A few weeks ago fellow Voices blogger Shelley Wright wrote a provocative blog on flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy and beginning the learning experience with Creativity. As the person most directly responsible for our school’s Professional Development I have been wondering what professional development looks like when you turn Bloom’s on its head.
Teachers young and old are comfortable with the old model and path. Even if they have never heard of Bloom’s Taxonomy (it happens in independent schools where some young teachers have never taken an education course), teachers are inherently comfortable with the approach the taxonomy lays out. Remembering and Understanding are sooo easy to assessâ€”give a quiz; find out what you student doesn’t know. Applying and Analyzing are practiced at each level of a teacher’s own education and eventually applied as an educatorâ€”analyzing new texts, applying new techniques.
Ongoing education for teachers in all of Bloom’s Taxonomy except for Creativity is relatively straightforward. If you are an Asian History teacher, you attend an institute at some wonderful Center for Asian Studies; if you are a Math teacher you attend a workshop on technology in the math classroom or a week long session on delivering your school’s math program. If you want your faculty to rethink how they teach to multiple intelligences you focus your in-service days for the year on this topic.
Encouraging teachers to teach creativity requires a different approach.
Why teachers who create do Creativity so well
While it’s not a part of their job description, nor was it a requirement for their hiring, every art teacher at my school is a practicing artist. Each pursues his or her own distinctive expressive mediaâ€”photography, pottery, mixed media, oil paints, lithograph prints. Routinely, they bring their own thought process and fresh insights into the classroom with their students. They model creativity. Students learn in partnership about asking questions, choosing a path through a project, taking chances from seeing their teachers personal successes and failures (sharing failures is key!)
Art teachers don’t have a monopoly on sharing their own creativity. I have an English colleague who is a published author and shares with her classes her ongoing writing process from stumbling blocks to breakthroughs. A Math colleague has started his own school in Ghana, and his math classes benefit from his sharing with his students the innovative resolutions he finds to problems with opening and then operating a successful school.
I argue that part of the work of educational leaders from folks with titles like mine, to first adopters like our Middle School History teacher, is to encourage and nurture Creativity within our faculty. Not every English teacher needs to be a published author, but every English teacher should be transparently sharing with their students their own creative efforts whether it’s rethinking an approach to teaching, solving a problem with the class or their engagement with an issue. For instance, I have another colleague who has a number of our students working with her to crochet roses (the symbol associated with Cystic Fibrosis) as an ongoing fund raiser.
In working with faculty on setting professional growth goals, instructional leaders should put a focus on creative engagement, creative expression, creative rethinking of an old lesson at the core of the process.
Teaching Creativity is messy
I have a Chemistry colleague who didn’t answer a student’s question. It had to do with acid and what happens when human skin is splashed with acid. Instead, he asked his students to find the answer. One week later, after a lot of spoiled beef, great questions, and a very stinky lab, the students had pursued ingenious approaches to answering that original question. (One of the follow up questions was why stomach acid doesn’t destroy the lining of the stomach.)
Did they fully answer every question? No. Stepping out of the standard Chemistry curriculum means you might not end up with a neat and tidy final solution. The assessment for this week’s worth of work couldn’t possibly be a traditional test. Even the standard lab report failed to capture the types of learning going on in that lab. Written self reflections began to get at students’ sense of themselves as agents looking for imaginative ways of finding solutions to each step of their unplanned and unfolding process.
For the plunge into original thinking described above, we need to help colleagues take one unit each marking period, rethink the outcome, rethink the assessment(s) and then develop the path for students. A World Languages teacher might be encouraged to move from a traditional grammar/vocabulary quiz in a level two language class to one focusing on language production. Given the new outcome, the unit assessment might include students interacting with target-language peers via the internet. What creative resourceful suggestions might students generate for the gaps in their vocabulary? What happens when young people speak with other young people about a topic of interest?
Maybe all the desired vocabulary will be covered, maybe it won’t. Is it more important that the prescribed vocabulary is covered or that students experience the excitement of using the language and therefore the utility of learning more vocabulary? Do the student’s own solutions for overcoming language barriers serve them well? My own answers to these questions all land in favor of the messy side. But how do you assess this sort of learning?
