rubrics in which an authority has predetermined learner outcome.  By providing schools and learners with these rubrics it is the intention to put the former in touch with what is to be known. When I was a professor I was required to create a set of rubrics for a capstone course I taught as part of NCATE accreditation.  I could not do it and others in the department codified my work in order to complete the NCATE process.  I could not create rubrics as I occasion learning, I do not cause it.  This is a fundamental truth and one that  allows me to understand rubrics as that which obfuscates deep learning, regardless of the ascribed quality. Once the rubric existed it served to codify what the subject was to know.  My goal was to create with the learners experiences they might dwell in and out of that (and other things I simply could not account) meaning would be made. In this manner, learning was far more nomadic.

Knowmadic Learner
Knowmadic Learner (M.A. Reilly, 1/2012)

So what does it mean to occasion as opposed to cause?  Occasioning is about creating space for experiences in which learners exercise their will, desire, interest, passion, ambivalence and begin to name/codify what they are composing. Within such play-work, tacit ways of knowing are embodied. Thomas and Brown (2011) contrast explicit and tacit dimensions of knowing:
Explicit knowledge, as we have seen, lends itself well to the process of teaching—that is, transferring knowledge from one person to another. You teach and I learn. But tacit knowledge, which grows through personal experience and experimentation, is not transferrable—you can’t teach it to me, though I can still learn it. The reason for the difference is that learning tacit knowledge happens not only in the brain, but also in the body, through all our senses (Kindle Locations 1012-1015).
Rubrics codify explicit knowledge even when the authors attempt to represent tacit dimensions--for once codification occurs, the tacit is removed and what is left is another's explicit knowledge. To develop tacit knowledge, indwelling is required.  Thomas and Brown (2011) explain that indwelling becomes
an embodied set of practices that are both constantly changing and evolving yet also central to the definition of inquiry. The more we engage with the process of asking questions, the more we tend to engage with the tacit dimension of knowledge. Indwelling is the set of practices we use and develop to find and make connections among the tacit dimensions of things. It is the set of experiences from which we are able to develop our hunches and sense of intuition (Kindle Locations 1145-1149).
Rubrics limit hunches, intuition as they situate the learner as one who looks from outside, not from within.   Kettel nicely summarizes indwelling by explaining how Polanyi's account of tacit dimension of knowledge counters Cartesian definition of knowledge in the following three ways:
  1. We can no longer view ourselves as knowing subjects. Our awareness of ourselves as subjects cannot be focal, but rather remains always subsidiary; we know ourselves in our indwelling.
  2. We cannot view that which is known apart from the act in which it is known personally, for it is hidden apart from this act. It emerges from hiddenness precisely within personal knowledge, in the hints and clues which spur personal inquiry towards such knowledge and which find unexpected confirmations.
  3. We cannot step back from the knowing subject and that which is known into a wider space from which to view them. Rather our self-placement is one of immersion in experience through which hidden meaning invites us in ‘exciting intimations’, engrossing and beguiling us, and evincing from us a passionate effort responsibly to understand. Within this experience-filled ‘space’ and through responsiveness, we come to knowledge through indwelling. Such knowledge cannot be viewed from a wider space; rather such knowledge itself represents the space which we indwell and fill. Indeed, Polanyi suggests that our personal being itself may be thought in such terms: our knowing and being, he says, are co-extensive.
Knowing from within requires indwelling and offers distinctly unique vantage points as these are determined by the viewer.  No matter how I try as  a teacher or parent, I simply cannot create another person's indwelling.  At best, I can co-create conditions (through play, experimentation, embodiment, choice, equality) with a learner in which s/he might dwell and through discussion, space and time come to codify some of those experiences.  I can also observe the indwellings that learners create without my permission (all the better) and begin to record what they codify. 

The type of learning I am describing is never neat, or ordered to external specifications. It does not fit inside a rubric as the patterns that emerge are ones that can only be named from within the dwelling space.  In thinking about knowing and problems, Polanyi (1969) writes:
the efforts of perception are evoked by scattered features of raw experience suggesting the presence of a hidden pattern which will make sense of the experience. Such a suggestion, if it is true, is itself knowledge, the kind of foreknowledge we call a good problem. Problems are the goad and guide of all intellectual effort, which harass and beguile us into the search for an ever deeper understanding of things. The knowledge of a true problem is indeed a paradigm of all knowing. For all knowing is always a tension alerted by largely unspecifiable clues and directed by them towards a focus at which we sense the presence of a thing - a thing that, like a problem, embodies the clues on which we rely for attending to it (p. 117).

Rubrics oddly obscure patterns, as they substitute codified knowledge for experience. There are no unspecifiable clues that a learner comes to find as the thinking and the box in which the learner must play have been predetermined. 

Works Cited

Kettel, David. Cartesian Habits and the 'Radical Line' of Inquiry.

Polanyi, Michael. (1969). ‘Knowing and Being’, in Polanyi, Knowing and Being: Essays by Michael Polanyi, ed. Marjorie Green. Routledge.
Thomas, Douglas; Seely Brown, John (2011-03-12). A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. CreateSpace. Kindle Edition.

