Are the Common Core State Standards stifling creativity in students and teachers? Some current commentary seems to suggest they are. Of course, the difficulties do not lie in the standards themselves, but in the way the standards are enmeshed in the drive toward policy-driven test-based education. When the success of education (or the assessed value of teachers) is narrowed to a single test score, student needs or differences can appear to be a minor inconvenience. And any content or thinking beyond those required on a test, well, it can be suspect. To add to the complications, districts suddenly faced with high stakes curricular changes are naturally looking for convenient and targeted solutions. There are plenty of companies ready to sell them pre-planned “Common Core” lessons, ready to be implemented by all teachers. In U.S. News and World Report, David Greene wrote
To try to live up to the new demands and ensure better test scores, states, districts and schools have purchased resources, materials and scripted curricular modules solely developed for test success. Being lost is the practical wisdom and planned spontaneity necessary to work with 20 to 35 individuals in a classroom. Academic creativity has been drained from degraded and overworked experienced teachers. Uniformity has sucked the life out of teaching and learning. . . .
Imagine your brain surgeon having to “follow the book” while operating on you or lose his job. While you are on the table, he discovers an unforeseen problem that, because of his experience and practical wisdom, calls for a spontaneous change of plan, yet he can’t do what he knows will work. You die on the table. So have students. He retires early, frustrated with conditions. So have the best teachers.
Truthfully, if I were forced to teach exclusively from prescribed scripted materials, I’d be looking for another job, too. But for most teachers, there’s middle ground. Common Core standards may be mandated, and there may even be suggested materials, but most teachers still have the chance to decide how they’ll be implemented. As third grade teacher and Reading Today blogger Karen Jackson said,
I hear [commentary on Common Core], I read all of it and I have my own opinions on all of it, but come 8:00 a.m. every morning I still have to open my doors to 18 third graders and teach them how to read—and more importantly, how to love reading.
So I ask you to think about these two questions. What is within your realm of control and how can you keep your creative juices flowing?
And, I would add, “How can you get your students’ creative juices flowing as well?”
Jackson has some wonderful suggestions for teaching reading standards in engaging and flexible ways. Her suggestions focus on engaging students, getting them up and moving, varying tools and technology, and tying to students’ “hot topics.” Those are great, but I’d add a few more from my guidelines to “Creativizing” the curriculum.
- Is there a place it would be helpful to generate many ideas?
- Would it be helpful to take a different perspective or point of view?
- How could I use a “what if” question?
- Would asking students to add detail enhance their understanding?
- How could I incorporate metaphor into our discussion?
- How can I get students to ask questions and investigate?
- How could students apply their knowledge in a new situation?
I’d like to start a series of brief lesson suggestions for lessons that incorporate both Common Core standards and opportunities for flexible and original thinking. And I’d really like your help, particularly those of you who are studying creative thinking via Creativity in the Classroom. Many heads will be better than one for this project. Please use the form below to suggest lesson ideas. Just the outline will do. If I need more detail, I’ll contact you. I’ll include your name in the post or not, as you prefer. I’d love to include these through the year. Let’s give it a try!