Recommended Reading: Intention

One of the greatest things about being active online as a teacher is that you get to interact with, and learn from, a lot of different people. I would never go as far to tell anyone that they absolutely have to be on Twitter to be a good teacher, but I can comfortably say that it’s a good way to engage and learn.

A pair of my favorite Twitter follows, Amy Burvall and Dan Ryder regularly drop bombs of goodness into my feed, and have had positive impacts in my classroom for the last few years. Dan gave me one of my favorite student response formats, and Amy has inspired so many creative activities in our work.

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My copy of Intention, proudly on my desk

 

Naturally, when I found out they had written a book together, it became a must buy. Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom has taken a place of honour on my professional bookshelf.

 

The core idea of the book is that we work to focus on the intent behind the things that we do in our classrooms. It is not necessarily the what we do that matters, the products, but rather the why we do it, the intention. This focus allows us to explore things more deeply, and allows us to let students create new things, hopefully breaking the cycle of reading and writing in response.

This book was like reading something that my heart wrote without me knowing it. It spoke deeply to the way I approach my classroom, and gave strong arguments to back those things I believe. It’s easy to get stuck in a grind teaching English, dropping into a cycle of reading and responding. I think that’s why so many of us jump at the Pinteresting of English classes, because it brought some life to things. I know that I did, because I love the idea of fusing creative expression with the learning we do in English.

That led to, alas, a profusion of what Burvall and Ryder term “dumpster projects.” These are all those dioramas and posters that jumped through the hoops we set up for our students, but didn’t really go that deep. These things that mattered for a moment on the due date, but after that, were destined for the dumpster. I assigned a bunch of them. They were great to have to show off on showcase nights, and students often enjoyed the process, but often, the academic aspects of these things left much to be desired.

Intention is largely about looking at the thinking behind things, and exploring ways to express ideas and opinions. Sometimes, the activities featured in the book are something unto themselves, but often, they can be used as catalysts for deeper thought before writing or responding.

 

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The colour palettes each group came up with

A couple of weeks ago, my Grade 9 class and I played with the Colour Palette lesson from Intention. The core idea is to explore how colour can be used as a form of expression. As suggested, I liberated a collection of paint chips from the hardware store, and brought them to my students. I told them that each group would be tasked with creating a colour palette that represented our class. They needed to choose a trio of colours, and explain their choices. Once they had done that, we looked at the creations of each group. We took the common characteristics that came up, and chose colours that best represented those characteristics, and gave them new names highlighting the connections.

 

 

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Our class colour palette, which is pretty darn accurate.

With a class that is new to me, and new to our school, this was a really great strategy for figuring out who we are as a learning community. I was able to see what had resonated with them in the time we had been together, and what we could build on. As the book suggests, we have now done some vital groundwork for using colour as a means of expressing ideas. When we tackle a text, I can pull out the paint chips, and we can create colour palettes that represent stories, themes or characters from our reading. This process can stand on its own, or it can be used as a brainstorming tool for writing that follows.

 

This is just one strategy among a multitude in this important book. The beauty of this book, however, is not that it gives you strategies like this, but that it offers suggestions on how to use the strategy in different ways, in different disciplines. It also encourages the remixing of strategies, pushing you to find ways to make the strategies fit your teaching, your classroom, your students.

This matters to me, because teaching is about the craft. It is not just about the delivery of content, but about finding ways to engage young people in the act of learning. It is not about finding a book that lays out a path for you to follow, step by step, in your classroom. It is about finding ideas that excite you, that you know will help you get where you want to go. Intention can work in either of those models, but it’s strongest quality is that it really wants to be a catalyst for engagement and thought rather than a guidebook to follow. Much like its authors are must follows on Twitter, this book is a must have for your professional library.

Has anyone else read this book?  What’s a go-to text of yours that we might not know about?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!

-Jay

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