Imagining A yo Z: Z is for Zooming Past the End

Keeping Watch (M.A. Reilly, April, 2012, Plymouth, England)

Z is for Zooming Past the End

I like to experiment and did so with this A to Z blogging challenge.  I wanted to write about imagination and thought the constraint of the alphabet and the use of verbs would help me to think.Out of that work, the idea of being a verb emerged and I think it is a big idea and I'm glad I had time to explore it.

In other ways though, the constraint of writing about a single topic for a month, has been a drag.  It has kept me from writing frequently about topics closer to my heart, and ones that emerge alongside living.  So with this lesson in mind, I bid farewell to A to Z blogging and return to my regular blog.

Thanks for taking time to stop in and view and now it's back to living and writing and making art. To get myself started below is a slideshow of images I made,mostly with my iPhone while in England last week.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Imagining A to Z: Y is for Yell and Be Silly

Y is for Yell and Be Silly

 At the center of this post is one word: verb.

I. Be a verb.
Be silly.

Out of that, imagination rises.

Buckminster Fuller:
I live on Earth at present,
and I don't know what I am.
I know that I am not a category.
I am not a thing -- a noun.
I seem to be a verb,
an evolutionary process --
an integral function of the universe.

II. Find a new way to walk.

When my son was a toddler, I can remember we would play and replay this video any number of times and dance crazy around the house and often out the door.  As we lived at that time on a main road I suspect we were quite the spectacle. It was liberating: the silliness, the dancing, the joy, the being verbs, not nouns.

III. Find another way.

IV. Make your walk into a poem.

V. Take a stroll.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Making Meaning Is Complex: Text Dependency and Feeling

The Reader (M.A. Reilly, 2011)
In the recent issue of Education Week, Catherine Gewertz authors Teachers Embedding Standards in Basal-Reader Questions which chronicles the work of 70 educators who "came together in response to the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts, which demand that students hone their skills at understanding and analyzing a variety of texts." The idea was for educators to rewrite aspects of their basal series which Student Achievement Partners (SAP) and Council for Great City Schools (who sponsored the workshop) say are lacking.  I am not surprised that the basals are less than what is expected via the Common Core or frankly just common sense and think it is important that educators do take a critical look at the materials they are using with children.  The goal of the workshop was for educators to write new questions for their current text series emphasizing queries which would require readers to directly attend to the text. I support that goal as I imagine you do as well.

David Liben, a former principal and a 'senior literacy specialist' with SAP appears to have been a key presenter at this workshop and says that students' experiences 'can play a valuable role in understanding text'.  I was pleased to read that as so much of the rhetoric I have heard  naively dismisses feeling.  Unfortunately Liben is also quoted saying the following:
He (Liben) reminded the participants that the common standards “virtually eliminate text-to-self connections,” meaning they aim to focus students on figuring out what the text means, rather than how they feel about it. This, he said, is a more solid preparation for college and jobs.
“In college and careers, no one cares how you feel,” Mr. Liben said. “Imagine being asked to write a memo on why your company’s stock price has plummeted: ‘Analyze why and tell me how you feel about it,’ ” he said, to the chuckles of workshop participants.
So hold those thoughts and contrast them with what Wendell Berry said last week when he delivered the Jefferson Lecture ( 'It All Turns on Affection'). Berry opens and closes his speech referencing Howards End.  He says:
The argument of Howards End has its beginning in a manifesto against materialism:
It is the vice of a vulgar mind to be thrilled by bigness, to think that a thousand square miles are a thousand times more wonderful than one square mile . . . That is not imagination. No, it kills it. . . . Your universities? Oh, yes, you have learned men who collect . . . facts, and facts, and empires of facts. But which of them will rekindle the light within?14
“The light within,” I think, means affection, affection as motive and guide. Knowledge without affection leads us astray every time. Affection leads, by way of good work, to authentic hope. The factual knowledge, in which we seem more and more to be placing our trust, leads only to hope of the discovery, endlessly deferrable, of an ultimate fact or smallest particle that at last will explain everything.
For a reader, recognizing the light within is what 'gets made' in transaction with texts. These transactions are often (in)formed by how we feel and think about what we are reading.  What is unfortunate with the some of the rhetoric from Liben and others is that in an attempt to situate the importance of attending directly to the text, they find it necessary to debase readers' feelings that arise when they interact with text. I get the interest in ensuring children actually read the text and do so with integrity.  However, it is shortsighted and misinformed to dismiss feeling.  To a large extent it is why we read. Our children need both types of experiences.

I love the idea of text-based inquiry.  As a former English teacher and professor--such methodology is akin to breathing. For example, I still think that meaning rests on Frost's use of the word 'just' in the closing line of 'After Apple-picking' and if asked to support such an assertion could do so with text in hand.  I recall this not only because of the meaning I have made within the text, but also because the text resonates with me as I age.  The meaning does not hold still, but rather re/emerges alongside occasion.  Reading is complex work. A truth is that making meaning of a text doesn't rest in one approach or the other, but rather both aspects can be found, even when naming them may be difficult. They are rather entwined.

