I hope you are having a wonderful weekend and are enjoying this beautiful weather. More snow is on the way, apparently, and I have to admit, I am excited for the winter to come. It’s hard to believe we are more than a quarter of the way through the school year. We have had a wonderful fall, and life on campus continues to be busy as usual.
My favorite part of each day at Dawson is the time I get to spend in the classrooms. I’ve been reading aloud with the kindergarten once a week and doing personal reading with the first grade as well. It’s so fun to see how much they grow in one short week. I also love slipping in to various classes in kindergarten through eighth grade to see what is going on. I am consistently blown away by the learning that is happening at every level.
At the start of the year, we were lucky enough to welcome Denise Pope to our campus. Pope is the author of the book, Overloaded and Underprepared, which was one of our faculty summer reading choices (along with Julie Lythcott-Haims’s How to Raise an Adult, which I wrote about in my last blog). If you were here for Back to School Night, you heard me talk about the idea of SPACE, both in school and at home. Pope encouraged teachers to create more student-centered, project-based lessons, allowing kids to grapple with new ideas, think critically, and create solutions. It’s definitely messier than what we often think of as “learning” – memorizing a great deal of information, answering multiple choice or short answer questions on a test to show what we have “learned,” and then promptly forgetting most of the information within a week. Inquiry-based, student-centered lessons require students to think deeply, to try solutions and fail, and then to try again, thus encouraging deeper and longer-lasting understanding.
One of the terms we educators hear a lot these days is “voice and choice.” The idea is that if students have a chance to show and tell their understanding, and if they are sometimes able to choose the method of showing their understanding, then they will engage more readily with the material, take more risks in their presentation, and ultimately gain a better understanding of the concepts and material. And providing students with voice and choice encourages creativity in a way that a more limited assignment cannot.
I recently came across this article
that provides tips for teachers and parents to encourage creativity in kids. The author talks about the mistaken notion that we just need to give our kids a blank canvas (or sheet of paper or computer screen) and let them have at it. Instead, he says, we need to provide some scaffolding that allows them to go for it. He mentions a cycle of creativity that starts with imagining, then goes to creating, playing, sharing, reflecting, and then back to imagining.
In visiting some classes at Dawson recently, I saw this idea at play (no pun intended!) in multiple classrooms. In Jeff Ellenbogen’s Creating with Technology class, students begin projects by looking at projects done in the past, and then having a meeting where they share their ideas for what they want to do (the imagining phase – also a bit of the sharing phase). They talk about what materials and knowledge they will need, they work to acquire those things, and they get to work. The cycle happens over and over again multiple times in a given class period – they are constantly creating, playing, sharing, reflecting, imagining, and creating again. The name of the class has the word creating in it, after all!
While that class is probably the most obvious place where we see this cycle in action, I’ve noticed it in other places as well. In Anna Vinson’s second grade class, students recently created a Westward Expansion Museum. They brainstormed what they wanted to explore and then what to create in order to show their understanding and share with each other and, ultimately, outside visitors, including family members and other students and teachers. The process of creating the museum entailed much imagination, creation, play, and reflection. And during the museum’s visiting hours, they had the chance to share their knowledge several times (unlike a presentation format where they would only get to share once), thus allowing them to think quickly about what presentation strategies worked well and what did not so they could make changes.
Eighth grade students in math class, using the student-centered Exeter curriculum, imagine various solutions to the problems they are given, and they have the freedom to solve each problem with whatever strategy works best for them. They then share their strategies with each other and reflect on how each method worked and whether some methods are more efficient or effective than others.
These are just a few of the examples I have seen of teachers creating time and space for students to think creatively and critically, to try new things and get a chance to play with their ideas, and to reflect on what worked and what didn’t so that they can try again. These students are gaining important skills, like divergent thinking, resilience, and positivity, that will help them as they move through school, in college, and, most importantly, beyond.
Have a great week!