26 September 2012

Creativity Runs Wild


“There’s probably no better example of the throttling of creativity than the difference between what we observe in a kindergarten classroom and what we observe in a high school classroom.” (Levine)

Wherever in the world I have been teaching, one of the most common observations of my classroom by other teachers is that it is "like a primary classroom". This is, more often that not, said in a derogatory and dismissive way, as if the colourful and expressive landscape of learning created through explorations of language and literature is a negative thing. That I cannot possibly be teaching a secondary curriculum if they seem to be creating so much..."mess" (as it has also been called).

I have never paid much attention to this; I believe that my IB Diploma English Literature class learnt a great deal about the symbols, motifs, characters, language, themes and setting through the mural we painted all over the classroom. They learnt to problem solve and collaborate to effectively and seamlessly weave together the fifteen different texts across the walls and ceiling. They brought the texts to life and populated the classroom with characters and settings, so they became a part of our everyday and 'joined in' our lessons. Listening to my class explain the mural to other learners from the year above, who had not had the opportunity to be in my class, demonstrated a depth of knowledge and understanding that was very much (and very sadly) lacking in the older contingent. It also promoted the course as well as a love of literature to everyone else who had the fortune to use the classroom. Every single one passed English, which I was pleased with. Some of them changed career paths because they realised new sides of themselves, which I was ecstatic about.


Grade 7: Choosing how to present poems they have written about themselves

I therefore find it refreshing to read Levine's suggestion that "a child’s time in school should look much like what kindergarten did", where we give them choices about how to show their learning, where we give free reign to their creativity and let their imaginations run wild. We need to move away from rows, even away from desks and chairs. Oh I can't wait for The Octopus's Garden :) I am all about choices and creativity; about expressing learning through sculpture, song, painting, drama, music, and poetry; about the integration of the arts into the curriculum as we do now with IT - rather than it being a stand-alone subject. Levine states that arts are essential for "developing creativity and flexible and divergent thinking", echoing the recent articles in Edutopia, highlighting the success of a school in the US which has been integrating arts in ways that IT is being integrated in many schools.

Through her work with Challenge Success, Levine posits five criteria as essential for changing the obsolete system of education as we know it: Project-Based Learning, Alternative Assessment, Scheduling, Climate of Care and Parent Education.

PBL is a methodology I am trying to implement in my classroom, but as Levine points out, people don't like to try new things and I am, as noted in a previous post, facing some opposition from learners with this system. However, I strongly believe that it is important and I will not give up, as it is a much more effective way to think about learning, “particularly when you live in a world that’s incredibly unclear on what content is going to be relevant in not just 10 or 20 years, but in three years" (Levine). In conjunction with this, and in the same vein, Flat Classroom Project designs take this one step further to address the needs of employers who need workers who can "be collaborative, work across time zones and cultures because problems are so complex" in the 21st Century.

Both these feed into alternative assessment, as there are plenty of opportunities to partake in different roles and activities. Writing essays has to have its place whilst out-dated exams still exist but we must move away from these tests that "only show what some kids know, but leave out a whole bunch of kids who aren’t able to show what they know in different ways" (Levine). The crunch comes when it is exam and reporting time; we are currently in the process of decided what and how we report on our learners achievements who are lucky enough to not be in exam courses. In attempting to move away from grading and towards commenting, we need to design an effective system that allows for PBL, FCP and creativity, that fosters 21st Century trans-disciplinary skills and yet satisfies parents. And here comes the bigest hurdle and Levine's fifth criteria: Parent Education.

Levine's book is a start at educating parents to seek for "authentic success' which is not measured necessarily by grades. Until we can educate parents who are entrenched in the old-school ways, who are not exposed to all this amazing new thinking and ways of learning, who may still be a little bit frightened of technology - or who even have not thought about alternatives - we will still hit a brick wall and all our hard work will crack and fall apart. We will be forced to take our creativity and our technology and our 21st Century skills and glue them back together, mismatched as a grade. Mismatched to true achievement and failing to measure "authentic success".

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"At Challenge Success, We Believe That Our Society Has Become Too Focused on Grades, Test Scores and Performance, Leaving Little Time and Energy for Our Kids to Become Resilient, Successful, Meaningful Contributors for the 21st Century." Challenge Success. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2012. <http://www.challengesuccess.org/>.

Levine, Madeline. Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success. New York: Harper, 2012. Print.

"MindShift." MindShift. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2012. <http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/09/why-kids-need-schools-to-change/>.