Tag Archives: education

Phonology, Syntax, Semantics, and Pragmatics

This blog post is from my response to a discussion board in my reading endorsement class. It is slightly modified for my readers who don’t have the benefit of seeing the question and overview. The purpose of the discussion board was to discuss four areas of oral language development as they apply to early literacy.

Before discussing the importance of each of the four topics (phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics), I would like to comment about overall oral language development.

Considering that the earliest language instruction is passive—meaning it comes from the experience of listening (hearing really) to how family and community members use language, it seems that the first important step in literacy development is oral language expression used around babies and preschool-aged children. According to the research by Hart and Risley (1995), there is a drastic difference between a child’s language opportunities and her/his family’s socioeconomic status. They write, “In 4 years of such experience, an average child in a professional family would have accumulated experience with almost 45 million words, an average child in a working-class family would have accumulated experience with 26 million words, and an average child in a welfare family would have accumulated experience with 13 million words” (p. 198). If accurate, that means that children from the highest SES families have about 32 million more quality word experiences than children born into poverty by the time they enter kindergarten. These numbers are based on two and a half years of research observing the interactions between families of youngsters between birth and school age of various economic statuses. If oral language experience and development is critical to early literacy—and Hart and Risley’s research is still valid—then educators are challenged to figure out how to make up a loss of millions quality language experiences for our students who come from lower SES families. This is food for thought about this critical stage of early literacy. I would love to hear from some of my cohort who teach children from lower SES families how they deal with early language deficits based on limited experiences. Does this factor into your decisions?

According to Language Development from Theory to Practice, phonology is the process of breaking down language into discrete sounds called phonemes. SAE (Standard American English) has 39 phonemes or sounds that combine to make about 100,000 words (Pence Turnbull & Justice, 2012, p. 22). The assigned reading states, “Children learn to talk without being consciously aware of individual phonemes…” (Oral Language Reading Selection(1).pdf: 8972_Comp1_Summer2017, p. 11). This means that it is necessary to make children phonologically aware for them to transition from learning to listen and talk to learning to read and write.

Syntax is about the rules governing how words are put together to form phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and beyond (Oral Language Reading Selection(1).pdf: 8972_Comp1_Summer2017, p. 11). Like phoneme use, syntax begins unconsciously. Children and other language learners begin forming sentences by mimicking experiences from other, more proficient, language users. This occurs before they are aware of how the rules work. In my personal and teaching experience, even children with various developmental and cognitive disabilities learn to form sentences by scripting from the language they have heard from various language experiences before they understand the rules—or even the vocabulary—necessary for developing original sentences. This explains why they sometimes express well-formed sentences that are not meaningfully related to the current situation. Or, as Pence-Turnbull and Justice (2012) write, “Consideration of Chomsky’s proposition that Colorless green ideas sleep furiously illustrates the difference between semantics and syntax, in which a sentence is devoid of meaning but conforms to sophisticated syntactic rules” (p. 24). In other words, the child misunderstands the meaning of the words or combinations of words, but still can put them in a meaningful order. Syntactic awareness takes automatic syntax and makes in useable.

Semantics is the area of literacy learning where the sentences and word phrases become meaningful. In the semantic system, meaning extends beyond individual words to include “…phrases, sentences, discourse and whole text” (Oral Language Reading Selection(1).pdf: 8972_Comp1_Summer2017, p. 11). Sometimes words have multiple meanings. Without the semantic skill of deriving meaning from the context of a sentence or phrase, it may not be possible for developing readers to comprehend what they are learning. One example that I frequently employ is the word pitch, which means different things across the many school content areas. In PE, it is a thrown ball or golf shot. In math, it means the slope of a line. In economics, a pitch is a way to sell a product or service. In engineering and science, pitch is another word for tar. In music, it represents the highness or lowness of a note. And, in art, pitch is related to value, meaning how light or dark a specific hue compares to other hues in the artwork. Without a significantly developed semantic system, it is impossible to understand the meaning of the pitch in the various contexts in which it may be used in school texts. Going back to the Chomsky sentence from above, semantical awareness also helps a child understand that there is something wrong with the phrase despite its correct grammatical form (Pence Turnbull & Justice, 2012).

