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Non-Cognitive Skills and Factors in Educational Attainment
Date Reviewed: October 18, 2017
Hope, Utopia and Creativity in Higher Education: Pedagogical Tactics for Alternative Futures
Date Reviewed: August 11, 2017
Educators who value the critical pedagogy of Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux, bell hooks, and Peter McLaren will be stretched and stimulated by Craig Hammond’s Hope, Utopia, and Creativity in Higher Education: Pedagogical Tactics for Alternative Futures. Hammond is critical of “institutional structures that have ossified around familiarity and academic routine” (35) and that tend to reproduce “a rather drab journey towards a perdition of apathetic inaction and uncritical conformity” (186). Instead, he advocates for “creative and democratic academic engagement” (11). Or, in more effusive rhetoric, Hammond writes: “The tyranny of … the academic warder, replete with encased frameworks of functionally categorized shells of knowledge, can be transformed to a context where knowledge is collaboratively resituated and revived, inhabited, and co-produced in multiple new and fresh directions” (53). His book includes autobiographical reflections, theoretical interpretations, practical teaching resources, and examples of artifacts created by students in Hammond’s courses at Blackburn College in the UK.
Following an introduction, the book consists of ten chapters organized in three parts. The three chapters of Part 1 develop the pedagogically-relevant theoretical insights of Ernst Bloch, Roland Barthes, and Gaston Bachelard. The level of theoretical sophistication Hammond provides is rare in pedagogical texts. Part 2 begins to put practical substance to a critical, utopian pedagogy. In these three chapters, Hammond draws on Guy Debord and the Situationists to develop pedagogical strategies for creative engagement, illustrates the utopian potential of an alternative pedagogy via an autobiographical example, and provides practical teaching resources (autobiography assignment, peer-assessment framework, and syllabus). In Part 3, Hammond shares artifacts, commentaries, and narratives by learner collaborators in his utopian pedagogy.
The pedagogy offered here – articulated as hopeful and utopian – is more Marxist than religious in its ideals. Nonetheless, given the widespread concern with diversity and inclusion in higher education settings in recent years, professors of theology and religious studies with an appreciation for critical pedagogies will benefit from reflecting on the theoretical ideas and pedagogical strategies offered here. Perhaps the easiest entry point for adaptation of Hammond’s ideas to the religious studies or theology classroom is via his discussion of Guy Debord’s (1970, Detroit: Red & Black) Society of the Spectacle (80ff.), with its clear renunciation of consumer society and the commodification of education. A more hopeful, utopian pedagogy is merited to respond to these societal pressures and allures.
Hammond’s book – with its autobiographical elements, theoretical summaries, and pedagogical materials – combines disparate materials, all conveyed in evocative language (as suggested by the quotations offered above). This is not a book to be skimmed quickly. And this is perhaps as it should be. One of Hammond’s students, quoted in Part 3, comments on the incongruity of sitting in courses in which “the lecturer outlines the ills of didactic teaching and learning, from the front of the classroom, with no sense of irony” (166). By suggesting possibilities rather than delineating best practices, Hammond’s book is better aligned with the pedagogy it champions. Readers will likely find some aspects of the text more stimulating than others. Depending on the reader, perhaps it will be the theory, perhaps the autobiographical reflections of Hammond, perhaps the description of the creative autobiographical project, perhaps something else. As long as some creative and contextually relevant pedagogical intervention in the standard practices of our classrooms arises from this encounter, Hammond will have succeeded in his project of advancing a utopian pedagogy.
Creative Learning in Higher Education: International Perspectives and Approaches
Date Reviewed: March 29, 2017
Creativity in higher education is oftentimes pigeonholed to certain academic disciplines or perceived as the property of select individuals with an artistic flair. Watts and Blessinger, through their well-crafted anthology, demythologize these and other constructs, by providing readers with a more comprehensive understanding of creativity as an accessible and proactive agent in higher education – past, present, and future
According to Watts and Blessinger, “creative learning transcends individual capacities, disciplinary constraints, national boundaries, and institutional barriers” (217). Nonetheless, they also caution against assuming that it can be understood or practiced the same across cultures. Creativity in the classroom demands particularistic pedagogic approaches that reflect the institutional and cultural settings of those served (xvi).
With a primary focus on higher education, the assembled chapter authors reflect different international and interdisciplinary perspectives and bring teaching techniques based on extensive research and experience.
