4 Thoughts on Creatively Teaching

This is a post for a class that I'm currently taking. 

The last few years, I have put a lot of thought into the being creative aspect of learning. I am much more interested in how and what students create after consuming content than I am in giving grades. I have tried to set up my classroom in a way that is focused on creating instead of memorizing. Although I give test grades for the sake of grades, I have found that students love creating when given the opportunity. Seeing total engagement because of choice and creation is something that is really neat to observe. Students become more self motivated and self-directed as learners.

We’re in the middle of my unit on Greece. The final product, is to either make a historical marker or monument to commemorate either an event, person, or item from Ancient Greece. There is a lot of content that could be be given, but instead I give about 8 people or events and tell the students to choose one of them. I also give them the option to choose something else that interests them about the Greeks (possibly fashion, sports, or architecture). I give them some links to get started researching, but most find other sites on their own to help. I also give them the option to create something else if they desire.

Once they decide on their topic and do their research, I also let them choose how to showcase their knowledge. Anything is game. I sometimes give them an idea, like, “You could create a podcast, create it through Minecraft, create with Build With Chrome, or create a newscast,” After that I drop it, I let those that are interested in creating something “cool” do it. While others seem to only do what I tell them from the original directions. They see others thinking “outside the box.” The best thing is when someone comes back tomorrow and tells others what cool thing they created using whatever tool they want. It’s neat to see the creative juices flowing once something like that happens. What I almost always initially see is that students need a little spark. Once that spark happens, you might see fireworks. Something else that is interesting, is that students don’t want to outright copy the ideas of other students. They want to take other students’ ideas and improve them.

1. Creativity is something that needs to be taught. Students need to feel comfortable in class to break away from the teacher’s directions (if allowed) to follow a passion. I would say that more and more students are becoming less creative because of the greater (some would say stupid) emphasis on standardized testing. I feel there is usually a handful of students that are innately creative at the beginning of the year.  Those where I could give them a state standard and say, here it is, show me you know it seem to be few. Throughout the year, through small projects and helping them think about their thinking, I hope to continue to help students improve their creativeness, which leads us to point 2.

2. Creativity is Improvable. Deep down I am a rule follower and an introvert. Most people wouldn’t think that I’m introverted, but I think I do a good job of masking it. Creativity requires you to break the mold of tradition. It took me a while to understand this concept. More importantly, it took me a while to apply this concept. I always thought being creative was something artistic. Could you draw well? Make a cool poster? Design a logo? Those are what made someone creative. While there is some truth to that, I didn’t think you could push the boundaries of teaching creatively. I was wrong. When you look at a state standard, there are really only a few ways to attack it in social studies. Read about it then answer some questions to show you know it or consume as much content as possible to become an expert on it, then, regurgitate that knowledge in a way that pushes creativity. The latter takes the focus off the actual content and onto the application of the content which is a far more deeper level of thinking. The key is after you consume greatly, take it to the next level of creation.

I play guitar. Well, I play 4 chords. Only until last year, did I bring that guitar into the classroom to use it creatively. I didn’t feel safe doing it. What if students made fun of me because I’m not that good? What if I messed up? What if I was goofy? What if I messed up chords? What if ______? You don’t know until you try it.

3. Creativity takes courage. While creativity is improvable, you still need courage to improve it. Once I got over myself and my insecurities, it was one of the best things to happen to my teaching style. This was the first hurdle that I had to get over to teaching creatively. You had to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I had to get out of my comfort zone. My first year’s as a teacher look so much different than today. I’ve given up a lot of control to the students. I’ve relaxed my guard, while keeping order in a sometimes controlled chaos atmosphere of all students working on different things using different tools. I’m goofy in front of the students. I dance. I make fun of myself in videos I create. I think differently now. I’m personally more interested in finding creative ways to get students content. The technology tools that are at our disposal are almost endless.

4. Teaching Creatively Requires Finding Connections. The first time I feel I did something truly creative in the classroom while teaching was when I wore a football helmet the entire day. I did this because I did a writing lesson (I used to teach writing) on word choice and the focus was on onomatopoeia. I tackled a tackling dummy in class. Pop! Boom! That was my start. Not much. Just a spark. All it takes is one connection from something in the lesson to something else. I chose the football thing because it was football season and I had a Colts jersey, but I wanted something more. I talked to the football coach at the school. He got me a helmet and a tackling dummy out of storage. That was it. One connection to a memorable lesson.

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