“Pragmatics (use) pertains to the rules governing how language is used for social purposes” (Pence Turnbull & Justice, 2012, p. 24). There are three areas where understanding pragmatics is important for language learners. They must learn how to express intentions, to communicate during conversations, and use language that adheres to social conventions. Pragmatics can involve additional aspects like language register, cultural awareness and responsiveness, and even body language.

Like phoneme and syntax use, low-level pragmatics comes automatically from experiences in social situations. However, educators must not assume that students have sophisticated pragmatic systems down automatically. The reading states, “…many educators: ‘had been operating on the belief that the semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic cues were straightforward and familiar to children, and, because of this, were wholly available for use in finessing the graphophonemic system’” (Oral Language Reading Selection(1).pdf: 8972_Comp1_Summer2017, p. 12). Instead of teaching literacy under that deficient assumption, it is important to move the children from their automatic understanding of these important areas of oral reading readiness toward understanding them on a more cognitive level.

Ruby Payne, for one, recognizes this idea in her work demonstrating that different groups of children may be unaware of the language register shifts that need to take place for kids to be successful in school (Payne, n.d.). Students sometimes know when to socially switch codes from the casual register they are using with their friends to a more intimate register that they use with their mother, but they may not recognize when and where schools require formal register since schools are a place where many registers can be used correctly. Language register code changing also requires the student to make a shift in the grammatical rules from their local informal dialect to SAE. Therefore, educators need to be cognizant about the pragmatic shifts that take place in various school-related social situations, and must illuminate the rule changes for the children to apply them properly to different social and learning literacy situations.

To tie it all together, while these four areas are essential for language and literacy learning, without knowing that all the students in our classes have had beyond the most basic introduction to oral language literacy at home, teachers need to find ways to compensate in several ways. We must provide some additional language experiences to supplement what is missing. These experiences should be designed to help the students develop automatic phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. In my estimation, we can never fully make up for millions of missed language experiences that some children have lost in relation to others in our classes. However, we should not write curriculum based on the assumption that the students have all had the same opportunities either. Once the students demonstrate that they can use phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics automatically, there is a need to illuminate the processes for them so that the students can begin to transition from learning how to listen, talk, and converse in social situations to learning how to use these skills cognitively for learning to read and write. It involves ensuring that the children can develop phonologic and graphophonemic awareness to attach letters and other symbols to their spoken language skills.


Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday esperience of young American children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company.

Oral Language Reading Selection(1).pdf: 8972_Comp1_Summer2017. (n.d.). Retrieved from SCPS instructure:

Payne, R. (n.d.). Understanding and working with students and adults from poverty. Retrieved from Homepages :

Pence Turnbull, K., & Justice, L. (2012). Language development from theory to practice. . Boston: Pearson.


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Poverty and Gifted Identification

Charles Sutton
Galileo School for Gifted Learning
Level 7 Learning

This week’s readings in my gifted endorsement program are related to the cultural biases in education that account for the underrepresentation of non-white families and families from poverty in gifted programs. Kitano (2003) writes, “…while intense poverty limits the presence of Black, Hispanic, and Native American students among the highest achievers, inadequate school resources, racial and ethnic prejudice, families’ limited educational resources, and cultural differences contribute to underrepresentation” (293). This paper will use the two articles from the reading assignments along with some other experiences and information to illustrate Kitano’s point.

According to Beegle (2003) families from low socioeconomic status—especially if the family is from generational poverty—are often stuck in the lower levels of what Maslow identified as a hierarchy of needs (McLeod, 2007; Huitt, 2007). Parents from generational poverty spend the majority of their resources trying to meet the physical and safety needs of the family, so there is little or nothing left to invest into school, which is a much higher-level need reaching the social, esteem, and self-actualization areas of Maslow’s pyramid. As a result, the parents lack the monetary, educational, and time resources needed to invest in ensuring that their children get into gifted programs despite the child’s individual strengths and talents. That leaves the work of identifying to the teachers and school, which is already prejudiced toward middle class values for academics and behaviors as well as scores on standardized tests that are written to the advantage of white, middle class students (Payne, n.d.; Slocumb & Payne, 2000). Slocumb and Payne (2000) claim that the current “…identification processes do not factor in environmental differences” (p. 28), thereby favoring identification of middle class students over low SES and culturally diverse students. Montoya, Matias, Nishi, and Sarcedo (2016) suggest that this inequity situation is institutionalized racism that needs to end. Having little confidence that the identification system can be repaired, they call for an end to segregated gifted and talented programs and to instead use a differentiation model to service each student’s gifts and talents in the integrated classroom. This model also has the benefit of giving gifted children who have asynchronous development the social and emotional interactions with children who may be more aligned with those needs than some of the more evenly developed gifted students.