Text dependency is of course critical and it does not represent the totality of reading.  Our expectations need to be a bit bigger so that feeling, attention to textual language and detail,  as well as inquiry are represented in our pedagogical approaches to text and in children's engagements and response to text.  I hope educators gently challenge assertions like Liben makes so that our work can be enriched, not narrowed.

Berry would tell us that affection is essential in human activity, --that '[k]nowledge without affection leads us astray every time.'

Wise words from a wise man that we ought to mind.

Imagining A to Z: X is for X-ray Intentions

X is for X-Ray Intentions

Reproduction (M.A. Reilly, 2011)

  “Never believe that smooth space will suffer to save us." D & G ATP.

Well this has been a week for interrogating intentions--getting beneath the surface so to speak and seeing what lurks there.  At PELeCON 12, Simon Finch (@sinfin) presented a keynote and used the film below.  Take a look.

So it has me wondering about how much I am willing to sell out myself--sell out what I deeply believe, sell out you and your children, or my own child--in order to secure or keep a job, or to be promoted? What's the price for economic security? 

The world depicted in the video is one that maintains its power by ensuring that it has no free thinkers, just followers.  It's a world I think we are coming to know--at least those of us who can still think, can still recall.

There can be no imagination inside a machine, be it a war machine or a school machine. The machine requires reproduction of an already established norm.  It's at best, a track one follows--a track one must follow. To release the imagination requires agency, self will, desire.  Allow yourself to be placed inside a box by being untrue to what you believe, and what you create will only be a simulacrum: a copy for which there is no original.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Imagining A to Z: W is For Walk About

W is for Walk About

Day after Day (M.A. Reilly, 2010)

I. Walk

Kind of simple, really.
Get yourself out the door.

And walk.

Poem by Monika Hardy, Image by M.A. Reilly, 2012.

II. A Walk

Translated by Robert Bly

Rainer Maria Rilke
My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave...
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

III. Capturing the Everyday

 While out walking, I make images of the people I see, meet.  Ansel Adams writes:

These people live again in print as intensely as when their images were captured on old dry plates of sixty years ago... I am walking in their alleys, standing in their rooms and sheds and workshops, looking in and out of their windows. Any they in turn seem to be aware of me. 

Here are a few images of people I have met along the way, almost all while out walking.

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Imagining A to Z: V is For View (and Voyeur)

V is for View (and Voyeur)

Imagination can be (in)formed by viewing.  In this manner we act a bit like voyeurs, peering into place; eavesdropping on other. So much to be learned, inspired by.

So what does it take to view?

A rear window?

A camera?

Voyeur (M.A. Reilly, 2009)

Hope you'll post what you view. 

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Imagining A to Z: U is for Unlearn Master Myths

The Hob, Plymouth England (iPhone)

U is for Unlearn Master Myths

Keri Facer (2011) defines myth as that which
"comes to act as an unquestioned cultural resource, to function as a dominating narrative that allows educators, policy-makers, parents and designers, without too much reflection, to make decisions and take action in the present" (Kindle Locations 240-242).
Roland Barthes (1957) tells us that myth is
"a type of speech...a system of communication...Myth is not defined by the object of its message, but by the way it utters this message" (p. 107).
James Gee (1996) describes master myths as prevalent stories we have internalized as truths, as the way it is, as what is normal.

Such mythologies are influential in our lives. They shape what we think is possible and not; truthful or false, and normal and abnormal. 

The imagination, oddly enough, may be limited by these mythologies that tells  us how to behave, how to be.  Last week I was in England and one of the things I wanted to do was to make images of people playing 'on the street'.  I did not want to capture images of organized play (football, etc.).  I spent a good portion of two days roaming about looking and I found just three accounts of public play:
  • three boys on skateboards
  • an elderly couple and their dog and a ball
  • a mom and two small children each with a scooter
One of the master myths we live with is that as we age and mature we become more respectable, less likely to be silly, playful or messy--especially in public.  This myth makes me wonder how such a truth limits our imagination. For example, a friend tells me that she grew up in a home where making visual art was not done because it caused too much of  a mess.

"I couldn't leave anything out. Everything had to be put away right after playing. Our house had to be presentable at all times in case someone dropped in."

Not only did the house have to be presentable, but I imagine the inhabitants, especially girls and women needed to be presentable, neat, pretty at all times.

Take a look at the mythologies in this older advertisement aimed at girls. What is suggested as 'normal'? How is cleanliness and beauty aligned?

Or take a look at this more recent commercial:

Why is being clean situated as critical, essential?

So today I am wondering about what myths I need to unlearn?  I'm wondering which ones get in the way of creating? Imagining? Being?

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Imagining A to Z: T is For Talking When You've Nothing to Say

T is for Talking When You've Nothing to Say

Talking About Malcolm X, II (M.A. Reilly, 2008)

John Cage  (1967) wrote:
                                                                              For something                         to

be             a                 masterpiece                    you             have             to             have    enough time       to     talk            when    you     have          nothing      to       say.