Assessing efforts to teach Creativity
Teaching Creativity includes formative assessment and carefully constructed rubrics. The best means for increasing faculty comfort with the lack of linearity in encouraging student inventiveness is to model it first, nurture every step, require supported change, and give faculty tools for assessing. In the realm of creativity, formative assessment always trumps traditional summative assessment. The meat rotted, the pot blew up in the kiln, the computer programmers ran out of time, the cake reproduction of St. Basil’s Cathedral fell apart on the way to class, the team’s wiki-page editor broke her leg, the local paper didn’t print the letter to the editor on stream restoration. Failure is all too real when it comes to the “final project.”
Rather than a final grade, students should be getting regular feedback, constructive criticism, probing (as opposed to leading) questions from their teacher and their peers. This feedback needs to measure specific aspects of the learning as laid out in the unit or topic goals. Rubrics geared towards creativity need to be clear and based on learning objectives. These objectives will be process focused: how did students choose a substitute for human flesh, what strategies did level two language student use for communicating with native speakers, what choices compromises were made in translating St. Basil’s architecture into cake, where did you find an expert on stream restoration?
Formative rubrics should be the focus in teaching creativity with summative assessment focused on the overall process as much as the product. Rubric writing with creativity as the learning goal is an area for fruitful professional learning whether it’s an all day in-service, an ongoing project with a colleague, or a workshop led by someone who feels successful. I think peers are often the best teachers.
We will get what we assess
If we want students to know 99 random facts we create a test such as the SAT II subject test. If we want students to learn to write an analytical essay, we assign an essay, then grade it for form, style, grammar, content, and correct bibliography. If we want students to think and act creatively than the assessments we create for them must measure creativity.
Ingenuity, inventiveness, originality are non-linear, iterative, and prone to failure. Failure is great! Failure here is different from failing to demonstrate understanding of graphing logarithms in a pre-calc test; this kind of test measures grasp of the content and application. Our assessments for creativity need to reward failure within the creative process.
In modeling our own creative process we powerfully model for our students the rewards of approaching their lives with joyful wonder, the resilience to fail, the agency to seek their own solutions. The increased creativity in faculty and in students becomes the measure of successful professional development within our schools.
Image: Creative Commons
Latest posts by Margaret Haviland (see all)
- Student Creativity: the Importance of License and Limits - April 24, 2013
- Our US History Student Film Festival - January 31, 2013
- How I Spent My Summer Vacation â€” Teaching US History in Six Weeks to 10 Students Around the World - October 2, 2012
Our commenting function may have have taken a brief summer holiday – this comment arrived via email instead. We don’t want to waste good comments!
Peg Gillard wrote:
Even just living creatively and sharing that process (is a form of teaching)! It makes us human. It shows our struggles so our students see that we infallible adults struggle as they do. The need to create is truly human: from creating drama in the seventh grade classroom to creating a simple melody as one learns the guitar. Ours is not to question why but to question How can I help you get where you are going? How can I help you create that dream of yours? Great reflection on a great post! Thank you!
Thank you for your comment. I agree. So often we think of creativity as something that happens in the art room, analysis in the science class, quantitative reasoning in the math class. I have a wonderful art colleague who so clearly lays out the ways in which students creating pots in the pottery studio are involved in the scientific process. My teaching partner and I created a new ending unit and alternative final assessment for our history class. As a part of the wrap of we discussed with the students what worked and didn’t work well and whether or not we should do it again. Two students observed that they felt this was a creative way to tie together themes for the year!
I SO agree with you and am grateful you are writing about this at this point in time….all the conflicting pushes for more 21st Century skills bumping against more standardized and testable education just shows how much more creativity in needed in all areas of education. I tried to do my part. Corwin Press published my book TRANSFORMERS: CREATIVE TEACHERS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY in 2009. It’s an effort to explain how creativity in the classroom is within everyone’s reach, not just the artsy teacher down the hall with cool bulletin boards. Since there are many books on creativity, Corwin places it often in the “critical thinking” section of their catalogues. I get a kick out of that. Since RTI, PLC’s, now CCSS books take precedence over creativity as a hot topic, you can understand that this book hasn’t necessarily flown off the shelves. So I had to veil the topic and present it under one that looked more appealing—I published a book with Solution Tree on the use of teacher “soft skills” including creativity entitled YOU’VE GOT TO REACH THEM TO TEACH THEM (2010) that calls for the same kind of teaching but without labeling it “creativity”…..now I am following that one–that does sell better incidentally–with ENGAGING LITERACY: WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE IN THE CLASSROOM coming out in November that brings the creativity back into the arena but this time as it relates to helping teachers and students move through literacy. So I’m trying to do my part and focus the education lens on how wonderful the intentional use of one’s creativity can effect everything and everyone around you!