Others have more confidence that they system can and should be fixed because of the extremely high needs of gifted and talented students that may be more difficult to service in an integrated classroom. For example, as a remedy to the current segregated system, Slocumb and Payne (2000) suggest that schools should “…develop an identification process for the gifted and talented that takes into account the inequality that exists between students from poverty and those from middle class” (p. 29). To do so would require taking away standardized test scores and other grading systems that favor middle class students as identifying tools, and in their place schools should develop more formative evaluations to help identify students based on skills that are not traditionally valued in school. This could include opening up evaluation systems that use a wider range of Gardner’s identified intelligences (Lane, n.d.), especially the ones that are undervalued in the current gifted identification process.

Another possible solution is to use the model that we use at the Galileo School, which is to teach each student enrolled in our school in a gifted style regardless of identification or designation. Of course, that requires a lot of differentiation as mentioned in the Montoya, Matias, Nishi, and Sarcedo (2016) article, but the difference is that the teachers are not simply using the gifted-style of learning to differentiate for the gifted students. Rather, all students received the benefit of gifted style learning with the academic elements of the learning tailored to their own educational needs and development. As a result, all of the children benefit from things like enhancement, acceleration, and choice.


Beegle, D. (2003, October/November). Overcoming the silence of generational poverty. Talking Points, 15(1), 11-20.
Huitt, W. (2007). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from Educational Psychology Interactive:
Kitano, M. K. (2003). Gifted potential and poverty: A calll for extraordinary action. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 26(4), 292–303.
Lane, C. (n.d.). Multiple intelligences. Retrieved from Tecweb:
McLeod, S. (2007). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from Simply Psychology:
Montoya, R., Matias, C. E., Nishi, N. W., & Sarcedo, G. L. (2016, March). Words are wind: Using Du Bois and Borudieu to ‘unveil’ the capricious nature of gifted and talented programs. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 14(1), 127–143.
Payne, R. (n.d.). Understanding and working with students and adults from poverty. Retrieved from Homepages :
Slocumb, P. D., & Payne, R. K. (2000, May). Identifying and nurturing the gifted poor. Principal: The New Diversity, 79(5), 28–32.


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How to Separate the Good from the Bad in Cooperative Learning Scenarios

One of the things that is consistent with all of the team-based, problem-solving, education programs is that they incorporate some level of competition within a cooperative learning environment. While talking to a parent at my school last week who has a son on the Odyssey of the Mind team, she said, “…they did great. Took third place in the state. They just missed getting to the nationals. I have never seen so many kids so disappointed and upset about getting third prize for the state” (anonymous, personal communication, May 10, 2016). This conversation, among other recent competition-based events, reinforced my feelings that competition is inherently bad for education; it is the antithesis to cooperative learning. While Odyssey of the Mind, Future Problem Solvers, Lego Robotics, and other similar programs all incorporate cooperative learning and problem solving aspects, they also involve competition which seems to run counter to the benefits of the programs.

Robert Marzano (2007), who advocates for competition for the purpose of engagement, also suggests tempering its use saying, “…qualifications apply to the use of competition. First and foremost, it should not cause embarrassment…members of losing teams might feel devalued and even scapegoat individuals…” (p. 103). He goes on to say that if we use competition in a friendly manner for fun, then it has value as a motivating factor. Yet, it seems difficult, if not impossible, to predict whether the students will accept the fun aspect of the competition without getting too competitive on their own or even against teacher guidance. Rather, it is more likely that the students will become more competitive than the teacher directs just based on the competitive nature of American society.