Talking About Malcolm X, I (M.A. Reilly, 2008)

I think about Cage's words as I think about the two men who are featured in these images. Both men were kind enough to allow me to photograph them while they talked. Originally from Brooklyn both were at that time living in Florida. They each lived in Crown Heights, but neither knew the other while there.  They met each morning at the ocean to talk, often about politics and the old neighborhood. One of those mornings I photographed them while they talked. On that day the topic was Malcolm X, Barack Obama, and how America might come to better understand itself by studying both men.  At the time Obama had not yet secured the Democratic nomination for president.  

Cage is right. Sometimes you just need enough time to talk, to see what surfaces, to come to say what you did not know you could produce. There are all kinds of ways to talk, yes?

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

No Naked Bodies in PA

A friend sent me a link to a blog post by the Rogue Librarian, WTF is Wrong with these People? The post chronicles and responds to an 8-0 decision by the Annville-Cleona School Board in PA to ban the picture book, The Dirty Cowboy. The book is a humorous story about a very dirty cowboy who takes his yearly bath, his faithful dog who guards his clothes, and the funny mishaps that happen when the cowboy emerges from his bath.

A parent asked for the book to be removed from the school library. A committee was convened to review the matter and then the school board voted 8-0 to silence everyone's right to read this book at the two elementary schools. 

Not all agreed however. The school's librarian objected. A math teacher from Annville-Cleona High School read the book aloud at a day of reading celebration.

So why, you might ask, would a school system condone the banning of a picture book about a cowboy who takes a bath after a year?  The Rogue Librarian quoting the local paper explains:
According to Annville-Cleona Schools Superintendent Steven Houser, as reported in the Lebanon Daily News: “They [the parents] were asked what do you feel might be the result of viewing or reading this material, and their answer was, ‘Children may come to the conclusion that looking at nudity is OK, and therefore pornography is OK."
Say what?

Do the parents from Annville-Cleona make their children take baths with their clothes on? Do they shield their eyes when walking through museums? Are there no studies of antiquities for these young ones? Are there no bath time books for the children?
  1. There is something unseemly with adults who equate the human body with pornography and then transfer that belief to children. 
  2. There's always a problem when a few with power decide to limit the free expression of everyone else.

I hope the parents and community in Annville-Cleona stand up to this and demand that the book be returned and that the right to read a bath time story not be removed from their hands.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Imagining A to Z: S is for See/Sea, Again

The Constancy of Waves (M.A. Reilly, 2010)

S if for See/Sea, Again

In James Joyce's Dubliners, there's that lovely line in "Eveline" when the narrator speaking of Eveline tells us: "All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart."  For me the sea has a powerful allure. I cannot recall a time when I have not wanted to visit the sea, to linger there, to dwell.  It draws me to it.  A few years ago I visited where I was born, having no memory of the place, the land. Stamullen, about 40 kilometers north of Dublin is a stone's throw from the Irish Sea.

What is it about the sea that calls us? Maxine Greene in "Imagination, Oppression and Culture/Creating Authentic Openings" writes:
At the very beginning of Moby Dick Melville describes people who all year are trapped in
their desks, who can’t move in their desk, and how on Sundays they run to see the water,
they run to see the ocean. It’s a way of breaking free. And a way, again, of somehow
being liberated by a loop of the imagination, but by realizing there is another way of
being. There is another way of being in the world.
Here's Melville, at the opening of Moby Dick. Best to have someone read this to you and to listen, let your mind wander, much like rivers do to the sea:
Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?- Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster- tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?
But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling And there they stand- miles of them- leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets avenues- north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither?
Once more. Say you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries- stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.
But here is an artist. He desires to paint you the dreamiest, shadiest, quietest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape in all the valley of the Saco. What is the chief element he employs? There stand his trees, each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a crucifix were within; and here sleeps his meadow, and there sleep his cattle; and up from yonder cottage goes a sleepy smoke. Deep into distant woodlands winds a mazy way, reaching to overlapping spurs of mountains bathed in their hill-side blue. But though the picture lies thus tranced, and though this pine-tree shakes down its sighs like leaves upon this shepherd's head, yet all were vain, unless the shepherd's eye were fixed upon the magic stream before him. Go visit the Prairies in June, when for scores on scores of miles you wade knee-deep among Tiger-lilies- what is the one charm wanting?- Water- there is not a drop of water there! Were Niagara but a cataract of sand, would you travel your thousand miles to see it? Why did the poor poet of Tennessee, upon suddenly receiving two handfuls of silver, deliberate whether to buy him a coat, which he sadly needed, or invest his money in a pedestrian trip to Rockaway Beach? Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.
 And here is how Melville closes the same text:
Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.
Seeing the sea allows me to feel the ungraspable, and understand it as ancient.

Literature offers lines of flight.
We need only grasp and ride.

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Imagining A to Z: R is for Read

  Composite of images I have made.  Top Row (L to R): Virginia Woolf, Henry David Thoreau, William Carlos Williams.             Middle Row (L to R): Seamus Heaney, Osiop Mandelstam, Charlotte Perkins Gilman.     Bottom Row (L to R): Edgar Allan Poe, Zora Neale Hurston, Emily Dickinson.    