Sorry, should read: since there AREN’T many books on creativity…
Dear Mary Kim,
Thank you for your message. I am thrilled you book on creative teachers ends up in the critical thinking section of the catalogues. The creative process requires analysis and questions “what happens if I try this”? “When do I need to shift directions with this line of thought”? “What is the most effective way to reach my intended audience”? All questions apply across all the disciplines. These are only the most basic questions in the creative process.
Great article, Dr. Haviland! I struggled with how to explain this to some of my peers in that they often equated creativity with artsy sort of stuff. Helping them see that creativity is not a product but a process is so important. : )
Sometimes I think it helps to model what we mean by the creative process. Why not share with your peers an example of your own creativity within your classroom. I am a history teacher. For me the creative process is introducing a new lesson plan or project and transparently working it through with my students.
Yes, I did try to share and model! My former students and I wrote a book about our experiences with this type of process. The funny thing is, I wasn’t usually “received” well as a model. Not sure if that makes sense.
I was generally enthusiastic most of the time about whatever we were doing in class, and was met with either skepticism or outright negativity. That didn’t dampen my enthusiasm, but it did change how I shared. I learned that some high school teachers (not all)don’t trust enthusiasm and in a weird way, they don’t trust creativeness. : /
I know what you mean. I remember deviating from the standard text my first year teaching. I brought into my ancient history class a translation of the Tales of Inanna from ancient Sumer. My colleague was aghast and explained that we needed to stick with the text and that portions of Gilgamesh were all that was required. (I think the fear was that the Inanna cycle was too sexualized). My students and I loved it and we spent two good class periods discussing the shift from Inanna to Ishtar.
I wonder whether or not the self-reflection of your students and making them co- creators with you of the new “text” isn’t in itself threatening. After all if your self-image as a teacher is being the expert, a colleague modeling something different would be challenging. Hang in there!
Great post, Margaret. I think you’ve nailed it. So much of the learning process involves being creative. Being a problem solver requires us to be creative, and yet, this seems to be one of the things our students slowly lose, along with curiousity. With the probelms our world is facing, we need creativity more than ever.
But I think often teachers don’t know how. Because most of us our products of the current schooling system, it’s hard to know how to do it differently. We really have no reference for a creative school system!
So I think the words you’ve offered in this area are very wise. Start slowly, be careful with what you assess, provide lots of feedback and expect failure. But most importantly, start.
Isn’t it time one of you smarties took on what passes for “computer education.” Talk about memorizing a list of facts you can forget as soon as the test is over. Textbooks written by geeks for geeks leave the individuals in the real world who get stuck in these classes with little really helpful information. Mostly tests about what you learned from some guy at Best Buy, certainly not in class. And so many taught on-line so you really can’t even ask a question. and that’s another thing. How about “creativity” in on-line classes. Teachers would faint if they ever had to talk to a student.
I think you aren’t doing good on-line education if you aren’t meeting your students in skype or in a webcast format, both as a class and individually. I am teaching an online course this summer and the first thing I did was let go of the idea that we would march through the entire sequence of US History. But, my students will have to know events, people, places, topics, to be able to ask the questions that will be the focus of our webinar time. We will also have asynchronous discussion forums where we will focus on analysis, synthesis and creativity. One of my top goals is to help them become better writers, thinkers and SPEAKERS!
I really like the focus of your blog. I could not have said it better myself. It is indeed critical that our students learn to problem solve as they head into the 21st century. Our students will be required to solve problems and work in industries that have yet to be created. Facts can be found at the click of a button or tap of a finger. However a passion for learning, the tools and techniques for streamlining research, and critical analysis of information need to be developed and taught by educators. Some of my professional goals as an art educator are to have students question their work without ego, solve problems without relying on me, teach others what they learned, and grow as a creative force in our world. If every subject was taught from a creative point of view, student engagement would not be a problem yet to be solved.