Lickona (1991) writes, “Competition in America has deep cultural roots. But cooperative interaction, experienced regularly in some form over the full course of children’s schooling, at least holds out the hope of tempering the worst aspects of the competitive ethic that now bedevils our culture” (p. 188). Instead of tempering the bad aspects of competition through cooperative learning, it seems that eliminating competition—especially from projects that are cooperative in nature—would allow the full benefit of cooperative learning experiences to shine through. Kohn (1993) take it a step further saying that competition is harmful on a number of levels. First, he compares competition to lead paint. While eating candy and other sweets is relatively harmless and benign in small amounts, there is no correlation to eating lead paint. It is always bad regardless of how little one ingests. Like sugar to our teeth, Kohn suggests that completion slowly eats away at the safe and secure learning environment that children need while eroding self-esteem. Furthermore, using competition in school sends the basic message that others are obstacles in our way toward success, which is the exact antithesis of cooperative learning which sends the message that we all succeed at a higher level when we work together. Finally, making winning, which is always the goal of competitors, the motivational reason to do the work reduces the classwork as a means toward achieving an extrinsic reward. That cheapens the value of the learning itself and the cooperative aspects of the scenario in the eyes of the child. Why would I want to do the work or cooperate for its own sake if it is just a way to achieve something else? The fact that I need a reward at the end means that the work itself is not worth doing. These are all reasons why good programs like Odyssey of the Mind and Future Problem Solvers should eliminate the competitive aspects of their programs.

If the programs eliminated competition as the motivating factor, then what would be left to encourage the children to do the work? Well, the nature of the problem solving scenario in and of itself has intrinsic motivational value. If the students see real world applications that they can use their learned skills to solve, and the problem is interesting and authentic to the student, then the work itself should be motivational. O’Brien and Dillon (2008) write that one of the strongest motivating factors can be achieved in the following way. They write, “Providing more compelling reasons to read and to practice and build fluency with a range of texts…includes information on what readers understand and how they understand it—not just competition and comparative performance, but a focus on reading to learn interesting things” (p. 83). That is, when we make the materials interesting and compelling, and the participants can understand why they should do the work, then the work itself is reason enough to motivate students. Cooperation can work uninhibited by competition with the students getting the full benefit of both learning and cooperation without using extrinsic rewards (and punishments by losing) to coerce the student to learn. This is the limit to where it may be beneficial to using strategies like Odyssey of the Mind and Future Problems solvers while working in gifted education. Students can become engaged in meaningful work for the greater good with its own intrinsic rewards, but it should be done in a completely non-competitive environment for full benefit.


Kohn, A. (1993). Is competition ever appropriate in a cooperative classroom? . Retrieved from Alfie Kohn:
Lickona, T. (1991). Educating for character: How our schools can teahc respect and responsibility. New York: Bantam Books.
Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
O’Brien, D. G., & Dillon, D. R. (2008). The role of motivation in engaged reading of adolescents. In K. A. Hinchman, H. K. Sheridan-Thomas, K. A. Hinchman, & H. K. Sheridan-Thomas (Eds.). New York: The Guilford Press.

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Posted by on May 15, 2016 in Education, Gifted learning


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How is creativity subjugated to other subjects and devalued in school

by Charles Sutton

Watching the Amy Tan (2008) and Sir Ken Robinson (2007) TED education videos about creativity raised questions regarding the seemingly reciprocal relationship between schools and creativity. In yet another TED video, sixteen year old entrepreneur Eddy Zhong (2015) makes a similar point. Zhong discusses how schools teach academic intelligence while ignoring all of the other kinds of intelligence that people can and must be able to develop to thrive. Among these intelligences that suffer most in traditional school settings is creative intelligence.
Zhong (2015) talks about how poorly he had been doing in school until he was given the opportunity to use his strengths to creatively developing new, innovative product designs for various entrepreneurial conferences. When he approached his high school peers to see if they would be interested in partnering with him to develop some of his new technology ideas, he was essentially disregarded by the entirety of the high school population. Yet, when he brought the same ideas to younger children, roughly 5–6 years younger than his peer group, they were enthusiastic about his creative endeavors offering their lunch money and ideas to support the creative development of the products. Zhong reasons that something about school over those five to six years from elementary school to high school makes the children lose their ability to think creatively and to take risks. This is strongly similar to the message that Robinson (2007) delivers in his own TED video.

