Thursday, November 12, 2009

Give yourself permission to write bad lines or scenes...

When talking about how to overcome writer's block, playwright Edgar J. Shockley advised 5 classes of high school students to "give yourself permission to write bad lines or scenes ..." He added that when you give yourself permission to do this, you'll never have writer's block.

Rewind five hours earlier: I was working with our fellows during a virtual training session to help them design collaborative projects. As a group, we came up with a great list of best practices for designing videoconference collaborations - - but I wish I had been able to quote Ed when chatting with our fellows.

We are all still learning how to integrate videoconference project-based collaboration into our classrooms. Collectively, we are generating a framework of advice; but every project is different. Although we may not have an exact blueprint for how to put every project together, we can't stop innovating. We need to give ourselves permission to write bad lines or scenes. And then, of course, learn from them.

To me, it's all about iterative design (and if you've participated in one of my training sessions, you might be tired of hearing me say this!). We have to start with the learning objectives, decide what evidences understanding, and then design the learning experiences. But it doesn't end there! During the entire planning and implementation process, we must look critically at what worked well and what didn't work well. And about taking risks.

Ironically, looking back at the 3 hour training session I facilitated about developing collaborative projects and the 75-minute session I coordinated on playwriting (all within the same afternoon!), I've discovered striking synergies between advice given during each session.

For example, Ed told students that "writing something with a moral is rarely successful; but when we see truth on stage, the truth speaks to us. Great art makes the personal universal and the universal personal." Translation to project development? Don't have "this is the right way to do the project" tunnel vision when planning. Allow space for iteration, organic development and retrospection while designing. When you give yourself space to reflect, the project may be more sucessful.

Another theme that emerged during the playwriting session is the idea that in order to be a good playwright, one has to experience (not necessary excel!) all of the different jobs that go into producing a play (i.e. costuming, directing, set design, etc.). Same goes for developing a collaborative project. Educators and students should experience putting together all of the technological pieces that go into a project; technical support and students should assist with the curriculum design; and educators and tech specialist should assume the roles of students at some point. It gives everyone an appreciation of the talents and expertise that goes into designing and partaking in a project - - not that we all need to be experts at each piece!

And lastly, the playwrights joked that one of the best things about being a playwright is that you get to sleep in late and your day doesn't really start until 4:00 p.m. Conversely, by 4:00 p.m., my work day is almost done. :0)

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