Creativity in the Classroom in an Era of Accountability
“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!” Theodor Seuss Geisel
A few years ago, my son,Zion, walked into the family where I was reading on the couch. He sat down beside me.
“You really like to read, don’t you?”
“Well, yeah.” I responded. “I would say it’s my most favorite thing to do.”
He sighed. “I remember when I used to read for fun.”
“Well, what do you read for now?”
“To pass my AR (Accelerated Reading) tests.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. It was a profound moment for me – a moment that I really realized that, if my son is not the only one who thinks like this (and I believe he wasn’t), we have some serious problems in our schools.
This is what was on my mind as I began formulating an idea for my Action Learning Project (ALP) for ECI 521. What happened to reading for fun? Can we bring it back? From these ideas, I formed the formal inquiry question: How can teachers encourage reading in an era of accountability? Specifically, what learning techniques can be utilized that 1) encourage reading; 2) are interesting to students; and, 3) are feasible for busy teachers.
Through my ALP, I will investigate, along withZion(now 14-years-old) and some other students, whether incorporating more creative approaches to the way knowledge of literature is assessed will make a difference in how students view reading.
The Importance of Creativity in the Classroom
A study by Fleith (2009) suggests that both teachers and students believe that a classroom environment which enhances creativity provides students with choices, accepts different ideas, boosts self-confidence, and focuses on student strengths and interests (Fleith, 2000). Another study published by Partners in Learning (2011) stated that students who are creative will be prepared for a rapidly changing world, where they may have to adapt to several careers in a lifetime. In addition, classrooms are supposed to be fun learning centers, where the most important quality required is freedom of expression. By encouraging creativity in the classroom, a teacher is ensuring that the student has the ability to analyze a problem and think for herself, and is not swayed by orthodox and conventional rules (Thadani, 2010).
The Problem with Creativity in the Classroom
So, what is the problem? Since there is general agreement that creativity is not a bad thing, why isn’t it a number one priority in our classrooms?
Today’s teachers are faced with unique challenges in their classrooms – knowing content matter and state standards; being accountable to multiple constituents (students, parents, administrators, community members); and demonstrating their ability to achieve adequate yearly progress. It is no small wonder that they often feel too drained and uncreative themselves to promote that aspect of learning in their students. In addition, global competition causes countries to stress the academic subjects more, using the results of standardized tests as the measure of student accomplishment and talent (Lewis, 2009). Subsequently, students have become overwhelmed with the amount of testing that is required to pass the course, pass the grade, graduate. And, apparently, at least for some students, these tests (like AR), do not encourage students to read for fun. Instead, they often encourage surface knowledge of the subject matter – again, just enough to pass the test.
So, that’s leaves our society with two dilemmas: overworked teachers with no time left for creativity. And bored, reluctant learners with no outlet for creativity. I think that this problem can be answered with simple, easy to implement projects that, are not only enjoyable to students, but are easy for teachers to implement and evaluate.
We will look at a theoretical description of creative thinking and then explore how it relates to my ALP.
First, let me describe the ALP. The project will be done with a group of 5 young adults. I will lead a discussion with the students about creativity and its varied meanings. Students will be asked to read a short story. Afterwards, they will assess the writing sample according to their knowledge of creativity and using a rubric which will be provided. Students will then collaborate to produce a bookcast about their reading. Using VoiceThread, students will post their responses and reactions to what they learned about creativity and whether, in their opinion, the assessment exercise and bookcast project would influence their and other students’ attitudes about reading.
Dan Pink’s Theory of Creativity
Dan Pink’s Theory of Creativity contends that humans need to decrease their logical, systematic ways of being and develop more of a “conceptual” side of themselves (A Whole New Mind, 2005). He outlines what he believes to be six critical senses: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. These six elements can be applied to many aspects of life, including education.
Design is the element that should engage the senses. My ALP students will be encouraged to incorporate innovative design and work together to produce their bookcast.
Story is about listening and being a part of the stories (Reynolds, 2006). It’s not just about reeling out a bunch of facts; it’s being able “place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact. The ALP students will listen to a short story. The bookcast will allow them, in a sense to “retell the story” as seen through the emotions that the story evoked in them.
Symphony is looking at the single details and being able to see the big picture and how it all works together. For the AYP, students will hear a short story and evaluate it based on a rubric designed to assess creativity. This exercise will allow them to have a better understanding of creativity and how they can increase that element in their writing and be able to pick it out in other things they read. Also, in the collaboration process, students will each add an element and be able to bring the whole project together as one cohesive piece.
Empathy engages the emotions and allows you to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Garr (2006) suggests that empathy is more of a talent than a skill. However, everyone can get better at it. I believe this will definitely be possible for the students as they analyze their feelings about the story they have read and put their feelings together in the form of a bookcast.
Play is simply bringing humor into the situation. Classroom projects that involve collaboration can include this element as students are allowed to share their background experiences and laugh together. Maybe we’ll come to the conclusion that it’s not such a far-fetched idea for students to learn and have fun at the same time.
Meaning is about sharing your experiences with others. Bookcasts and VoiceThreads are ways for students to share their experiences and learn from each other. It is a way to connect, teach, and share.
What can teachers do to encourage creativity?
I believe that in order to encourage a student’s best creative performances, educators must help find what excites the student. As an educator, it may not necessarily be what really excites you. Teachers that want to encourage creativity in the classroom should make sure they are giving their students a lot of choice and different options when it comes to assignments and projects (NDTResourceCenter, 2011). Teachers can do a number of things to make sure students have the chance to show their creativeness. One example would be when students are given a research assignment, teachers could encourage students to write a paper, do a presentation, perform an experiment, or use technology to present information. In fact, I believe one of the best ways to encourage creativity, at least in young adult students, is through the use of technology – something they understand, enjoy, and already use. That’s why I chose VoiceThread and bookcasting for my AYP. I think students will find these two tools to be interesting and engaging.
Some predict that as the internet revolution continues to build and increasingly influence our world, it will have a massive impact on teaching and learning in the schools (Martin, 2010). Educators would do well to prepare for this wave of change. If we only utilize standardized tests for assessments, students quickly learn the type of thinking that we value. To encourage creativity, we need to include at least some opportunities for creative thought in assignments and tests.
I think that my AYP will allow teachers to see a couple of different classroom options that are do-able and effective. Of course, it will take a bit more effort on the part of teachers, but it will be well worth it.
Because those of us who are lovers of literature haven’t forgotten what it feels like to read for fun.
Pink, Dan. A Whole New Mind.New York City: Riverhead Books, 2005.
Fleith, Denise de Souza. (2000). Teacher and Student Perceptions of Creativity in the
Classroom Environment. Roeper Review, 22(3).
Lewis, T. (2009). Creativity in technology education: providing children with glimpses of their inventive potential. 19(1), 255–268. Retrieved from
Reynolds, G. (2006). Presentation Zen Blog: From design to meaning: a whole new way of presenting.
Partners in Learning. 2011. Retrieved from http://performancepyramid.muohio.edu/Creativity-in-the-Classroom.html
Khadani, R. (2010). Creativity in the Classroom. Retrieved from http://www.buzzle.com/articles/creativity-in-the-classroom.html
Martin, J. (2010). Reverse Instruction: Dan Pink and Karl’s “Fisch Flip.” Retrieved from http://www.connectedprincipals.com/archives/1534