Creativity and the Common Core #3: They Don’t Tell You What Students Should DO with the Content

For the last few weeks I’ve been writing about teaching for creativity and the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core State Standards Initiative outlines core math and language arts content to be addressed at each grade level.

In my first Common Core post, I clarified that the Common Core State Standards are not intended to be the whole curriculum. The authors of the Standards are clear in stating that the Standards are not intended to list everything students should learn—just core fundamentals. As I said previously, the standards represent the core, not the whole apple.

The standards also do not address HOW the content should be taught. Last week I listed some basic questions teachers might use in lesson planning, if they want to incorporate divergent/flexible thinking into core content. Today I’d like to build on that by pointing out that the Standards list the basic processes students are to use (“Describe” “Explain” “Write” “Compare”) but do not, generally, say what students should DO in order to demonstrate those processes. What’s the actual task students will use to put the information to good use? And can that task ask that they do so creatively?

For example, if high school students are to

Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

there are many possible ways that understanding could be expressed. They could write a traditional paper, perhaps focusing on the standards for writing informative text. Alternatively, they could analyze several texts—perhaps several mysteries—and then write their own mini-mystery using the mystery strategies identified. The mini-mysteries could take the form of a mystery e-mail like this one, a traditional short story, or an oral story to be told at a “scary story” event—perhaps around Halloween. The key is that students aren’t simply inventing scary stories–they must be able to explain the mystery strategies used–and thus meet the standard. All of these activities support standards either in narrative writing or speech, as well as the initial analysis.

Or students could support the Standards on using technology in writing by contributing to an online bulletin board or poster defining “What Makes a Mystery?” or “Time Travel in Text,” sharing their observations about authors’ techniques across multiple texts. Such marvels are possible using using apps like Wallwisher, Corkboard Me, Popplet or Glogster—more on those another day. The important thing is, in any of those tasks, students are analyzing authors’ choices concerning how to structure text, and doing something meaningful with the information. The activities also support one of the keys to developing creativity, by helping students understand the tools and methods of professional writers.

Or, say you were addressing these standards.

Summarize categorical data for two categories in two-way frequency tables. Interpret relative frequencies in the context of the data (including joint, marginal, and conditional relative frequencies). Recognize possible associations and trends in the data.

Make inferences and justify conclusions from sample surveys, experiments and observational studies

You could have students complete the handy problems undoubtedly available in your math textbook. Or you could, as one of my students did some years ago, turn statistics on its ear. He devised a project in which students had to conduct a brief survey, analyze the data, and then present the data, first accurately, then as deceptively as possible without lying, using common strategies of presenting incomplete data, truncating graphs, etc. The project allowed him to assess students’ understanding of statistics and their ability to interpret surveys, while also providing a great cautionary lesson for the next time they read a “data-based” claim.

The photo at the top of the page is a great example of flexible thinking about how to portray content. In this class, students had to build and explain Rube Goldberg–type machines that demonstrated their knowledge of anatomy—and that also could be used as a demonstration of their accuate reading of science text. You might want to go their school blog to hear their explanations. Great stuff!

So here, for now, is the bottom line. The Common Core State Standards set a high bar for student learning and critical thinking, but they are not a cure-all for education—and will not, alone, support creativity. But that’s OK, because they should not be used alone.

  1. The Common Core State Standards do NOT tell us everything students need to know. Educators must be wise in incorporating additional important content in social studies, science, and the arts, as well as essential skills and knowledge about creativity and innovation.
  2. The Common Core State Standards do NOT tell us how to teach. Creative thinking skills, information, and attitudes can be integrated into the teaching methods of any content area. Students must have experiences in thinking divergently and solving problems through innovation, as well as through analysis.
  3. The Common Core State Standards do NOT define the ways students will use the information. This is particularly important. If students are to learn information with understanding, they must use it in meaningful ways. If we help them use new knowledge and skills in creative ways, it will support their content knowledge AND creativity.

We can do this–support the Common Core and Creativity simutaneously. Maybe we need a “3-C” logo! What do you think?  I would love love love to start a collection of lessons that teach Common Core Standards in ways that support creativity. Want to be a part of it?

2 thoughts on “Creativity and the Common Core #3: They Don’t Tell You What Students Should DO with the Content

  1. Pingback: Creativity and the Common Core #3: It Doesn't Tell You What Students DO | Childhood literacy |

  2. Pingback: Creativity and the Common Core #3: It Doesn’t Tell You What Students DO | MissSwieton's

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