Sunday, February 1, 2015

Creativity in the Classroom..Have we Lost it?- Guest Post from Chelsea Baldwin

by Chelsea Baldwin ( Gulf Shores Middle School/@ChelseaSBaldwin)

With the push of new and rigorous standards, it's easy for us teachers to get caught up in the world of testing, assessing, and STRESSING. Due to this, many teachers feel as if there is no time or place for creativity in their classrooms.

But are the standards to blame?

No--Well, at least I don't think so. I believe the standards actually provide me with more freedom to be creative in my classroom. Yes, the standards are rigorous. Yes, they may not always be intriguing to you or your colleagues. However, they allow us as teachers to raise the bar for our students, to challenge them in ways we have never thought of, and to CREATE engaging lessons that ensure our students are prepared for the skills and knowledge needed in the real world.

Sounds simple enough, right?  The message conveyed may sound that way, but we all know it is not that simple. Creating engaging yet challenging material is difficult. It takes time--a lot more time than most of us feel we have. However, I have come to learn in order to create the innovative yet rigorous lessons I want my students to experience, I have to put forth the time. Yes, creating valuable lessons takes time up front, but the real and worthwhile learning that stems from it is what makes it all worth it. One way to help with the time issue is finding good resources.

With all the resources at our fingertips, there are plenty of ways to be creative without stressing over how you are going to transform previous lessons into challenging and engaging ones. May these ways be different than your notion of creativity? Maybe. Nonetheless, the resources are out there.  For me, the best resource for creative yet challenging lessons are other teachers. Many of the lessons and projects going on in my class this year have been inspired by other teachers across the country...and guess what? They are challenging, they are tied with the standards, and they are engaging for my students. So...Connect and collaborate with teachers through Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook; share your ideas; ask questions; but most importantly, TAKE RISKS! If a lesson plan or project intimidates you, then you're doing something right. Some of my best lessons this school year were ones I just knew were going to go terribly wrong. However, my students always found a way to surprise me.

Back to the original question: "Creativity in the classroom...have we lost it?"

Yes. Maybe for some of us, we have. But nothing is lost that cannot be found. We can still be creative in our classrooms. We can still challenge our students. It may be different, scary, or uncomfortable--but it is possible.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Learning to let go: Creativity isn’t all about me- Guest Post from Katie Grizzard

Learning to let go: Creativity isn’t all about me- Guest Post from Katie Grizzard (Prattville / @Katie_Grizzard)

Learning to let go: Creativity isn’t all about me

Creativity. Who has time for the grand production that is “creativity”? I’ve heard other teachers say it, and I’ve certainly thought it myself a time or two. See, though I would label myself as one of the  “creative types,” there doesn’t seem to be much time these days to truly “be creative.” Gone are the college days of luxuriating in cutesy coffee shops for hours writing to my heart’s content or getting up before the sun rises to write on my balcony with yet another cup of coffee.

As I sat in a meeting of teachers from all subject areas just this past week, the topic of creativity and engagement inevitably came up, as it often does in the world of education. One teacher was criticizing the newest standards and standardized tests for being so demanding that they make it “impossible to be fun and exciting.” “These standards don’t care how happy these kids are; they care about what they know!” she exasperatedly exclaimed to the group. In some ways, I agreed with this teacher.

The new standards are rigorous. They expect more intellectually from our students than has ever been expected of them before. But, and maybe this is where the power of perspective comes in to play, I have never felt that the common core standards or any curriculum limits my creativity or squelches the creative abilities of my students. In fact, I see it as quite the opposite. I see these increased expectations for our students, and, in turn, for us as teachers, as demanding of our creativity rather than detracting from it.

I also see the push towards higher-order, critical thinking as particularly linked to creativity. Creativity is defined as “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, and interpretations.” Is that critical thinking or what?? By challenging students to dig deeper, to think harder, and to not settle for what’s given to them on the surface, we are creating tomorrow’s problem solvers. We are establishing an environment where creativity is as necessary a survival tool as calculators and Google.

So in this new year, my challenge to you (any myself) is, yes, do not be afraid to take risks, to try a new projects, develop a new method for teaching an old lesson, or all the other typical things we think of when we vow to try to be more creative in the classroom. BUT, I also challenge you to reflect on the ways that creativity is already engrained as an innate desire within you and your students as human beings and to channel this.

We long to create and discover new things. We long to figure things out for ourselves, even if we don’t always realize it. It makes us feel good—accomplished even—and improves our self-confidence. Before you stay up for a week planning the perfect assignment or spend all your fee money on the latest technological gadget that promises foolproof student engagement, consider something a bit simpler but just as meaningful. On every occasion possible, let your students take the reins.

See, creativity and learning are both about letting go. The more responsibility that I have entrusted in my students, the more I realize that not only am I not the most creative person in the room, I don’t have to be. I am not the end-all-be-all, grand master of creativity, but I can be a pretty darn good facilitator of it. Sometimes we have to model creativity, and sometimes we have to get out of the way of it.

They won’t like it at first (and if you tend to be a bit of a control freak like me, you won’t either) because it’s not as easy as traditional schooling where they just sit back and listen as you provide them with all the answers, BUT do it anyway. Allow them to ask questions, but also push them to seek out their own answers. I love watching their little faces when I respond with, “I don’t know, what do you think?” Provide them with opportunities to solve real problems and make their own discoveries. This is creativity, albeit not necessarily the Pinterest DIY & Crafts board kind.

As often as you can and in all the ways that you can, let your students be responsible for their own learning. Let them struggle with a concept or an idea without swooping in at the first sign of distress, because creativity and hope are born of struggle, and we all know that the world could use a little more of both. Control is the true antithesis to creativity in the classroom or any situation. The more we can allow ourselves to let go of the reins, the more opportunities we generate for our students to discover and utilize their own creativity.