The 4 C’s and folders

Folders. (Did I just begin with the dreaded “1-word opener?” Yes. I. Did.).

Not just folders, but folders in English class.


Folders: not just a tool to store papers, but a killer image to begin a blog post. (#truthbomb)

Seventeen years into the 21st century, it feels like teaching is starting to pay much more attention to the 4 Cs (though there is much more growth in this area that still needs to happen):

Student Rights & Empathy

familyIdeally, I’d like to think that critical thinking and communication are already happening in any classroom, especially an English class. However,  when it comes to collaboration and creativity, a traditional approach to teaching (a teacher-centered/conservative-pedagogical approach) does not, ironically and sadly, create enough space for that to happen.

It’s the 21st C – all 4 Cs need to be a mandatory part of education; it should be a student right.

I had my students “compete” with Dan Ryder’s Folder Challenge – “How Can We Bring Joy to Others?” (Twitter handle @wickedDecent and he’s a must follow). The focus of the experience is to have students practice empathy as a skill, a process where they have to be mindful of a “user.” We’re all users and designers; getting students to think of themselves in this context is important. Getting them to think of themselves of creating something for  a user, creators of something other than “a typical response to literature” (think: essay) is better. And, ideally: fun. (Note: teachers say this will be fun” and, usually, it really isn’t to students. The Folder Challenge is actually fun).

With the constraints of time (20 minutes), and a few variables/supplies (folder, 4 paper clips, pens, pencils, glue/tape, etc…), the focus is on students also spending time interviewing a partner on “what brings them joy?” (Also, “what takes it away?”). From there, it’s time to make.

Making Means Thinking; Thinking = Time


People are socialized that artistry is an innate skill, a gift, something that’s to be admired in others, with many claiming “I’m just not artistic.” Well, no one learns how to breath. It just is; it’s autonomic. As far as art is concerned, maybe it’s not quite autonomic, but it’s natural for humans. If not, then how did prehistoric humans in Europe learn? There were no art centers throughout France or Spain. (By the way, most of the cave painters were women. You can tell by finger length).

Creativity comes from being creative. In other words, just do it. Getting better at turning a double play comes from working on many skills. In baseball, it’s called practice. This is both practice and creativity in action. San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford had to both work at this and play around enough to link the two ideas together. It’s fun for Crawford, it’s practice and practice means spending time on a craft.

The Folder Challenge

poolThis year, I’m trying something new for my students. We’re working on a 20% time project, a year-long attempt at a student-led project that will have students, in the words of super-teacher and “sharer” extraordinaire David Theriault, “Feed a Need.” (@DavidTedu is also a must follow on Twitter. His blog is changing my teaching practice).

To prepare for the project, I read Kevin Brookhouser’s “The 20 Time Project” book over the summer. I’ll need to re-read the book this summer as this year is, essentially, my primary iteration at the project. (Effective projects ask designers to iterate, iterate and iterate). Basically, I know that I’ve had some missteps and will look to improve upon those for next year’s classes.

Something that I should have done much earlier in the year is the folder challenge. Of course, first came the handshake challenge. More than anything else, I just thought it would be fun for my students to use it as a warm-up, especially since I picked the partners. (I gave students 2 minutes to create an “awesome” handshake, something close to what you can see in the 21 Pilots “Stressed Out” video). Right away, however, it gave the students a challenge to solve based upon a quick conversation between partners.

From there, they got 20 minutes to interview and create.

I thought it was totally worth it. I forgot to ask my students if they thought it was worth it. (Asking students to reflect/assess my lessons is an area I want to improve). But, I did see smiles on faces during class. That’s some kind of an assessment.

All 4 Cs? Yep.

So….this has what, exactly, do to with writing an essay?

But I don’t teach a literature class; never have in 19 years. I teach a language arts class. Yes, it’s called “English,” but if that’s only defined as a class where you write essays and most likely prepare students with only soul-crushing, non-creative, 5-paragraph essays; have fun with that!  (I’ll tackle the 5-paragraph essay problem – written about here, here, here, and here – in another post in the future.)

The folder challenge asks students to consider what writers & thinkers have been doing since Ancient Greece: consider audience, purpose and message. (They study the heck out of that in an AP Language class. College classes, too).

If I can get my students to consider the “Rhetorical Triangle” in a way that gets them to incorporate the 4C’s of 21st Century education, then that’s a good day.

– 30 –


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