R is for Read

Read voraciously.
Be hungry for literature and essays.
Such texts fuel the mind, fire the imagination.

Perhaps you might leave below a few titles of works that inspire you to see what is not present.

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Imagining A to Z: Q is for Question

Q is for Question

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Imagining A to Z: P Is For Play for Change: World Peace

P is for Play for Change: World Peace

Three at the Beach (M.A. Reilly, 2010)
Yesterday on my way to Plymouth, I was in London at a bus station and met two women who were on their way to a Shaman's collective.  You should know they were joining others from around the world to pray for peace--world peace. I felt better for it.

Play. It is always more fun when you do it with others.
Listen to how people come together across the world to blend their voices. To play for change.
Perhaps you will want to join in.

Imagine and Dream.

Care and Connect.

Be the Change You Want To See in the World.

Look at all we can accomplish by being together, playing together.

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Imagining A to Z: O Is For Observe

O is for Observe


Even when I don't want to, I am always noticing: people, light, movement, scents, geometry, space, emotion, trees, territories, sound, shadows, surfaces, moonlight, architecture, umbrellas, breath, and more. Years of practice as an artist has made it difficult to turn this off.  I distracted by what is around me until that pull, that exchange of energy happens and I fall out of time and focus intensely on the exchange.

One of the pleasures, and perhaps a responsibilities, of being a photographer and an artist is observing others, locations, settings.  It is inherently being in the middle of things, most often without any destination. 

This is a brief slideshow I made inspired by Nick Drake's, From the Morning. I made the images (photograph, collage, painting, remix) during the last few years.  Hope you'll take a look and afterwards, do some observing as well.

Observing leads to imagining.

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Imagining A to Z: N is for Notice Deeply

N is for Notice Deeply

I've Been to Sea Before (M.A. Reilly, from The Linen Series, 2011)
Authors understand this--this need, compelling really to notice deeply. Later I will be traveling across the sea and so I guess the sea is on my mind.  Here are a few examples of authors noticing the details of the edges of sea deeply and a few images I've made of the sea.  I hope to make more images of the sea while in England.

Nothing fuels the imagination like noticing.

HESTER bade little Pearl run down to the margin of the water, and play with the shells and tangled sea-weed, until she should have talked awhile with yonder gatherer of herbs. So the child flew away like a bird, and, making bare her small white feet, went pattering along the moist margin of the sea. Here and there, she came to a full stop, and peeped curiously into a pool, left by the retiring tide as a mirror for Pearl to see her face in. Forth peeped at her, out of the pool, with dark, glistening curls around her head, and an elf-smile in her eyes, the image of a little maid, whom Pearl, having no other playmate, invited to take her hand and run a race with her. But the visionary little maid, on her part, beckoned likewise, as if to say,—“This is a better place! Come thou into the pool!” And Pearl, stepping in, mid-leg deep, beheld her own white feet at the bottom; while, out of a still lower depth, came the gleam of a kind of fragmentary smile, floating to and fro in the agitated water.  - Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, Chapter XIV
Sea Impression, I (M.A. Reilly. from The Linen Series, 2011)

The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, with gleams of varnished sprits. A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth.  - Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, p. 1.
Sea Impression, IV (M.A. Reilly. from The Linen Series, 2011)
When gliding by the Bashee isles we emerged at last upon the great South Sea; were it not for other things I could have greeted my dear Pacific with uncounted thanks, for now the long supplication of my youth was answered; that serene ocean rolled eastwards from me a thousand leagues of blue.

There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seems to speak of some hidden soul beneath; like those fabled undulations of the Ephesian sod over the buried Evangelist St. John. And meet it is, that over these sea-pastures, wide-rolling watery prairies and Potters' Fields of all four continents, the waves should rise and fall, and ebb and flow unceasingly; for here, millions of mixed shades and shadows, drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries; all that we call lives and souls, lie dreaming, dreaming, still; tossing like slumberers in their beds; the ever-rolling waves but made so by their restlessness. - Herman Melville, Chapter 111, Moby Dick

Storm and Sea (M.A. Reilly, 2010)

His throat ached with a desire to cry aloud, the cry of a hawk or eagle on high, to cry piercingly of his deliverance to the winds. This was the call of life to his soul not the dull gross voice of the world of duties and despair, not the inhuman voice that had called him to the pale service of the altar. An instant of wild flight had delivered him and the cry of triumph which his lips withheld cleft his brain.

– Stephaneforos!

What were they now but cerements shaken from the body of death – the fear he had walked in night and day, the incertitude that had ringed him round, the shame that had abased him within and without – cerements, the linens of the grave?

His soul had arisen from the grave of boyhood, spurning her grave-clothes. Yes! Yes! Yes! He would create proudly out of the freedom and power of his soul, as the great artificer whose name he bore, a living thing, new and soaring and beautiful, impalpable, imperishable.

