Teacher Creativity Leads to Student Creativity

For more on this topic, listen to my interview with EdChat Radio.

I’ve been working with some really good teachers in my district on instructional design as part of our 21st Century Learning grant project.Meaning making and transfer Our emphasis has been on using backwards design, and, following the wisdom of Grant Wiggins, one of our goals has been to design learning for meaning-making and transfer.

The part that our teachers have struggled with the most is transfer.  Transfer is the ability to use the understandings, knowledge and skills the students have learned in a given unit (connected to what they already know and can do)  to solve a new problem or create something  authentic and meaningful. The task might be entirely different from anything the students “practiced” in the course of their learning.  The messier the problem is, the better.

One way to design a transfer task is to imagine what someone in “the real world” might do with that knowledge and skill – what kind of work would they be doing?  Then, build a plausible scenario where students can be in those roles, and/or make it real by having their final product, thinking, and ideas shared with an authentic audience.

I think one reason this is so difficult is that teachers are struggling themselves with the age old question students ask, “Why do I need to know this?” They are having a hard time identifying themselves how the content transfers to the “real world.” For others, the concept of transfer is simply not understood.

Driving in rain and trafficOne way to think about transfer is through a common learning experience the majority of us have had: driving a car. If we were only taught about every little part that is in a vehicle and each driving law was only learned and memorized in isolation, would we actually be able to drive a car?  Of course not – we need lots of time practicing and applying (transferring) the knowledge and skills learned  to be able to pull it together – and be able to drive in in any kind of  condition. And then – feedback is essential to improvement. In the driving scenario, that feedback might come from other students in the car, the instructor, or even other drivers on the road.  Often, it comes from our own gut feeling (which might in fact be generated through non-verbal feedback and reactions around us).  The same is true of sports, cooking, gardening – all require knowledge & skills that only improve with the opportunity to transfer that knowledge and skill to the actual “real world” task. We get feedback, and we try again.

There was an interesting exchange on #edchat last week regarding whether or not the Common Core Standards allow room for creativity and innovation.  My opinion? If you teach the standards in isolation, without ever giving students the opportunity to “pull it all together” through transfer and feedback, then probably not. But if you design learning for transfer of the content and standards to real-world authentic tasks as a primary goal for student learning and plan backwards from there, then yes – because the teacher designs the learning to include opportunities for students to practice creativity and innovation through the transfer task. C

Standards don’t prohibit teachers from using their own creativity to design learning that requires meaning making and transfer, but ironically, often teachers limit themselves (or feel limited by structures and/or authority)  in pursuit of meeting the standards.

My Slow Hunch and a Post-ISTE Challenge

ISTE-new-branding-home-02As I reflect on my overall ISTE experience and learning, “What’s next?” keeps percolating to the top of my thoughts. I came to ISTE looking for new ideas and new strategies to share back in my district to move us forward toward the change and enlightenment we all seek for education.  I have come to realize that this doesn’t come from a slick new technology, but rather from a creative teacher designing learning to effectively reach every student in his/her charge. Technology can help through the things we can do that weren’t possible without it, but without the teacher’s input – creative design and relationship with students, it might engage students initially, but in the long run, the results won’t change much.

What I continue to come back to in my ISTE experience are some of the ideas shared by Stephen Johnson at his keynote address on Tuesday. He stated:

When ideas take place in a hunch state – they need to collide with other hunches. You have to be able to create a system to allow those hunches to come together and turn in to something bigger than the sum of their parts.

This makes perfect sense to me, and really demonstrates the powerful learning that educators experience via Twitter and other social networks as weSlow hunch exchange ideas and resources to help us make a difference in the lives and learning of our students. I wonder about educators who choose not to participate in the PLN. Do they have a vision and direction to transform learning in their classroom, or are they satisfied with the status-quo? And, I’ve had a nagging thought (or- call it a slow hunch) that as a collective group, we should be making more forward progress and influence as a whole, on the kind of educational reform we seek, which is worlds apart from the reform movement of our nations and states. So what’s missing?

And then it struck me, as it did during Johnson’s keynote: as connected educators, we have truly been preaching to the choir.  Our PLN is wonderful and allows us to individually make changes and move forward in pockets of excellence and innovation, but our collective voice is not being heard.

Photo by Drew McKechnie on http://www.flickr.com
Photo by Drew McKechnie on http://www.flickr.com

Think about Stephen Johnson’s description of the London coffeehouse and Benjamin Franklin’s Club of Honest Whigs. Johnson said of the successes and ideas born out of that environment that it was due in part to the fact that the coffeehouse was cross-disciplinary in nature. We need to seek out people of diverse backgrounds and opinions to converse with, giving a chance for our slow hunches to collide.  We need to expand our sounding board to include people with ideas different from our own.

Wikipedia offers this definition:

Sounding Board : “When a person listens and responds with comments, they provide perspective that otherwise would not be available through introspection or thought alone.”

So with this in mind, I will be taking on the following challenges, and I encourage you to do the same. In the spirit of ISTE’s Connected Learning, Connected World:

  1. Seek out at least one educator in your district who is not a connected learner. Be a mentor, and listen. Try to discover their perspective, and share yours. If every one of the 20,000 connected educators at ISTE does this, we will significantly expand our pockets of educational innovation.
  2.  Share your passion and vision for transformation in education with at least one non-educator in your community.  Seek out opportunities to participate in an environment where diverse perspectives and slow hunches can collide.