A central theme found throughout this book is that “If all students possess the potential for creativity, then teachers do well to consider how their instructional objectives, curricular designs, learning assessments, and institutional structures reflect that fact” (214).
Within this anthology, the reader is provided with case studies and essays that cover a full range of subject content and pedagogic approaches in varied cultural settings – including “Play and 3D Enquiry for Stimulating Learning,” “A Case Study in Best Practices in Public Higher Learning,” “Creative Approaches to Stimulate Classroom Discussions,” and “Configuring Interdisciplinarity: The Common Core at the University of Hong Kong.”
As a book, it exhibits a dynamic interplay between convention and innovation and reminds the reader throughout how creativity is deeply rooted in the pedagogic theory of all disciplines. It also challenges educators to “foster a climate and culture in which creative learning and teaching are promoted, supported, and valued; a culture that allows experimentation, new ideas, even failure – for what is failure if not an opportunity to learn?” (199).
This book would be a useful resource for any educator regardless of their respective discipline. It helps us to remember that “learning creativity happens when inventive, imaginative, and physical methods are used to explore a subject and harness its practices to new partners” (120). And although the reader may not find each chapter as pertinent as the next, they are given access throughout to seminal texts and issues relating to creativity in higher education. The mantra of this book is – creativity is an activity in which anyone may engage in.
Working Cross-Culturally: Identity Learning, Border Crossing and Culture Brokering
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2016
Michael Michie’s 2014 publication of his dissertation argues that previous research into cross-cultural teaching has focused on skills, methods, and curriculum, but ignores teachers. To address this lacuna, Michie interviews six professional, western, K-12 science teachers of indigenous students and investigates what qualities characterize successful cross-cultural teachers and how teacher training can prepare instructors for cross-cultural contexts.
Michie’s work makes three contributions to pedagogical discussions of cross-cultural teaching. First, Michie provides a sustained examination of the ways cross-cultural experiences shape teachers into “culture brokers” or “border crossers.” Michie claims the most successful teacher of indigenous students learns to be a border crosser in his or her identity formation even before entering the classroom. Second, Michie analyzes successful border crossers and constructs a profile of a border-crossing teacher. Finally, Michie suggests what kind of training shapes teachers to be successful culture-brokers.
Michie claims an “international” framework for his study (1), but limits his subjects to those teaching in western, English-speaking sites (Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, 141). Michie argues that his focused data allows him to speak more precisely, and leaves expansion of this deep, thorough analysis to successive studies.
Michie’s project unfolds in six chapters. In chapter one he defines the project and identifies himself as a “participant-researcher” with his subjects (2). In chapter two, Michie reviews the literature on western teaching of indigenous children. He sifts the anthropological, biological, and ethno-historical studies on “border crossing” and “cultural brokerage” (5) to refine the terms. He defines culture “as the social environment in which an individual is raised and lives and includes a range of concepts and beliefs that is accepted by individuals as defining their group identity” (14). The role of education is to “help those growing up in a culture find an identity within that culture” (Michie cites Bruner 1996, 15). This move brings identity studies and questions of power into the forefront of pedagogy – the (western, powerful) identity of the teacher and the (indigenous, marginalized) identity of the students. Thus teaching requires dexterity and self-awareness in crossing cultural borders.
Michie’s first contribution is to distinguish between terms in the literature. In his subjects, Michie finds that “border crossing” (“the ability of people to move metaphorically between cultures,” ) is a specific identity formed in “marginal people” (51). In contrast, “culture broker” (“a strategy which an individual can be used to promote cross-cultural understanding,” ) is the “role” that an “intermediary” chooses when mediating between cultures (52). Next, Michie proposes that teachers in cross-cultural situations can choose a mediating role while actively cultivating respect and appreciation for the cultures they move between (as border crossers do; 52, 79).
In chapter three, Michie analyzes the participant interviews looking for evidence of border-crossing experiences and cross-cultural encounters earlier in life. Teachers of indigenous students report positive affective and cognitive experiences when they engaged (pre-professionally) indigenous and first nation people (73). Michie identifies three successive degrees of engagement in the teachers. “Border crossers” choose a transitory role and show “interest in the culture and aspirations of indigenous people”; “border workers” “continue to work at the border as allies of the indigenous people”; “border mergers” exhibit a fully bi-cultural identity and do not distinguish between the cultures they navigate (80-81).
