Monday, February 13, 2012

Content Subjectives - Moving Toward a Definition

On Friday I proposed the sacred cow of content objectives be addressed with a new technology, content subjectives. In that post I thought I had possibly coined the term although I had not done sufficient research to see if anyone else had started using it. Today I discovered that Mike Wesch began thinking about the idea of subjectives in a slightly different but very related fashion back in November. Although I think Dr. Wesch makes some great points I am not sure what he is after is quite the same as I am proposing. What he proposes is more like a point of view where I am proposing a teaching tool.

My goal here is to more closely define what a content subjective might be. It is not to come up with a final definition, that would take far more time than I have so far devoted to this idea and ideally would involve the work of many others, but to further a dialog. Hopefully by drawing some differences between learning environments that make use of content subjectives and those that use content objectives just exactly what content subjectives are will emerge. To do this I created an open Google Doc that anyone can edit. Feel free to add your input and ideas there.

Over the weekend I read Larry Cuban's (1986) Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920, a great primer on the failed use of information technologies in schools over the past 70 years. This book is one worth reading and considering especially if your school or district is planning on a major edtech initiative. In all of his work Cuban poses questions that must be wrestled with. While I disagree with Cuban's take on teaching information processing skills vs. drill and practice I completely agree with how he frames the reasons why schools are so slow to change. In this book he briefly mentions the notion of lateral thinking as a potential positive benefit of the use of computers in the classroom but quickly brushes it aside because he says that "there has been so little formal study of it."

After reflecting on Cuban's that two or three sentences on lateral thinking over the last few days I came to realize that this was exactly what was present running under all the examples of places I felt were content subjectives were at work. Lateral vs vertical are profoundly different ways of looking at content. Perhaps while content objectives aim at movement vertically within a content area, content subjectives are a device which helps move students laterally. A quick Google search for lateral thinking brought me to this article presenting a definition that I think fits well with what I am proposing with content subjectives. Here is a short piece of that article:

Lateral thinking is one of those terms that many people have heard of, but probably very few of us really know what it means. So when I saw a very clear definition and description of it in Paul Sloane's excellent new book, How to be a Brilliant Thinker: Exercise Your Mind & Find Creative Solutions, I couldn't resist sharing it with you.

"Lateral thinking is a phrase coined by Dr. Edward de Bono as a counterpoint to conventional or vertical thinking. In contentional thinking, we go forward in a predictable, direct fashion. Lateral thinking involves coming at the problem from new directions - literally, from the side."

So, this naturally led me to look up Dr. Edward de Bono. Dr. Bono has developed a system he calls his six hat system for stimulating creative thinking. I still am not quite sure what I think of his system but I do like what he says about lateral thinking:

So, what do content subjectives look like? They look more like questions than statements. They are juxtapositions meant to spark lateral thinking, creativity, and critical analysis. They set students off in a direction but do not determine their destination. They foster discovery and allow students to own their own learning as the path that will ultimately be written by them and be just as much a part of their own intellectual property rights as whatever products that the learning produces. But, more important than questions or rhetorical devices, a content subjective is something that is within the teacher and developed as part of his or her craft over time. It is something that guides a teacher's interactions with students and informs the shifts in direction they encourage students to take. It is also what informs decisions in the classroom environment such as the classroom design, the choice of objects the teacher places there for students to encounter, and what a teacher intentionally leaves out.

Help me nail this down. What is it specifically that defines a content subjective? What have I been describing in this post? How can we define content subjectives any closer? I feel like the answer is obviously before my eyes. Perhaps I am too close to it to see it for what it is. Whatever it is, it needs a name if it is going to have any power.

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