It is back-to-school time, at least in most of the U.S. Depending on where you live, you are probably in the last stages of new-year planning or already in the thick of things. Either way, it is a good time to think about general principles for planning curriculum that supports creativity. Helping students think more flexibly, solve problems, and generate new ideas is much too important to leave until 2:30 Friday afternoon. It must be part of the core of our instruction. And the best part is, if we teach in ways that support creativity, it supports learning as well. In my last post I considered the “what” of curriculum planning, how to select and organize content. This time we will talk about the “how.” A second principle for creative curriculum is:
The methods include instructional techniques that require students to ask questions, generate varied options, and consider multiple perspectives.
In other words, our students need to think about the things they are learning.
There are many ways to do this. I’ve written a whole series of posts about students as questioners. There are also many ways to get students to think about things from multiple perspectives. For example, consider these lesson-building basics.
- Is there a place in this lesson it would be helpful to generate many ideas?
- Could students take a different perspective or point of view about the content?
- How could I use a “what if” question to get students to look at content in a new way?
- Would asking students to add detail enhance their understanding? Could they fill in missing pieces?
- How could I incorporate metaphor into our discussion?
But there is a caveat. Beware of “Twinkie Curriculum.” Or Twinkie activities. What are those? Think about Twinkies. Those cream-filled wonders can make children’s eyes sparkle with delight, but they don’t actually help when children are hungry. They don’t bring needed nutrients for a balanced meal. They are (at least for children) just fun. A few Twinkies in a healthy diet won’t hurt, but they can’t be children’s main food source. Similarly, activities in which students generate many ideas for naming nail polish colors might be useful for teaching students what “fluency” means, or they don’t teaching important curriculum principles, except perhaps in an art course studying color variations.
Activities in which students ask questions and think flexibly take time and are powerful learning experiences. It is important to focus their power on key ideas and not on the less important details of the curriculum. For example, in studying Romeo and Juliet, students might have fun devising a more effective escape plan for the young couple. They might even use considerable original thinking in doing so. But why? It would not help them focus on important ideas. It would be a Twinkie activity. What would be better? It depends what you are trying to teach. If you are teaching about Shakespeare’s use of imagery, perhaps you want students to consider all the ways light and dark, day and night are used, not always in traditional ways. In that case, having students generate a list of contemporary songs or movies in which light and dark are used symbolically could enhance their understanding of imagery while helping build meaningful ties to their lives. Of course, if your teaching emphasis is on another aspect of the play, the places you would employ flexible thinking would change. The key is: Help students think in multiple ways about the ideas you care about most. Use flexible thinking, metaphor, and perspective-taking as powerful teaching tools rather than a break from routine.
No Twinkies. Except maybe for dessert.