He started up nervously from the stone-block for he could no longer quench the flame in his blood. He felt his cheeks aflame and his throat throbbing with song. There was a lust of wandering in his feet that burned to set out for the ends of the earth. On! On! his heart seemed to cry. Evening would deepen above the sea, night fall upon the plains, dawn glimmer before the wanderer and show him strange fields and hills and faces. Where?

He looked northward towards Howth. The sea had fallen below the line0of seawrack on the shallow side of the breakwater and already the tide was running out fast along the foreshore. Already one long oval bank of sand lay warm and dry amid the wavelets. Here and there warm isles of sand gleamed above the shallow tide and about the isles and around the long bank and amid the shallow currents of the beach were lightclad figures, wading and delving.

Inca few moments he was barefoot, his stockings folded in his pockets and his canvas shoes dangling by their knotted laces over his shoulders and, picking a pointed salt-eaten stick out of the jetsam among the rocks, he clambered down the slope of the breakwater.

There was a long rivulet in the strand and, as he waded slowly up its course, he wondered at the endless drift of seaweed. Emerald and black and russet and olive, it moved beneath the current, swaying and turning. The water of the rivulet was dark with endless drift and mirrored the high-drifting clouds. The clouds were drifting above him silently and silently the seatangle was drifting below him and the grey warm air was still and a new wild life was singing in his veins.

Where was his boyhood now? Where was the soul that had hung back from her destiny, to brood alone upon the shame of her wounds and in her house of squalor and subterfuge to queen it in faded cerements and in wreaths that withered at the touch? Or where was he?
He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the sea-harvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight and gayclad lightclad figures of children and girls and voices childish and girlish in the air.
A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane's and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft-hued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips, where the white fringes of her drawers were like feathering of soft white down. Her slate-blue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was as a bird's, soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark-plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.
She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot hither and thither. The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; hither and thither, hither and thither; and a faint flame trembled on her cheek.
-- Heavenly God! cried Stephen's soul, in an outburst of profane joy.

He turned away from her suddenly and set off across the strand. His cheeks were aflame; his body was aglow; his limbs were trembling. On and on and on and on he strode, far out over the sands, singing wildly to the sea, crying to greet the advent of the life that had cried to him.

Her image had passed into his soul for ever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy. Her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life! A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory. On and on and on and on!

He halted suddenly and heard his heart in the silence. How far had he walked? What hour was it?
There was no human figure near him nor any sound borne to him over the air. But the tide was near the turn and already the day was on the wane. He turned landward and ran towards the shore and, running up the sloping beach, reckless of the sharp shingle, found a sandy nook amid a ring of tufted sandknolls and lay down there that the peace and silence of the evening might still the riot of his blood.

He felt above him the vast indifferent dome and the calm processes of the heavenly bodies; and the earth beneath him, the earth that had borne him, had taken him to her breast.

He closed his eyes in the languor of sleep. His eyelids trembled as if they felt the vast cyclic movement of the earth and her watchers, trembled as if they felt the strange light of some new world. His soul was swooning into some new world, fantastic, dim, uncertain as under sea, traversed by cloudy shapes and beings. A world, a glimmer or a flower?
Glimmering and trembling, trembling and unfolding, a breaking light, an opening flower, it spread in endless succession to itself, breaking in full crimson and unfolding and fading to palest rose, leaf by leaf and wave of light by wave of light, flooding all the heavens with its soft flushes, every flush deeper than the other.

Evening had fallen when he woke and the sand and arid grasses of his bed glowed no longer. He rose slowly and, recalling the rapture of his sleep, sighed at its joy.

He climbed to the crest of the sandhill and gazed about him. Evening had fallen. A rim of the young moon cleft the pale waste of skyline, the rim of a silver hoop embedded in grey sand; and the tide was flowing in fast to the land with a low whisper of her waves, islanding a few last figures in distant pools.

 - James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Chapter 4.

Sea Impression, II (M.A. Reilly. from The Linen Series, 2011)

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Imagining A to Z: M is for Mess Around

M is for Mess Around

I am forever messing around.
Here are some images I played with.  None of the images began the way they ended.
That's the fun in messing around.

Here are some examples I found on line.

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Imagining A to Z: L is for Live Free

L is for Live Free.

I Believe I can Fly ( flight of the frenchies ). Free segment from sebastien montaz-rosset on Vimeo.

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Imagining A to Z: K is for Knitting Together Ideas that Inpsire

Image by Jabiz Raisdana from here.

K is for Knitting Together Ideas that Inspire

One morning in the space of four minutes, two friends tweeted the following:

Releasing the imagination is often a matter of following a tweet and seeing where it leads.  In both cases, the tweet ended in inspiration--in helping me to see what I had not considered.  Jabiz, located in Jakarta and Scott, located in New Jersey each pointed via a link to a way of seeing that underscored how the imagination is fueled by approximation, risk, and uncertainty.

Here's Scott's link to an innovative high school in New York City that is finding its sea legs so to speak. 

The juxtaposition of the two opened for me a space that helped me to consider the importance of experimentation on varying scales.

Be open to what you can't imagine by knitting together ideas that just happen to arrive alongside each other.

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Imagining A to Z: J is for Juxtapose

And Full of Sleep (M.A. Reilly, 2012)

J is for Juxtapose.

