Thursday, April 20, 2006

sog #3 - fun and education

So, some people who might someday be given a link to this blog know that I am a big advocate of "no curriculum" education. What this basically means is that students are left to pursue their own interests, and learn basic skills such as reading, writing through these pursuits.

I volunteer everyweek (well, it's supposed to be every week) helping teens use technology in the Lower East Side. The place is pretty cool, there's a recording studio for kids to make CDs, video editing materials and lots of art supplies. Mostly I help the kids to design web pages and create art using Photoshop.

One kid I helped, NJ, has what is apparently a pretty severe learning disability. Although he is 13, he can't really spell and has trouble reading. I was helping him to create a piece of Photoshop "art" a couple of weeks ago, and went through an interesting thought journey.

It started off with NJ wanting to take a picture of himself and make it look like he was drinking beer. Although I didn't think this was necessarily the most appropriate image to create, he was really insistent that this is what he wanted to make. In his words "What, you don't think my momma let's me drink beer?" How could I argue with that?

So, we began looking for pictures of beer on the internet. NJ got onto Google images and proceeded to ask me how to spell "beer". I was a flabbergasted but told him. As he typed it in and looked through the resulting images, I couldn't help thinking to myself "Why am I helping him use Photoshop? This kid needs to learn to read, not create images of him getting drunk." He found the image he wanted to use and downloaded it to his desktop.

Then we began using Photoshop. NJ wanted to cut himself out of a photo he took so he could superimpose himself on an image of a night club. We went through that process, and at one point I told him to copy and paste what he had selected. He asked me how to copy, and I told him the copy command was in the Edit menu. He asked me where the Edit menu was; I started to point to it but then stopped myself.

"NJ, how do you spell edit?" He replied that he didn't know.

"Well, what do you think the first letter is?" He sounded 'edit' out to himself and then replied "e?" with a very questioning note in his voice. I told him that was right and we repeated the procedure until he had figured out how to spell Edit. Then after he went to the Edit menu, we started all over again with the word "copy". And then "paste". Over and over, for every different menu command, and every different Google search that he needed to do.

Eventually, he completed his image of him holding a 40 floating on top of a very abstract background. He was really excited and printed it out to show his friends. His friends teased him about not letting the cops see it. I think NJ has a lot of trouble relating to the other kids his age normally and he was really happy to interact with them like this.

So, in the end, NJ got to create something he was really excited about. His desire for peer approval made him push through the difficulties he had with spelling and reading; he had a goal. I think this goal helped him learn a lot more than if he had just been reading a story that had no relevance to him.

I stand by my theory of throwing curriculum out the window.


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