What all of these videos have in common is that they show that creativity involves risk taking. Schools, on the other hand, are built to promote correct answers and specific academic intelligences. In an article entitled The Risks of Rewards by Alfie Kohn (1994), Kohn point out that study after study demonstrate that extrinsic rewards—including grades—diminish a child’s creative abilities. He writes, “students who are encouraged to think about grades, stickers, or other “goodies” become less inclined to explore ideas, think creatively, and take chances” (para 10). In other words, the more we reward children with good grades and other extrinsic incentives—and and punish with bad grades and other negative reinforcements—based on being correct in ways that require only a narrow scope of academic intelligences, the farther we are from fostering the other intelligences that students need to become successful adults. This is especially true of creativity because being creative requires risk taking that runs counter to the play-it-safe kinds of intelligence that is primarily supported by stressing the necessity to always give correct answers.

If this is the case, how can educators foster the different kinds of intelligences that are not currently being supported with as much rigor as are the traditional academic intelligences? It seems that a key may be found in Kohn’s (2016) most recent blog post. In the article, Kohn discuss how educators (and parents) often mistake quantity for quality when it comes to some of the key aspects required for learning. For example, we think that children need to be more motivated and more loved. Students must develop more self-esteem and they must internalize more of the values that we are trying to present if they want to be successful. Notice the emphasis on “more,” which is a term describing quantity.

While all of these things seem reasonable upon first inspection, they are counterproductive because—like intelligence—we tend view them as one-dimensional entities when in reality each of them is multi-dimensional. Instead of saying that children need more motivation; so, we will give them good and grades to help drive them, educators should be asking what kinds of motivations are constructive to better overall education quality promoting various kinds of intelligence, including creative intelligence. If we do, we will certainly want to foster intrinsic motivations and abandon rewards and punishments, including the current grading systems which only work on extrinsic motivational levels. Similarly, instead of thinking about all love as good, we need to realize that children primarily need unconditional love to help foster better learning in a safe environment. Conversely, if we heap on more conditional love for only those who act like we expect them to act and/or for only those who always get correct answers, then we are using love to control them while at the same time we are reinforcing less use of the creative intelligences with which children run the risk of making mistakes, thereby getting less love. Similar points can be made for self-esteem and internalization.

While Gardner introduced the concept that there are multiple intelligences that young people must develop, schools tend to ignore most of them in favor of linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, and even then only promote a very narrow view of those intelligences that ignore the child’s creative potential (Lane, n.d.). While many educators do make a concerted effort to include multiple intelligences in their lesson plans, for the most part the other intelligences are used to support the brand of academic intelligence that is promoted in school instead of teaching via these intelligences for their own sake.

Even art and music teachers tend to support the inclusion of their own programs in school by saying that learning music or art helps a child succeed in mathematics or other traditional academic disciplines. Kohn (2015) writes, “[about justifying music education] Lending new meaning to the phrase ‘instrumental justification,’ efforts to bring music to children’s lives are often defended on the grounds of improved performance in math or a boost in general cognitive capabilities. (When was the last time you heard someone justify algebra as a way to help kids be better musicians?)” (para 4).

His point is that music, art, dance, drama, poetry, and other creative endeavors have independent value. They don’t need to subjugate themselves to math and language arts to be worthwhile. Certainly no one makes the point that math and language arts should be taught to help students perform in music and art better, although it is certainly true that they do just that. Educators automatically recognize the individual value of these intelligences while ignoring the value of teaching the creative intelligences for their own sake. This diminishes the students’ creative abilities.

Kohn (2015) goes on to discuss four reasons why subjugating the creative and other intelligences to the traditional academic subjects that schools tend to value over the others is counterproductive to a child’s overall education. Yet, the most compelling reason is that in doing so we devalue some of the very intelligences that help children succeed as well-rounded individuals. The being better at math or linguistic studies becomes a reward for using the arts and thereby children become less interest in the artistic activity in a similar way to the way that many students become about academic subjects when extrinsic rewards are offered. He writes, “Scores of studies have found that offering people a reward for doing something (such as reading or helping) tends to reduce their interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. One reason for this effect, though not the only one, is that anything presented as a prerequisite for something else — a means to another end — comes to be seen as less desirable. The recipient of the reward figures, ‘If they have to bribe me to do this, it must be something I wouldn’t want to do’” (Kohn, 2015, para. 8). A child hearing the argument that we should teach art or music to make them better at math or language arts thinks, on a subconscious level, that if math performance is the only reason to teach creative arts, then why should I want to do it at all?