I still find one of my greatest challenges as a teacher is to not provide the answer but to ask a helpful question. Today, my students were drawing freehand maps of North America. I had one student consistently asking, where is Hudson Bay, where is Cincinnati, where is. . . .I had to resist the effort to even give a hint. Instead, I asked her to stop and look around and see what approaches her classmates were taking. There were lots of different approaches to finding information. Her next challenge was sticking with one that worked for her. . . !
Great article and thoughts. In fact, at John’s Hopkins School of Education, Dr. Mariale Hardiman’s research in neuro- and cognitive sciences shows that students do in fact learn better when creativity is applied. Her newest book geared towards teachers, The Brain-Targeted Teaching Model for 21st-Century Schools may be of use to some of your readers. We’re not affiliated with JHUSE or Dr. Hardiman, but–if blatant self-promotion is allowed, do want to let your readers know about our own creative arts mentoring program at http://www.theacmenetwork.org, which allows students to upload creative projects to our community and get feedback on their work from other educators and students nation-wide. We have a year’s worth of exercises and challenges to help teachers teach creatively using animation as a focus. Students must earn access to professional feedback, but if they participate on the platform, and do quality work, then they can get feedback from professional Hollywood industry vets. 99% of the students who used ACME stayed in school to graduate. We find that when students problem-solve and can express themselves in one area, it impacts their performance in many other avenues.
I have a book called Using Creativity to Empower Teachers ( working title) coming out with IAP hopefully before end of 2012 that speaks to these very issues when I realized how few books were out there that empower teachers to creativly reimagine their profession. Also see my post on the Examiner called “The Closing of the Creative Mind”
Check out the book I wrote for Corwin Press on just this topic: Transformers: Creative Teachers for the 21st Century….I will keep an eye out for your new book! You are right, there aren’t many around that deal with this issue!
I came across this post when trying to research Passion-based education. This is a new concept for me, but one that I believe in really strongly. Unfortunately, I feel as though there are not enough hours in a day as a new teacher to do the research needed to implement this kind of approach in the classroom. I’m a third year teacher, and things are looking grim. The current teaching landscape essentially tells us that we can’t be the type of teacher we want to be in the first 5+ years of teaching. Instead, we need to focus on survival and making sure that we’re prepared for the next day–not whether we’re enjoying or believe in what we’re teaching. But I digress.
I want to be the kind of teacher you propose here. And I must say, of all articles I’ve read, this one seems to have the most practical application. I think, though, it would be beneficial if we could see a fully planned out unit. What does a unit plan for this kind of classroom look like? How is it structured?
Do such examples exist? If so, I would really, really appreciate some direction.
Thank you for your email. First I think you need to take the long view of a teaching career. I would suggest you take one unit with which you are very comfortable and this summer work with a colleague to shift it to something that has outcomes that include student creativity.
For instance, I just finished a unit on WWI. My teaching partners and I wanted our unit demonstration of learning to do two things — have students practice again their library research skills and create new meaning for themselves about the war. We decided on a round table where students impersonated people who had lived through WWI. I was Herbert Hoover, Secretary of Commerce, the year was 1922, and students came impersonating characters as varied as Marcus Garvey, Henry Ford, Captain Harry Truman, Ida Wells, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs. In their self-reflections after the round table students wrote that the most challenging part of the process was making intelligent guesses for how their character might have actually responded within the context of our discussion. Some felt they hadn’t gotten it quite right but in the reflections they tried to imagine what would have been right.
The students also had helpful suggestions about how to improve the entire unit and how I could be a better Herbert Hoover!
If I were doing this with juniors or seniors I would have had them help create the entire unit.
I hear your frustration loud and clear. You and your fellow new teachers are expected to teach from day one with hardly any training. Imagine a doctor, lawyer, or business person having to step into active practice alone, just as you and your colleagues have done.
Don’t give up. Seek help (as you have here). Bring colleagues and administrators into your classroom and ask for their observations, advice, and support. Don’t do what so many veteran teachers do down the hall, many of whom stand at the front and talk most of the time. Instead think creativity, seek engagement and avoid repetition and regurgitation.
After seeing fourteen teachers talk throughout one October school day, I decide to write TEACHING FROM THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM: INVITING STUDENTS TO LEARN (STETSON PRESS, 2010). It is my contribution to make teaching more engaging and creative. Currently, I am blogging the book (with periodic diversions) at teachfromthemiddle.wordpress.com in an effort to seek more readers.
I wish you well.