Thursday, March 20, 2014

Boxes and Patterns and Templates

Vicki Vinton's recent post about the overuse of graphic organizers was thought-provoking. Is even the thoughtful use of an occasional teacher-made or teacher-provided organizer in order to acquaint children with the kinds of tasks they will be asked to do on a high-stakes (we're talking fail-the-grade high stakes) test overuse? We think not. There needs to be a balance. But by balance, we're not suggesting one-for-one. Balance to us goes back to "sparingly" and "thoughtful."

I was thinking of Vicki's post yesterday at Environmental Club. I provided students with teasel seed heads (harvested from the weedy area along the train tracks in my neighborhood),

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Hornet Photography
and felt, pom-poms, pipe cleaners, google eyes, clothespins and magnetic tape. The goal...or I should say, MY goal, MY idea, was to decorate the clothespin and make a refrigerator magnet that would hold their papers. I sat and cut felt and pipe cleaners for them while they worked. Here's a sampling of what they made:

Most of the outcomes bore no resemblance to the idea I had in my head when I bought/gathered the supplies. Free to make whatever they wanted, they made some AMAZING creations! (And a huge mess...) It didn't matter. I intentionally hadn't provided a pattern, so I celebrated every creation. 

When I opened Blogger to begin this post about boxes and organizers and patterns, I was struck by what met me: a template. With pre-set boxes to be filled. And I have no problem with that. Would I want to sit down to a blank page every time I write a post and create the formatting? I think not! 

Next weekend, I will make my famous three-layer-from-scratch chocolate cake. It will take some improvising: the recipient wants coffee buttercream instead of the usual frosting. But will I try to bake the cake and make the buttercream without a recipe? Nope. 

On the other hand, as I try, without success, to pin myself down on my Poetry Month poem-a-day project, I find I'm leaning more and more to something very unstructured and spontaneous. Last year's "Common Inspiration--Uncommon Creations" was a huge success and loads of fun...and very structured. 

So in life, as well as in our classrooms, it shouldn't (even can't) be either/or: ALL structure or ALL freedom. We need to notice WHEN we need an organizer or a pattern, a template or a recipe, and when we can do away with them and create freely.


  1. Well said! I love a good recipe--and the variations people come up with and share. The comments section is one way structure invites freedom : ) Freedom to go your own way--Speaking of--Have you heard about The Art Assignment? I just learned how to make a gif because of a recent assignment. You can learn more about the new interactive show here:

    Good luck with your cake--Please share a picture and/or story once it's made!

  2. Great advice, Mary Lee and cute crafts.


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