Juxtapose two or more dissimilar things. Doing so will open the imagination.
Consider this example: bicycle and paper.

So What will you juxtapose today?

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Imagining A to Z: I Is For Invent

I is for Invent (new uses for old things)

We Have Chosen Hope Over Fear (M.A. Reilly 2009)

Look at something common, something you see each day and ask: How might I transform this old thing into something new? The image above was made the evening Barack Obama was sworn in as President.  I was in a diner and there was a large flat screen TV.  It was set to a news channel and I snapped a picture of the screen that showed the President speaking.  I built the rest of the image around that central image of the President with the text superimposed.  The images of the faces are of former students.  I was thinking about how President Obama's presidency might represent a hope, especially for young people.

How we join things together--imagine new possibilities--read the landscape--listen to the city noises/country sounds/suburban drawl--remix ideas, images, sounds, and words: all of these actions trigger our imaginations.

Below is a 1-minute video in which point of view alters how we see the ordinary.  Enjoy. 

HP - invent from Films & Things on Vimeo.

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Leveraging Learning by Organizing Technology Use: A Modest Framework

I was tweeting today with a teacher who expressed the frustration I think many of us feel: How do we situate technology inside the work we do as teachers in order to deepen and complicate learning?

I tweeted the following:

And Chris responded:

So the exchange got me thinking about structuring curriculum in order to privilege: connecting, collaborating, creating, contextualizing, and critically consuming so that I could get at the tacit and not just rest at the surface of information.  In this post I want to explore these ideas by doing two things:
  1. Offer an explanation as to why connecting, collaborating, creating, contextualizing, and critically consuming are key processes in learning;
  2. Answer this question: What are methods I might use that would allow learners (including me) to leverage powerful technologies to do these things?
Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011) boldly state: "The twenty-first century...belongs to the tacit" (Kindle Location 1002). Michael Polanyi defined tacit as knowing more than one can say.  We cannot transfer tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge "grows through personal experience and can’t teach it to me, though I can still learn it. The reason for the difference is that learning tacit knowledge happens not only in the brain, but also in the body, through all our senses" (Thomas & Brown, Kindle Locations 1013-1015).

This framework (really nothing more than some loose thinking built on the ideas of many others) seeks to situate tacit knowledge as essential, not ancillary.  What follows is a way to conceptualize. I invite you to add to this and to help me to revise it. I will continue to work on it. Think of this as an initial draft.

I. Why do I want learners to connect, collaborate, create, contextualize, and critically consume?


The secret to scaling across is connecting.  Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze (2011) in Walk Out, Walk On, explain "Scaling across happens when people create something locally and inspire others who carry the idea home and develop it in their own unique way" (p. 36).  Scaling across is rhizomatic. Scaling up leads to disappointment, loss of agency, and in some situations colonization. It is an epic construct, anti-rhizomatic.

Juxtaposition to other leads to learning. Connecting with others leads to potentially powerful ideas.  Technology allows us the means to connect across cultures, genders, politics, ages, nationalities, and geographies while tapping emerging and/or established affinities/interests, wonderings, passions, and disciplines.  Princeton sociologist Martin Ruef's research suggests that the 'weak connections' (not deep friendships) people make through social networking are more likely to lead to innovation than those with small networks comprised of close friends.  Jonah Lehrer (2012) summarizes Ruef's findings: "...businesspeople with entropic networks full of weak ties were three times more innovative than people with small networks of close friends" (Kindle Locations 2797-2798).

Weak ties should not be interpreted as singularly being technology-produced (such as through Twitter connections). Rather, weak ties also are produced by being in the company of others.  In earlier posts I have written a lot about the benefits of learning walks.  In my work with students, learning walks are critical, not ancillary activities.  Learning walks place us in the community, offering us occasions to connect with those who are not simply housed at school.  Last fall about 40 high school students, some faculty and I were in Washington Heights (Manhattan), when we came upon a man who was selling ices.  It was a hot day. The man had a large block of ice on a cart and collection of bottles filled with syrup and he used a tool to shave the ice. The students were interested in both the sweet ice treat and the process as none had seen this before. This 10-minute stop is one I have not forgotten. It is a scene I replay in my head and one I suspect might make its way into a piece of fiction.  I still haven't codified the experience and yet I know it was important as I continue to recall it. Tacit knowing is important.


The power of we is greater than the singularity of I.  Facilitating learners' cross-cultural collaboration is an important aspect of our work as teachers.  Finding and framing questions, solving problems, creating works, and sharing resources, insights, ideas, and dreams represent important 'content'. Technologies allow for this to happen in unprecedented ways.  What we make of this is of course in our hands and our students.


In writing about High Tech High, Lehrer writes:
When children are allowed to create, they’re able to develop the sophisticated talents that are required for success in the real world. Instead of learning how to pass a standardized test, they learn how to cope with complexity and connect ideas, how to bridge disciplines and improve their first drafts. These mental talents can’t be taught in an afternoon— there is no textbook for ingenuity, no lesson plan for divergent thinking. Rather, they must be discovered: the child has to learn by doing (Kindle Locations 3211-3215).
Again a connection between tacit knowing and creating is made.  This is John Dewey's thinking. This is Maxine Greene's passions.  Experience leads to learning.  Such learning is often tacit.

