"Dad, look what I made!"
If you are a parent, especially with young kids, you've heard that phrase, and probably put the object the sentence is referring to on your refrigerator. Even if it was...less than gallery quality. There is something creative in the mind of a child, and there is something in the heart of the parent that wants to celebrate our child's creativity.
But something happens as our kids get older. As we get older.
We stop being creative.
It's fewer abstract images, and more rigid structures. Our children cease thinking of creative solutions to problems because they begin to see that reality will only allow so much. And while it is good that our children begin to distinguish between fantasy and reality, it is not so good that they begin to confuse creativity with time wasting, and thus difficulty with impossibility.
I do not know what it is that makes us stop creating, but I am making educated guess that is has to do with society's rigid definitions and expectations regarding success. And it starts with education.
Students are told very early on that there is a certain way to do things. When I was in elementary, even then I balked at the idea that even though I got the right answer to an equation, I lost points or got it wrong because I did not follow the correct formula for finding the sum. It just rang wrong with me.
It still does.
We assume that in order for our students to demonstrate learning, it must look like X. A certain percentage on a test, a certain something in an essay, a rubric well followed. I have students ask that question all the time- "What is the rubric?"
And do not get me wrong, we need to measure our students' progress, and we need to have systems in place to do that. But if you listen, our students are not asking about a rubric in the sense we think, they are asking, "Tell me what you want me to do so I can produce the thing that you want me to." The focus is on what we as teachers want, not on what students are producing. What if they asked this instead:
"What do you want me to create?"
Now, if you will permit me, I want to back up a bit, and discuss my coffeehouse classroom project. See, it came out of a discussion about creativity. At least, that is how I heard it. A discussion about what environment is best for students to learn in, and a conclusion to that discussion that classrooms as we typically envision were not that place.
See, I had learned that classrooms needed desks, and rigid assessments, and that all things needed to be certain way. I did not learn this from my superiors- who I see now have been trying to to find ways to challenge this notion since our school opened. No, I learned it from a society that believes education looks a certain way. To use an education term, our anticipatory set is that school looks a certain way. From the furniture, to the way the lesson is delivered, to the way it is assessed.
Following this discussion, I adopted the mindset of "What do you want me to create?" I designed a classroom with flexible seating, adjusted lighting, coffee smells, and a general different feel from a regular classroom- which you can see more about here. But I soon realized that if I stopped with look and feel, what had I really changed? Yes, aesthetic is important, but as a launching pad. So, I developed more creativity and student led activities into the instruction, which you can read more about here and here.
Imagine if we as teachers re-adopted that creative mindset from when we were kids.
The design is my creativity- but the lessons, the instruction? Students are now tasked with making that their own creativity. The Coffee Talk piece in particular, along with my Sociology classes' Perfect World Project (blog to come), are letting students create things, tangible and intangible, that allow them to own their learning. Even if it is not "gallery work," progress is praised. There is a complete shift in the way I teach my students this year, and how they are reacting to it.
Some administrators from my district came this week and observed my Debate 1 class. It has freshmen through seniors, some students who want to join the team, some who just like to argue. The administrators left in awe of the students' respect and maturity in the Coffee Talk discussion, which was over homosexual rights. I explained that things like this had not been possible last year, and confirmed that yes, the class design played a part. What I did not say, because it had not occurred to me, was that I had given this year's class a sort of freedom to "create" their thoughts that I had not last year. Students developed a bond much quicker this year, and as such, they are working together more. In other classes, I have posed the question of "What can I as a teacher and us as a class do better?" The response has been that asked for more interaction with each other over the materials.
All this brings me back to my beginning. When a child makes something, they show pride in it, and honor when we as parents put it on the fridge. In the 21st century classroom, I think I am developing a way to encourage and celebrate creativity- and it is more than just a classroom design. It is a classroom culture. I have called this project Coffeehouse Concept from its inception, but from now it, it is my CREATE project.
Those administrators made the comment that they would love to see the type of class my students had just shown them in other content areas, I believe that the CREATE model is the way. I plan to elaborate more in future posts, but here, I just wanted to lay out the philosophy. As I close, I want to leave you with the meaning of CREATE:
Collaborative- students work together, even in discussions.
Reflective- students evaluate their own work, with prompting from peers.
Empowering- students are allowed to dream, and if the product is not "gallery quality", progress is praised
Active- students are mentally and/or physically engaged.
Timely- current events are used to increase the relevance and impact for students.
Education- not just what the teacher gives, but how the students lead their own learning.