Curating Creativity

00003475666680It’s hard to miss motivation and creativity when it blooms in front of us.  Yesterday, Joan’s eighth-grade son returned home from his Model UN experience saying, “In 362 days, I get to go back as a delegate of one of the Five Superpower countries.  I can hardly wait.”  The rest of the afternoon, Graham filled in the details of his experience and his gratitude for being able to participate as an eighth-grader in a high school experience.

As a parent, Joan’s grateful that her son has the momentum, drive, and intrinsic motivation required for deep, lasting learning.  As teachers, we know he already has the mindset that equips him for the challenges and messiness of future learning.  Because we believe schools and teachers can positively affect students’ acceptance of challenging, authentic work, we applaud and Lindsay Unified Public School’s vision statement:

“Everyday, our learners come to school and are met at their developmental learning levels; they are challenged, they are successful, and they leave school wanting to return tomorrow.”

But how do we create that learning culture for students with less glowing conclusions about school and learning?  How do we address what one reader of last week’s blog–Do Schools Inadvertently Stamp Out Creativity?–claims, “There’s nothing inadvertent about it,” aside from dodging the issue?  If you’ve been following our blog, you already know we don’t dodge issues that impact our students.

We believe the path begins with three basic ingredients of motivation: student choice, high expectations for success, and an experienced coach/guide/teacher.  This blog is dedicated to treating students as developing adults and requiring them to think deeply and to take action on issues that matter to them and to their communities.  We’ve worked to make our point that teaching literature in the context of human experience and connecting the canon of literature to humanity is a path to creating a sense of pride and agency in high school students.

Author Kathleen Cushman’s research in adolescent motivation and mastery learning breakdowns the process of getting students to want more school tomorrow:

  • Learning has to feel good–we believe choice plays a vital role in this
  • Learning must matter–thus our work in connecting literature to social action
  • Learning must be active in some way–project-based learning accomplishes this for us
  • Learning must stretch students–and teachers; why let students have all the fun?!
  • Students need great teachers–job security, people!
  • Students must be able to use / apply / present their learning–project-based learning
  • Learners must reflect on their processes and on their learning–same is true for teachers
  • Learners must plan next steps and consider the “so what?” challenge of authentic learning–ditto for teachers

When we use our learning to prove a point, we’ve created a path into creativity.

SAGE project-based learning

SAGE project-based learning

How can teachers curate that kind of learning?  Click here to watch a five-minute video on project-based learning from High Tech High School in San Diego:

  • Student Choice
  • Authenticity of audience and purpose
  • Global significance
  • Exhibition to an authentic audience

Ben Daley of High Tech High School claims, “Making student work public is a great driver for school improvement.”

School as a museum

School as a museum

Watch this short video of school as a living museum and how exhibiting student work to real audiences deepens learning for everyone.

Not ready for project-based learning?

Teachers and parents can have immediate positive impact by following researcher Carol Dweck’s recommendation of inviting self-reflection and noticing students’ efforts rather than praising ability.  Cultivating a growth mindset about learning and attitude means changing how we talk to and about our children.

If we praise students for being smart or completing assignments quickly, we risk students choosing growth-mindsetperformance over creativity (see last week’s post).  Dweck suggests noticing process over product as we help students reflect on their learning:

  • There’s a lot going on in your project.  Tell me what you notice.
  • That strategy seemed to work for you in this process.  What do you think?
  • What do you want to learn next?
  • What will you do differently next time?
  • How did you grow in this process?
  • What did you learn by working through your sticking points?
  • What was the muddiest / clearest point in your learning?
  • You’re putting a lot of effort into your work.  That’s called work ethic.
  • Looks like this assignment was a quick review; I’m going offer you deeper work tomorrow–you’re ready for it.

If you’re lucky enough to be a middle or high school teacher, than you can directly teach students about mindsets and the influence they have on our learning.  Our point?  We believe it’s possible to invite all of our students to lean into learning, ready to come to school tomorrow.

By Joan Flora and Pattie Sloan: two teachers challenging classroom status quo


About Teaching it Forward

We are high school language arts teachers in Oregon.
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