In two weeks my 8th grade students will take the state writing assessment. It is a 35 minute timed writing to an expository prompt, something along the lines of what is your favorite…. and why…. The results of the pre-assessment in preparation for this were dismal. When I reflected upon it, I decided why not? Sir Ken Robinson, an educator, author, and advocate for the arts in school is an entertaining speaker who is working to transform public education. He defines creativity as “the process of having original ideas that have value.” A prompt may not lead to original ideas and how can you reach value in 35 minutes?
Robinson believes that “Creativity now is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.” He also explains how we got to where we are today. Public education as we know it began in the time of the industrial revolution. It was a way to prepare people for the working world, characterized by its linear path and importance of conformity, a “fast food” kind of learning, where everything is standardized. In that setting children are educated out of their creative capacities because it will not lead to the goal of getting a job.
We do not live in that world. A degree does not necessarily ensure a job. A popular education staff development video, “Shift Happens” expresses what is true for educators today. “We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don’t yet exist . . . in
order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.” It is my assertion that teachers are wise to spend their time teaching how to find the answers rather than the answers. To be successful you need the ability use divergent thinking, a component of creativity. Robinson notes that in one study 98% of a group of Kindergarten students were able to express a large amount of divergent thinking when given a open prompt. As that same group grew older their ability to exhibit it lessened. It is his assertion that we are “educating people out of their creative capacities.”
I concur. Recently a discussion with peers noted that we all seemed to do more writing when we did not have a mandated portfolio process. Because of all of the “housekeeping” required for portfolio pieces, I find myself using quick writes and short reflections as my writing program, with little time to engage in fully formed pieces. In all that prep time for tests, encouraging creativity is left out.
OK we all know it. Our students do not seem prepared for the real world, which requires the ability to problem solve and use one’s creativity but let’s look at this in a solution driven way. First of all I don’t propose to have all of the answers but I do know this. The tests will always be there but I don’t have to spend my teaching time in preparation for them. My students would be better served if they were reading and writing more and in that effort, there should be choice. You can’t feel passionate about something you don’t care about. It is my job to find out my students’ interests and concerns. We have to believe that all of our students have talents. It is our job to find out what they are and encourage them. Above all we must model. Coincidentally beside of the video of Sir Ken Robinson’s speech was a quote from money manager Dave Ramsey, “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, may you set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” You have to share the passion and creativity you have. That should include our joy in being a life long student. If we model how to learn in today’s world we do a better job of preparing our students for success tomorrow.
It is well worth your time to listen to one of Sir Ken’s speeches. He is very funny, interspersing his ideas among anecdotes that show that he understands.
Photograph courtesy of Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/ter-burg/3570012810/lightbox/