Chapter four examines how participants understand the role of culture broker or border-crosser and for what purpose they use that role. Chapter five evaluates participant ideas of how to enable teachers to cross cultural borders in their classrooms. Michie then defines what kind of training can best shape K-12 instructors to teach from a culture broker role. Finally, chapter six summarizes Michie’s conclusions and applies the best teacher training practice to specifically preparing western instructors to teach science as foreign cultural knowledge to indigenous students.
This study can be applied to the pedagogy of religion in at least two situations. First is for college or seminary instructors to consider teaching the academic study of religion as a “foreign” way of knowing. How might students of deep religious conviction respond differently to a perceived exercise of dissecting their sacred text if instructors cross that cultural divide between confessional faith and academic study first? The same cultural crossing might bring “nones” into a new world of thinking about and reflecting analytically on religion. Second, Michie shows that, as professional teachers, our cultural identities and our ability to meet students have already been shaped – positively or negatively. Reflecting on the degree(s) to which we are able to meet our students, cross metaphorical and cultural borders, and broker academic culture with newcomers is critical to our growth as teachers.
Teaching Applied Creative Thinking: A New Pedagogy for the 21st Century (ACT Creativity Series) (Volume 2)
Date Reviewed: May 28, 2017
The “new pedagogy” offered here is an integration of educational theory, common-sense pedagogy, and the authors’ own experiences in applying a different way of teaching and learning. The particular focus of the book is on teaching “applied creative thinking” to the teaching and learning process.
The 168-page book -- in workbook format -- has twenty-five short chapters, so readers should not expect deep coverage of the varied topics reviewed. Chapters I through XI (some as short as three pages) present core ideas of the pedagogical model. Chapters XII through XX present sketches of nine specific teaching strategies.
The authors offer a creative thinking pedagogy applicable across subject matters. They borrow from Holbert and Taylor’s definition of pedagogy as “intentional teaching, that is, the embodiment of principles in practice” which entails a combination of theory and praxis (4). The new pedagogy the authors propose is essentially a reframing of the teacher’s role as “Mentor-from-the-Middle” (borrowed from the work of Erica McWilliam) in a learning context (physical and attitudinal) that will help make the shift from a teacher-centered to a learner-focused pedagogy in order to foster creative thinking as both process and outcome. Of necessity, agency for learning requires a shift in the center of authority from teacher to student in order to facilitate self-directed learning. A “Key Concept” of Chapter VIII, “The Meddler-in-the-Middle is a theory that is difficult to translate into practice” is not encouraging (48). Their response to this challenge is to reframe the Meddler-in-the-Middle approach using the metaphor “Mentoring-from-the-Middle” as a “new paradigm.”
The new paradigm replicates established educator roles and reframes the function of the teacher under the metaphor of Mentor-from-the-Middle. In this model the teacher assumes the roles of scholar, mentor, facilitator, coach, model, and critical reflector. These roles in turn, purportedly, combine to help transform the learner into an active creative thinker. Aside from helping to facilitate the shift away from a teacher-centered pedagogy, how this reframing of the teacher’s role translates into students becoming “active creative thinkers” is not explicated satisfactorily.
Following the shift in the teaching role, the authors present a structure for the learning experience. They organize the learning experience into six phases: information gathering, crystallizing, creating the project, completing the project, skill-making, and evaluating the learning unit. This scaffolded constructivist approach to structuring the learning experience, coupled with a shift in the teacher’s place in the classroom environment (moving from the front of the classroom to the middle of the classroom, among the learners) represents the book’s new pedagogy.
The parts of the book that specifically address the ways creativity is fostered speak to the importance of the setting (environment) for learning (Chapter V), some portions of Chapter VII summarizing insights from neuropsychology, and Chapters XII through XXI which present sketches of nine specific creative teaching strategies (including mainstays such as brainstorming, collaboration, pattern recognition, metaphors, crossword puzzles, and video games).
The chapter on instructional technology (Chapter VI) could have been left out as it added little substance to the matter of creative thinking, nor did it advance new ideas about the use or impact of instructional technology on teaching and learning, or particularly, on creativity.
This is not a poor book, but it is also not a great one. The authors overpromise on a “new” pedagogy for the twenty-first century, but do offer a sound model that reflects a helpful shift in the role of the teacher, a particular model for organizing the learning experience, and responsible attention to studies in relevant fields that can inform effective educational practice.