How are our learners positioned to be media creators from inside of schools and classrooms? Earlier today I had a conversation with the superintendent of schools and an assistant middle school principal from the town where I live and I shared that there were active media creators at our middle school and a task before us was to help teachers and administrators recognize the creative practices of students. I referenced one teen at the middle school who has posted 300+ films on YouTube and enjoys audience responses from several thousand to more than 15,000 responses per video. That is a sizable audience he has pulled.  Henry Jenkins (2009) reports that "[o]ne-third of teens share what they create online with others, 22 percent have their own Web sites, 19 percent blog, and 19 percent remix online content" (Kindle  Locations 73-74).

How do we invite, tap, and grow such important beginnings?


"In a world where context is always shifting and being rearranged, the stability of the what dimension of knowledge also comes into question. Only by understanding the where of a piece of information can we understand its meaning" (Thomas & Brown, 2011, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change (Kindle Locations 1292-1296).

Contextualizing is an important process where learners connect location(s) (place and time), person/people, and 'content' understanding that as we shape it, it also shapes what we know.  Thomas and Brown state: 
Technology is no longer just a fast way of transporting information from one place to another, and the information it moves is no longer static. Instead, information technology has become a participatory medium, giving rise to an environment that is constantly being changed and reshaped by the participation itself. The process is almost quantum in nature: The more we interact with these informational spaces, the more the environment changes, and the very act of finding information reshapes not only the context that gives that information meaning but also the meaning itself (Kindle Locations 445-449).
Again, Thomas and Brown offer us important insight into context.  They write:
When we build, we do more than create content. Thanks to new technologies, we also create context by building within a particular environment, often providing links or creating connections and juxtapositions to give meaning to the content. Learning now, therefore, goes far beyond a simple transfer of information and becomes inextricably bound with the context that is being created. Where one chooses to post, where one links to, or where one is linked from does not just serve as a locus for finding content. It becomes part of the content itself (Kindle Locations 1319-1323).
Blog posts are an example of potentially contextualized learning.  Where the post is situated, the links it contains, the audience it pulls, the commentary that is offered contextualize the learning.

Critically Consuming

Practices related to reading and writing emerge alongside the production of information and often requires participation. Critically consuming is not a uni-directional activity.  It is collaborative, interactive, co-specifying.  Henry Jenkins's notions of participatory culture captures the idea of consumption as participatory well. Jenkins (2009) writes: "Participatory culture is emerging as the culture absorbs and responds to the explosion of new media technologies that make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways" (Kindle Locations 111-112). To what end, do we teach learners how to make sense of and to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content?

Again referencing a Pew study, Jenkins offers: "...we are moving away from a world in which some produce and many consume media toward one in which everyone has a more active stake in the culture that is produced" (Kindle Locations 139-140).

II. What are methods I might use that would allow learners (including me) to leverage powerful technologies to do these things?

Spending time trying to keep up with the changing technological landscape is a losing effort as a strategy.  Apps abound. Tools change. Invention occurs.  So I am less interested in spending time 'keeping up' as I am in developing a participatory culture (Jenkins 2009) where the connected group's intelligence can guide innovation by helping us apply tools to learning needs AND play with tools when we have yet to know the learning need.

Jenkins (2009) defines participatory culture as:
"... a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby experienced participants pass along knowledge to novices. In a participatory culture, members also believe their contributions matter and feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least, members care about others' opinions of what they have created) (Kindle Location 24-26).

To what end are our schools and classrooms participatory cultures? Jenkins lists some examples of participatory cultures including: affiliation (i.e., Facebook, MySpace, game chats), expressions (i.e., fan fiction, mash-ups, zines),  collaborative problem solving (i.e., alternative reality gaming) and circulation (i.e., podcasting, screencasts, blogging).

The more research I do that examines the out-of-school learning of young people (preteen and teens), the more convinced I am that there is critical learning we need to undertake that these young people can teach us.  Their out-of-school learning reminds me of Wheatley & Frieze's descriptions of Walk Ons.
Walk Outs are people who bravely choose to leave behind situations, jobs, relationships, and ideas that restrict and confine them, anything that inhibits them. They walk on to the ideas, people, and practices that enable them to explore and discover new gifts, new possibilities (p. 4).
They tell us that "Walk Ons find each other and connect. Together, they learn quickly, take greater risks, and support one another to continue their pioneering work. A new system is born from their efforts" (p.12).  How do we recognize one another?  How do we build WITH learners these types of environments where walking out is not required?

Works Cited

Jenkins, Henry. (2009). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning). Kindle Edition.

Lehrer, Jonah. (2012-03-19). Imagine: How Creativity Works. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Thomas, Douglas and Seely Brown, John. (2011-03-12). A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. CreateSpace. Kindle Edition.

Wheatley, Margaret and Frieze, Deborah. (2011-04-11). Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.