Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Rocking the Bronx --- S - L - O - W - L - Y

I needed a hook to start an AAR about reverting to doing and thinking the expected and safe thing under pressure.  It needed to be something that both I and the students could relate to.  Took quite a lot of musing and rejecting things before I remembered a story about a band dealing with a totally misleading album cover proposal from the record company.

At about 3:00, and after warning the folks in the nearby offices about the burst of noise, I put on Rocking the Bronx by Black 47.  Let a few verses of that play, as the on-time students entered the room.  Got some dancing to their seats.

Then I put up my simulation of the record company's proposed album cover with a thatched cottage on a hillside and Black 47 Fire of Freedom in Celtic half-uncial type*.  Asked, "What's going on here?"  Answers came gradually - stereotypes, assumptions, quick decisions, culture, media, seen similar associations.  A volunteer wrote them on the whiteboards. Someone asked whether the graphic designer heard the music or was just told "Irish band".  I went off these comments to talk about the human tendency to revert to the expected, tried and true under pressure.  So far, so good.  I did show the real album cover.  I think some what's-the-point confusion set in around then, and continued.

Next I asked for characteristics of creative and innovative work.  Here is where things slowed to a crawl, but slowly worked.  Ideas came, one very minute or two.  An insightful question popped up, creative/innovative process or creative/innovative product?  I replied either or both - maybe I should have waited for another student. Back to the slow drip of good ideas.  It was tormenting ME - it was the slowest idea generation session I've ever witnessed.  The silences in between ideas seemed endless.  But every time I was ready to call it off, another student popped up with an idea, and a good, relevant one.  Finally, at 3:35, we had to move on.  I asked if any of the ideas needed clarification, and a couple did.  The students asked and responded to one another, across the big circle. 

Now it's 3:40 and we're at the point I was hoping for at 3:20.  What was that about plans and contact with students? :-)  I asked how we could improve our already good group process, papers, and presentations away from the expected-response board's characteristics and toward the creative and innovative board's characteristics. Got some comments on time.  Then air-handling equipment noise and a lot of staring.  I finally broke and talked about the good things I saw (everyone bravely presenting, annotation, discussion, some triangulation, group members supporting one another) and the concerns I had (reporting, avoidance of prickly issues), - pretty much the points of the previous blog post. 

To finish, I got out the big index cards and asked for 2-3 ideas on how to "up the game" for Phase III, with my promise that this is preliminary idea generation, not their promise to always do what they wrote.  We'd see how these ideas can work in Phase III as it unfolds.  Got some very interesting responses here, too.  I understood "time" as the scheduled short duration of Phase II, and many of the students took "time" as their own time management practices.  Most focused on keeping a more open mind and exchanging more ideas with one another.  Many would go to more and outside sources with more time. 

What keeps happening here is that it IS working, although it always surprises me by HOW it works.  I need to be patient with the students' process.

* Larry Kirwan's story about the album cover negotiations for Black 47's Fire of Freedom, as told in his book, Green Suede Shoes

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