It never fails to surprise me when the same students who tell me how much they hate writing are the ones who scribble poems in the back of the room during “boring” lectures. It never fails to render me speechless when we get to our poetry unit, and the same students who “fail” test after test, essay after essay, turn in beautifully crafted work.
Then, I think back to my high school self: I, too, “hated” reading. I “loathed” writing. I dreaded my boring English lectures. Yet, I kept a yellow three-pronged folder full of creative outlets: poems, stories, letters, doodles — you name it.
Here I am now, more than a decade later, a high school English and Special Education teacher trying to reach my students, wondering why there a disconnect between standards-based learning and creative outlets for our kids.
There is a reason for all the quotation marks, and that reason lies within the traditional approach to teaching, which is grounded in standards-based education. My argument is not that Common Core State Standards do not allow for creative instruction. I believe every teacher holds that right in his or her hands. No, my qualm is with the representation of creativity.
Creative writing — whether through poetry, song writing, or flash fiction — is rarely seen as valuable in Western culture.
I remember my professors in college dubbing English majors (especially us creative writers) the “future unemployed of America.” That didn’t stop me from pursuing my dreams, but creativity does not have to be limited to writing fiction.
Instead, I feel the stigma of not taking creative thought seriously must be removed from the classroom. Moreover, I think creativity should be instilled in our everyday lessons and welcomed from our students.
In order to remove the veil of insuperiority from creative response, teachers must instill creative values in students.
Our lessons should be built upon a foundation of unique inquiry. Acting, freewriting, freestyling and digital literacies should not be foreign to an English Language Arts classroom (or any class, for that matter).
Value is not lost in a lesson about the thematic qualities of To Kill a Mockingbird if we have our students act out lessons learned in the novel just as Jem, Scout and Dill acted out Boo Radley’s life in the Finch’s yard.
Additionally, a poetry slam has just as much value as taking notes on the qualifications of Walt Whitman and his free verse poetry.
If we change how educators view creativity, then students may begin to find their voice through creative means.
How can we expect a student to have full control over their voice and audience in an argumentative essay if we have not allowed them to explore these notions inwardly, through creative and/or multimodal means?
In order to produce quality, scholarly work, students must first test the waters, build their strengths and develop schemas in which to work from.
If we allow students to establish a reservoir of creative outlets, the more difficult tasks set on by Common Core State Standards won’t seem so hard; in fact, maybe these more efferent tasks will become aesthetically pleasing, too, reducing the use of “boring” from the English classroom.
Just a thought.