Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Creativity: Have Teachers Lost It?

I've heard too often that a state's standards and their accompanying standardized assessments have taken creativity out of the classroom. For the student and the teacher. I would argue differently. Think about it. Standards and state assessments are only a small part of what makes up curriculum. Don't forget that included in any good curricula is what is taught, how it is taught, the materials used, pacing guides, and the formative and summative assessments that are created locally. The state doesn't mandate how we get our students where they need to be in relation to the standards. The standards are simply our guidelines for building our local curriculum. This is where the creativity comes in.

Who is to say that we have to remain at the level of the standards written? Let's be creative and up the ante. For example, take the following Virginia Standards of Learning for 10th grade English.

The student will participate in and report on small-group learning activities.
a) Assume responsibility for specific group tasks.
b) Participate in the preparation of an outline or summary of the group activity.
c) Include all group members in oral presentation.
d) Use grammatically correct language, including vocabulary appropriate to the topic, audience, and purpose.

A teacher who believes that she isn't able to tap into her creativity to enrich this standard will simply have her students work in a group with certain meaningless tasks outlined. Each student will write something, and then each group member will present and use correct grammar. This lesson could take 15 minutes and fail to include anything relevant, thought-provoking, challenging, and/or stimulating - all of the things associated with creativity. Now let's look at these standards differently with the intent to embed creativity in the lesson.

First, the teacher has to use her creativity and intuition to decide when she should incorporate these standards in her timeline to optimize learning. She needs to determine how the group activity can be easily connected to the content knowledge and to other English and cross-curricular standards. She must determine what the essential questions are that need to be answered by students during this lesson and what, ultimately, she wants her students to learn that includes the standards. She has to figure out to make the lesson challenging. In other words, does it get students to think differently about something as compared to how they usually think? Is the lesson relevant? Is there a way to use community resources to bring relevancy into the lesson? Can students find a way to connect it to their own lives? Does it stimulate reflective thought? Are students applying their knowledge and skills in a real-world setting? How will she assess? She should provide students a rich way to show their growth. Who will the audience be? Other classrooms? Younger children? Parents? ... whew! This is really hard work.

It's not easy to say what I really mean. Some teachers today, not all, are taking the easy way out because they can. If they teach the standards at the level that they are presented, they can do it without creativity, which means less work and less commitment. And then they can blame the standards movement for the lack of creativity and lackluster classrooms. A rich curriculum that is creative and challenging takes a tremendous amount of work. Fortunately, we don't have to start from square one; the standards are already supplied for us. The creativity lies in how we get our students there.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"I make a #@*% difference! What about you?"

I found this in my school mailbox recently ... a piece written anonymously, photocopied, and shared among those of us who care.

He says the problem with teachers is, "What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
He reminds the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about teachers:
Those who can, do: those who can't, teach.

I decide to bite my tongue instead of his and resist the temptation to remind the other dinner guests that it's also true what they say about lawyers.

Because we're eating, after all, and this is polite company.

"I mean, you're a teacher, Taylor," he says.
"Be honest. What do you make?"

And I wish he hadn't done that (asked me to be honest) because, you see, I have a policy about honesty and ass-kicking: if you ask for it, I have to let you have it.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups. No, you may not ask a question. Why won't I let you get a drink of water? Because you're not thirsty, you're bored, that's why.

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven't called at a bad time, I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today. Billy said, "Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don't you?"
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are and what they can be.

You want to know what I make?

I make kids wonder.
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write, write, write.
And then I make them read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful over and over and over again until they will never misspell either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math.
And hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you got this (brains) then you follow this (heart) and if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make, you give them this (the finger).

Let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
I make a goddamn difference! What about you?