teaching for creativity: demand calls for reversing the downward trend

I read a fascinating article this week that briefly discusses one of my favorite undercurrent topics in education: creativity.

The article in Forbes, “How Kids Lose Their Creativity As They Age (And How to Prevent It)” points out that creativity scores, measured yearly since the 1950’s by what is called the Torrance Test, have been dropping in American children since the 1990’s. It was this bit of evidence that initially pulled me in; while dropping test scores in any area aren’t exactly fresh news, it’s that this article’s subtexts link this sad fact strongly to the nature of the workplace. A modern workplace that is constantly changing, and greatly values creativity and innovation– as seen in countless successful companies and organizations.

Which leads me to ask . . . Is creativity rising among  the valued workplace skills, even as evidence shows creativity is falling among American children? This Forbes article would have you believe that it is, and that we need to do something about it.

While praising teachers and offering preventative measures against creativity loss, the Forbes article also makes some interesting claims: that the “school factory system”, “teaching to the test”, and teaching essentially with one goal or to form one type of student is destructive when it comes to creativity. This line of thinking reminds me of some of the things that one of my education heroes, Sir Ken Robinson, has been saying for a while now:

“I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.” (Sir Ken Robinson, “How Schools Kill Creativity“, TED February 2006.)

On the plus side, by acknowledging multiple intelligences and cultivating creativity like Sir Ken Robinson promotes, we are better able to engage students in learning. I’ve found this to be true for my students on both ends of the spectrum–the advanced and the remedial. So how to do this? The recommendations that the Forbes article makes aren’t anything new, but rather a compilation of ideas and research that have been developed before. For example, two of the five recommendations:

  • Teach kids to challenge assumptions instead of accepting things as is (also a basic concept of the critical literacy theory)
  • Teach that mistakes are not evil and should not be feared (an idea central to the concept of the growth mindset and also involved in the idea of “grit” and how that helps children succeed)

It’s worthwhile to think about creativity and education, especially in light of the modern workplace and culture they are a part of. A final quote from the Forbes article, “creativity has become the currency of success for us all” makes me think that now is a particularly good time to think how we as teachers can help students develop their own unique type of intelligence and creativity to prepare them for careers and life.


P.S. If you haven’t watched SKR’s TED talks, you need to. Here’s a link: http://bit.ly/1r9yhvV.

anne frank & real life

A couple of weeks ago I had a feeling of incompleteness with regards to the upcoming Anne Frank unit in my English classes (we’re reading the play). I had plenty of cognitive goals and skill goals (or objectives-if you like that word better; thanks to my college Ed courses for giving me labeling terms for those kinds of objectives). But no affective goals.

I also had no real world connection. How could I get students to connect with Anne Frank, and see her story as relevant today?
The real world connection part is very important to me. The fact that it was missing made me feel like I was going out in public without pants on. I’ve always believed that it is so important to have a real world context/connection with what I am teaching (as well as wear pants in public). Part of this strong belief came from a book I read this summer: Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys by Michael Smith and Jeffrey Wilhelm. There are a couple important parts that I want to share about boys and reading and English class (but of course you can always substitute “boys” for students in general; good teaching practices are good for everyone).
“The boys in our study wanted to understand the value of the work they were asked to do–and all too often they did not . . . Many students perceived the readings they were asked to do and the assignments associated with them as purposeless and contrived. ‘Busywork’ was a term or concept used by twenty-four of the boys to describe school assignments, particularly in English.” (118-119). How often do teachers give out cutesy little assignments that go along with the book they are reading in class? What is the purpose of those assignments, exactly? And do the students know it?

“The reading the boys enjoyed–most of it outside of school though some inside it–always had a purpose. the boys talked about a variety of purposes or goals that informed the literate activity they enjoyed” (120). —One of those purposes that I want to mention specifically for my purpose (affective goals & real world contexts) is what Smith & Wilhelm call The Reality Principle.
About this they say, “Figuring things out, fixing things, and making things all connected to the boys’ desire for realism, a theme expressed by every one of the boys in the study. One major subtheme of realism was the importance of ‘getting information’ about real events or situations the boys wanted to understand. Bambino, for example, insisted that he wanted to read about things that were ‘connected to the here and now.’ Pablo wanted emotional engagement when he read and maintained that ‘the real has more emotional punch’ . . . the boys . . . all privileged what they considered to be real and discounted what was not” (122, italics mine).
So they want something REAL. Or at least things “connected to the here and now.” If they get this, then they tend to be more invested and interested in what I’m teaching in class. Since reading this and coming to understand the importance of The Reality Principle, I have made it a point of telling students WHY we are doing what we are doing in class. WHY do you need to be able to summarize? What real world situation might you be in where you need to summarize? WHY do we need to build our reading fluency? Does that skill help you in real life? How? By discussing these things with them I find myself not only being more purposeful in what and how I teach, but I also find that the students are more willing to do their best work (or work at all, in some cases) when they know the WHY: the real world connection, the purpose.
So back to Anne Frank.
I needed an affective goal and a real world connection. With a little inspiration, I came up with THIS:

Anne Frank had to deal with the evils in her life, particularly the effects of the Holocaust, and she had to remain silent about it: partly because she was in hiding, partly because she was so young. The only way that she was heard was through her diary, which later was published.
· What evils are there in our lives that we have to deal with? (Drugs, gangs, terrorism, war in Afghanistan, hatred towards Americans, recession, promiscuity of media/popular culture, demoralization of role models and society).
· Do we have the option of remaining silent?
· Do we remain silent about these things or not?
· How do we choose to speak out if we choose to be heard?
· What things do I choose to speak out on?
· What effect does speaking out have on the world today?
How can I speak out?

I’m still coming up with how this is going to look in class. Probably in the form of some small group and then class discussions, and also maybe a short essay.
What do you think?

Don’t you love this picture of Anne Frank? It’s my favorite– I think that it really captures her happy, optimistic, sweet personality.