In summary, schools tend to subjugate the creative intelligences to some of the more traditional academic values. This devaluation of creativity is the primary reason that traditional education programs tend to turn out adults who haven’t learned how to innovate or create. By focusing on two of the seven intelligences identified by Gardner, educators are ignoring large areas for the development of creative skill. Instead of using the arts for their own value, which is essentially creative, schools want to justify creative programs as enrichments or elective that help students become better at mathematics and language arts. This subjugation of one intelligence to another makes creatively less important and even less desirable to children.

Kohn, A. (1994, December). The risks of rewards. Retrieved from Alfie Kohn:
Kohn, A. (2015, September 30). Do this and you’ll get that: A bad way to defend good programs. Retrieved from Alfie Kohn:
Kohn, A. (2016, April 23). Why lots of love (or motivation) isn’t enough. Retrieved from Alfie Kohn:
Lane, C. (n.d.). Multiple intelligences. Retrieved from Tecweb:
Robinson, S. K. (2007, January 6). Do schools kille creativity? | Sir Ken Robinson | TED Talks. Retrieved from Youtube:
Tan, A. (2008, February). Where does creativity hide? . Retrieved from TED:
Zhong, E. (2015, February 6). How school makes kids less intelligent | Eddy Zhong TEDxYouth@BeaconStreet. Retrieved from Youtube:


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Using the Art Class to Teach Creativity

Being a visual artist, using art techniques in class are naturally the most important creative tools that I have. However, I am learning that—despite the warnings about limiting one’s tools and choices that are present in some reading selections about fostering creativity—I feel that I must expand my set of tools to help students become more creative as well to help extend the nature of the creativity that comes out in my classroom. For example, there are similarities between some of the nine principles of design and music theory. I am specifically speaking about the design principles of pattern, rhythm, repetition, variation, movement, emphasis, and unity. Using music and listening to show how these different principles are achieved musically helps me illustrate how to use them creatively in the art, digital art and design, and website design classes that I teach. Additionally, incorporating history, mathematics, science, and language arts creativity has helped my students expand their creative thinking skills. One possible way to utilize a wider range of tools from other subject areas is to teach science concepts, which can lead to creative, science-fiction types of illustration projects that are based on real science facts. Pushing those kinds of activities that eliminate the artificial boundaries between content areas can help my students find new ways in which to be creative in art that may also carry over into their other subject work.

Inspiration—like motivation—is often best when it is internally generated by the students. What teachers can do effectively is to remove the barriers to both inspiration and motivation. If I inspire, the students often try to copy my work. That isn’t a creative endeavor for them. Imitation is a good starting point, but it is not a high level of creative learning. However, when they are inspired by internal thoughts and ideas, their work is necessarily more spontaneous and creative.

What is important to note when I say that teachers need to remove the barriers that they create is to recognize that sometimes the students’ internal inspirations are limited or even stifled by strict adherence to our assignments. Studies suggest that having limits is necessary for creative work, and there is some truth to that. Part of being creative learning how to think in new ways despite limiting challenges. But, when students have inspirational ideas, sometimes the barriers of the assignment need to be pushed back a bit—or even eliminated entirely for particular circumstances—to allow for that creative inspiration to flow within the frameworks of the assignment. As a teacher, it is difficult to give up our power; however, that is what we must do at times to give students more creative opportunities.

In my classroom, there are two basic kinds of activities that my students perform. First, there are those activities that teach a skill. By necessity, they are more like the imitation kinds of learning activities mentioned in Dr. Bartel’s (2014) article. He writes, “Imitation is not a way to learn critical thinking. Imitation and copy work is not a way to foster an innovative spirit in our students.” However, while it may not be innovative to copy a skill or technique, it is a necessary step toward becoming creative through using that technique. Once a student has acquired a skill though, it is imperative to repeat a similar activity that allows the student to use the skill in a more challenging, creative way. As Picasso once said, “learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” This quote goes well with Picasso’s own career in art, which was very structural in the beginning, but much more creative once he mastered techniques and was able to use them to break out of the copying mode. It was this knowledge of the rules of art that allowed for innovations like Cubism to be developed later in his career. This example is a good guideline for creative education. First master the formative methods for creating through imitation of skills. Then break the rules using creativity based on internal inspiration and motivations to expand the uses of the tools and techniques of art to new levels. While creative practice may thrive within limits, the possibilities for creativity should be limitless.


