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July 26, 2010

As NCLB Narrows the Curriculum, Creativity Declines

EPi.Longo Newsweek Magazine recently discovered "The Creativity Crisis." 

"... Since 1990, creativity scores have consistently inched downward." 

Creativity is on the decline among our children. Walk into many classrooms and you'll see why. Our kids are too busy being force-fed a diet of "test-prep" to have any time to explore their learning in deeper, more open-ended approaches. NCLB marches on - narrowing the curriculum to the point that many elementary school no longer have time to devote to non-tested subjects. As if being a struggling learner is not punishment enough, students are pulled out of art and music  - classes that offer hands-on learning and outlets for their creativity. What awaits them is likely “drill and kill’ that doesn’t sound like much fun for students or their teachers.  (Of course, daily reading, writing and application of math should be common to every class. Let music students explore the mathematical elements of rhythm and then journal what they had learned. But that's another post!)

While NCLB began with the admirable goal of narrowing demographic performance gaps and putting an end to sorting kids on the “bell curve,”  because of its myopic reliance on standardized (we don't trust teachers) testing - it has failed. And the great irony is that while our students spend endless hours honing their test taking skills, the demand for routine skills has disappeared from the workplace. Anyone know of a meaningful and rewarding career that looks like filling out a worksheet?

What's needed to restore creativity as the centerpiece of schools? 

Creating requires both a strong foundation in content knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge in new ways - usually across a variety of disciplines. It begins with a firm grasp of the basics and includes analyzing patterns and needs, evaluating alternatives and finally creating something new. When seen as as "a new combination of old elements," creating is not  limited to the "creative." It's something that all students can do.

Learning must engage student in rigorous thinking at higher levels of thinking - analyzing, evaluating and creating. Are students expected to just consume information, or are they asked to create something original that demonstrates their learning? Student must have an opportunity to figure out their own process rather than just learn “the facts," and be given opportunities to reflect on their work and their progress as learners. For more on reflective thinking see my post: "The Reflective Student." Readers might also enjoy my post: "9 Questions for Reflective School Reform Leaders."

In education we have a history of "over-steering." Let's hope that that NCLB is declared DOA and that we rediscover a curriculum that sets our students and teachers free to explore a more engaging project-based approach. Our kids are inheriting a world with a host of problems that will require some out-of-the-box thinking and solutions.

I should note that later this week I will be keynoting at a the Project Foundry® Un-Conference - a gathering of 50 project-based-learning educators from across the country.

Image credit:  Flickr / ePi.Longo

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Since reading "The Creativity Crisis" in the July 19, 2010 issue of Newsweek, I've been pondering the creativity issue too.

While I think that we need to have some sort of reliable measures of student achievement, I've come to the conclusion that what we measure is entirely too narrow. If creativity is a valued trait, then why not incorporate more creative tasks into daily teaching and use proven tests of creativity to measure their success?

At the urging of a colleague, I've ordered a copy of "The Talent Code" and hope to gain some additional insights regarding how to better encourage creativity in the classroom. At the very least, I'm hoping to rekindle the youthful 'why?' reflex in my high school students.

John,

I applaud your direction. I think creativity in the classroom emerges when we re-think the content, process and products of the classroom. Traditionally teachers have defined all three realms and the students simply follow the recipes they're given. Not much room for creativity there.

But given proper supports, students can be invited to vary their paths through these three realms. You get more variety into the classroom. Students can be invited to share their thinking and explore their classmates' work. Prime fodder for reflection and ultimately mastery of content and skills.

I wish you success in the new school year!

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