My university recently hosted the ICE (Imagination / Creativity / Education) Conference. Instead of giving a presentation and being all concerned with that – decided to join many of my student teachers and enjoy a day of attending the workshops and gathering ideas. So glad I did!
The highlight for me was an Art workshop: Exploring Your Creative Process Through Reflection, Dialogue and Art Making. Basically, we explored the concept of Synectics. We used the book, “Not A Box” (see video below) as “a trigger” to get us risk taking and creating. Something language teachers can do too. I k!now Ken Robinson has made creativity a bigger issue in education (video) but are we doing enough? This lesson really engenders and promotes creativity!
Basically, after reading the book together, we were put into groups and each group given a box. Each group had a box that was of differing sizes, some huge, some tiny. Then, we were asked to say, “This is not a box but this is a …….”. Then, redesign our creation and talk about what principles of Synectics we used while creating.
Synectics is a way of promoting creativity in any kind of class, not just art. Take a look at this wordle and think about how you could use these principles of Synectic design, to “redesign” your own lesson, activity, curriculum into something more creative and “thoughful”.
My group's creation
Not a box. It's a fridge!
Not like the others is a game I made that does the same. Also, this activity is much the same. Basically, we ask our students to think “outside the box”. Try it – you’ll really have a fun, engaging lesson!
Do teachers kill creativity? What is the harm that a “teacher” does, just by being a teacher? Do we indeed stunt student achievement, growth and “thought” by our mere presence as a model and person to look up to and copy/become?
Like Ken Robinson’s story in “Do School’s Kill Creativity”, where the little girl is drawing God and the teacher says, “You can’t draw god!” — are we limiting our students by teaching our students? Where does culture start and control begin?
I remember when I was a kid. It was nice to observe adults but I much preferred doing it myself, learning by myself. Teachers were actual barriers on the road to learning. So many detours I had to take, to think for myself! To find the quick way, the effective way to the nuggets of gold and understanding.
Watch the video below comparing chimpanzees and children. Thought provoking.
I’m more and more calling for a world of self directed learning. Technology is prying open that door, that possibility. I think that maybe we do have it wrong. Teachers – who needs them?
(** note, this video suggests that humans are the only animals that “teach”. I just watched a BBC Earth video where they showed a clip of a mother teaching her baby chimp to use the proper stick to fish for termites. So this notion of our uniqueness is false. Surprisingly, the baby chimp kept pushing away the mother’s “stick” , kept pushing away the teacher. Maybe that’s why Jesus’ famous phrase, so hotly debated (Luke 14:26 – “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”))
The video above is simple and powerful. It speaks to us educators in a number of ways. The number of ways we should allow for more creativity in our classrooms – not just in language but in those most basic things we teach in the hidden curriculum – being human.
I will list my own practical ways teachers can be a lot more “creative” in their classrooms (and not just the usual stuff about throwing in more art or creative writing….), but first, let me sound off a bit (after all, it is my blog!)
I’ve been teaching a long time and I’ve been observing a lot of classes – the one thing I note, deeply note, is our profound dysynch between what we preach and what we practice. And I believe that is the case in almost any school in the world.
We say we want to create and develop loving, caring, critical thinking, sensitive citizens who are “comfortable in their skin”. That is, happy with who they are and full of boundless energy about the person they might be. HOWEVER, we engineer these souls. Yes, we do. Our skills stamp and cut to cookie size. We impart messages that aren’t human but culled of all blood and marrow. They are souless and stereotypes of the human imagination.
We tell stories about good and bad. Good wins and bad doesn’t. Not true. We ask students to study hard and achieve. Then we compare them and put many into the dustbin of our histories. We tell students to love and be kind. Then, we show how we control them in the front of our classrooms and how we ask them to “do” this way – no other option. Standards, have tos, marks, routines – these are the mark of educational systems run to the end of bitterness and inhumanity.
Others have said and written much better than I about the “factory” system which is modern schooling. Check out Ivan Illych or John Taylor Gatto. Or even reach up in your library to Rousseau. I’ll leave it at this – we have to do more. Ken Robinson said as much in his outstanding talk, “Schools kill creativity”.
So that’s where we stand.
I remember when I was a grade 8 student. I loved public speaking, loved sharing knowledge. Around our house were lots of books on communism and insurrection (it was the early 70s, a hippie commune of draft dodgers). I chose as my topic, “Guerrilla Warfare”. I’ll never forget being laughed at and from the front of the classroom. By my teacher also. They all thought I was speaking on “Gorilla Warfare”. This is not just a story, this happens every day in our schools and classrooms. We must do more, from where we stand.
I’m not a radical – but how within the present system can we help a boy like that in the video. Suffering Asperger’s, probably labeled and clinicalized (my word – means made untouchable, white, clean, inhuman). How can we do more? Here are a few of my suggestions.
1. Create community. Classrooms don’t allow freedom of expression and to be, for the most part because they aren’t a group. A unit that has each others back. That supports and nurtures whatever differences are found. Create community in your classroom by sharing your own teacher travails. By letting students recount their own stories and struggles. By spending a lot of time, the initial weeks, getting the students to know each other. Try these trust building exercises – they REALLY work.
2. Make language learning about expression. Not memorization nor accuracy. Never devoid language of its anchor, the self. Personalize. Always relate and center your class around self expression. Students will get to intimately know each other, be with and share each others “being”. Try some grammar poems to do this!
3. Do something BIG together. Ever see the movie “Pay it Forward”? I’ve put a clip below. Get your class together to do something GRAND and seemingly impossible. Plant a garden and take care of it. Raise money. Take a photo of your class a day and then at the end of the year, make a film. Maybe even make a Project Peace video! Change the world - yes, that’s what I said, Change the world.
4. Reward the needy, reward them lots! Today in my last class of micro teaching – there was a tie. So no team could get her one prize (a book). What did she do? She did something magical. She chose one struggling student and gave the student the book mentioning, “Cindy is trying so hard and can really can use this book – she needs help in her studies. Big round of applause for her in support!”
5. Plan your curriculum around questions. Question based curriculum if your school will let you do it, is the way to go. Here’s a presentation I made of questions I collected from students of a friend’s class (thanks Connie!) who responded online about the questions they wanted answered. Questions are the fertilizer of the mind – they lead us to be thinkers and individuals. The greatest individual is not like Socrates surmised, ” the one who knows he doesn’t know.” – the greatest individual is “the one who wants to find out.”.
6. Mix it up. I use Kagan’s wonderful, inside – outside (modify and do with a line if your class isn’t big enough). Let all students spend time learning and sharing with the rest of the class. You will be surprised how big a difference this will make. Our classes are all to a tee, segregated. Don’t let yours be, make the class a free place to roam. That goes too for bringing students to the board or using it anytime. That goes too with letting them use the computer when they want. That goes too with letting them go to the washroom when they want. That goes too with letting them “pass” when they want. Give them freedom and they WILL respond with Tillich’s profound “courage to be”.
I could go on but will stop here.
Just think of the gazillion more ways you can foster creativity, talent and individuality. Please, Make a Difference!