Saturday, December 17, 2011

More distorting openers from Edweek

First we have, from last week's issue, the headline: "To Boost Learning, Start With Emotional Health." The implication: that dealing with emotional health takes precedence over academics.

By the middle of the article, however, this position has mutated into something more moderate:

But evidence has shown that when it comes to the success of our children, both [health and education] are equally important.
As for specific proposals, quoting author Jane Isaacs Lowe, a senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, these are:
Playworks, which supports a full-time, trained staff person—often an AmeriCorps member—to facilitate recess in schools in low-income communities... [to] help kids play new and classic games, teach them to resolve conflicts safely, and encourage healthy physical activity at recess and throughout the school day.
and:
Achool-based health centers [in partnership with] the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools, or CHHCS, another nonprofit organization, to address both physical- and mental-health issues.
Both of these sound eminently reasonable; why embed them in standard-issue right-brained propaganda?

Then, in this week's issue, we have "Studies Explore How to Nurture Students' Creativity" and its opening paragraph:
In the continuing debate about American competitiveness in the global economy, politicians and educators alike have pointed not to students' test scores, but to their creativity and ingenuity, as models for the rest of the world.
And, a couple of paragraphs later:
Howard E. Gardner, a professor of cognition and education at Harvard University, considers creativity one of five "minds," or ways of thinking—along with discipline, synthesis, respect, and ethics—that will be essential for young people to succeed in the future.
...
"While cognitive capacities are obviously valuable for creating," he said, "only those of a robust, risk-taking personality and temperament are likely to pursue a creative path."
As in Edweek's earlier STEAM article, the assumption here is that the arts are the best way to inspire creativity. Only if you proceed beyond the first section of the article do you discover that (in what could have been the article's title) Studies Show We Don't Know How to Use the Arts to Inspire Creativity:
Ellen Winner, the psychology chair and the director of the Arts and Mind Lab at Boston College, told participants at the Learning and the Brain conference that in a continuing series of studies on arts education and creativity, she had found "very little evidence that studying the arts improves grades or test scores, or that studying the arts improves creativity.

"These transfer claims have been posited without any particular mechanism; there's a lot of magical thinking going on," said Ms. Winner.
And only if you continue reading do you learn how problematic it is when teachers attempt to assess creativity:
Even educators hoping to improve students' creativity can inadvertently quash their willingness to take creative risks, according to Robert J. Sternberg, an expert in intelligence-testing research, who is provost and senior vice president of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.

"Risk is essential to creativity, … but if you want to get into the good college and the good graduate school and the good job, you don't want to take too big a risk," Mr. Sternberg said at the National Academy of Education meeting. "Schools often encourage you to do the opposite of what you'd need to be creative."

In one study, for example, Mr. Sternberg found that university students in New Haven who took more risks got higher marks for creativity in a drawing contest, but for a writing contest, "when the kids in essays took controversial stands, the raters often rated them down," he said.
For all this, the article concludes on an optimistic note. First, cites unnamed "experts" as claiming that:
Schools can help students become more generally creative, going beyond simply mastering content knowledge or how to perform specific skills to using their imagination to solve problems.
Then, with paragraph on Ellen Winner that contradicts the earlier one, it reasserta s the notion that arts classes can inspire creativity:
In her most recent research, Ms. Winner and her colleagues spent a year interviewing teachers and videotaping five arts classes at Boston Arts Academy and the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, Mass. From that material, the researchers identified eight "habits of mind" taught as part of art class that transfer to other subjects.

Among those habits was one called "stretching and exploration"—the equivalent of creativity in the context of the study.

The "stretch and explore" habit in art class looks similar to experimentation in science classes. Rather than simply telling a student how to perform a task, Ms. Winner said, the teacher might ask students "to try new things, take risks, and not be afraid of mistakes, but instead to capitalize on their mistakes."
Only if you scrutinize the next paragraph does it become clear that this approach, like so many other fashionable approaches in education today, is as yet unsupported by evidence:
Now, Ms. Winner and her colleagues are involved in a two-year longitudinal study to develop measures to gauge whether the "stretching and exploring" that students learn to do in art class transfers to more creative thinking and problem-solving in math or science class.
Think we'll hear back from Edweek when the definitive results come in? If so, how exactly will Edweek sandwich them, and can we predict the headline ahead of time?

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