Bartel, M. (2014, June 2). Teaching creativity. Retrieved from


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How Can Technology Be Used in the Classroom to Promote Craftsmanship?

Back in July, I posted an article lamenting about how newer technologies are frequently used in such a way that it reduces the need for developing craftsmanship that older technologies required. The blog post specifies how modern desktop publishing allows lesser qualified individuals to easily create publications without the skills or knowledge that it once took to create printed materials. In the days before digital printing and Microsoft Office products, letterpress operators need to have skills in typography, typesetting, running the press, inking, choosing appropriate papers,and a wide range of other skills that seem less important today because built in templates and digital printers take away the necessity for most of those things. Therefore, the quality of the craftsmanship back then was integral to the trade. Today, the quality seems to be in the design of the technology and software rather than in the finished product that is produced.

What I didn’t mention is that even the printing press required a different set skills—and therefore (perhaps) lower craftsmanship—than was needed to hand write beautiful scrolls that were made by scribes. Perhaps one could argue that there is a danger with any new technology that supplants an older one that some skills will be lost, and craftsmanship will suffer. Generally, technologies are adopted because they make a process easier and/or more accessible to a larger group of people. If they didn’t, no one would use the technology.

Near the end of the July blog post I made the point that “New technologies could be used in conjunction with craftsmanship, but people need to understand why they shouldn’t let the technology do all the work without much input or skill from the user” (Sutton, 2015). Yet, I never returned to this point to explain how teachers can use technology differently to ensure that this is done. That is what I hope to rectify with this post.

As an educator who teaches art, digital art and design, and webpage design, I am always bridging the gap between new and older ways of doing things. I appreciate the traditional ways that artists have created and produced their arts over the centuries, but I also can see the advantages of using and teaching art production using digital media. Furthermore, as an artist and graphic designer, I create using both traditional and digital mediums. Yet, I would not say that my projects that involve digital media require less skill or lack craftsmanship. If that is so, then why do new technologies seem to make it more difficult to teach students craftsmanship?

The answer lies in the way educators tend to use technology in school. In my experience, most educators use technology to make the same kinds of worksheets and materials for student consumption they have been teaching with since before the advent of digital technologies. The only difference is that the materials are delivered digitally instead of on paper. While at times students may be required to type short responses or even longer research papers, students are mostly using technologies to consume materials made for them by the teacher. At home, they do the same thing. Much of their use of technology involves consuming videos and games made by others. They rarely produce anything with their technology that requires much craftsmanship.

However, there is a tremendous amount of production power in digital technologies and mobile communication devices. Student should be using their technology—or the school’s technology devices—to produce more than—or at least as much as— they consume. They should be publishing digital stories on video, writing blog posts, designing and creating games, taking and creatively editing photos, composing and playing music, and a wide range of other production activities that all foster creativity and craftsmanship. Furthermore, their publications and other creative productions should build on the skills and interests that they already have, as well as teach new skills. Their productions should stress the quality of craftsmanship. When teachers allow technology for production as well as consumption of information, using new technologies will necessarily require and foster the development of craftsmanship.


Sutton, C. (2015, June 10). The inverse relationship between technology and craftsmanship [Weblog}. Retrieved from

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Posted by on January 10, 2016 in Education


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The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that immersion is the key to engaging the most students in a curriculum. Clark Aldrich writes about the topic of immersion by using a metaphor about a little girl who goes to the pool with her father. At first she is afraid of the water, but after some coaxing her father convinces her to wet her feet in the shallow end. Once she has some success, and a little fun she immerses farther into the learning environment that is the pool. She learns about safety, how to swim, and how to interact with other people who are enjoying the pool environment (Aldrich, Clark. Learning Online with Games, Simulations, and Virtual Worlds: Strategies for Online Instruction, 2009). Immersion is also what makes video games so popular. Even students with the shortest attention span become better learners in the video game environment because they are immersed in the storyline, and the learning is relevant to their success in the game. In my opinion, education needs to reflect that kind of immersion process. In order to illustrate how this can be done, I am preparing a series of blog posts about using immersion tactics in the school environment. If anyone has any input into the subject, your comments will be greatly appreciated.

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Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Uncategorized


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