And now for something completely....cRe@tivE.

In a conversation on Twitter, a school administrator poses these questions:

                   How do we grade creativity? How do we measure the imagination?

He follows up with the idea that We can "attempt to evaluate [creativity], but we can't. Imagination is immeasurable, and we are fools for trying to quantify it."

In the recent push to incorporate creativity in the curriculum, we do run into trouble if we try to "grade" creativity if we define it as a product or an "end" or as a quality of being.  In that sense, he's absolutely right!

My guess is that some educators may think that by adding an artsy sort of something to a unit, then, they have successfully integrated a creative component in the curriculum. I'm not saying everyone is doing that, but unless everyone understands that creativity is not a what or a thing or a project or a product, then we do run that risk.

Thus, I disagree with his points, only because the working definition is flawed.

Creativity is a process. It is the "how". It is the decision-making process we undergo, from start to finish. It is not the "thing" itself.

With that in mind, can we authentically grade a process? Yes. If we get past the idea of evaluation as the means by which we grade this process or perhaps more specifically:  this way of doing something.

Rather, if the process of the class is one of considering aloud, postulating openly, pondering, making mistakes without fear, making decisions based on mistakes, trying something out, giving it a go, attempting, and seeking, followed by another series of attempts and decisions, then as an educator, you CAN see that happening or not happening in your class.  Of far greater value is the student's ability to "see" how to work through mistakes, changes, decisions, than the arbitrary evaluation of how "good" his or her final artifact is..

We CAN grade students' decision-making process. We CAN have them walk us through that process for the grade. Perhaps that's the crucial point:  we need to see them moving through the process, and if we see them moving through it, they should be rewarded points.

             Teacher! I made a mistake!  

          Awesome, Juanita! How do you want to handle that? 

         You offered up a solid idea, Mark! By thinking out loud, you help all of us learn!

         I saw how you worked through that problem in at least four  different ways, Xeng.  Way to go!

When a student walks into a creative classroom, he or she should feel immediately ready to play with ideas and thoughts and things without fear. Only then, can we honestly say that we've integrated creativity into our curriculum.

But, don't take my word for it! I base my definition of creativity on an individual who far exceeds my abilities! Here is his video, in which he provides not only a definition for creativity but also some solid strategies for educators to think about. It's well worth your time!

A Talk of Creativity

Mindy Keller-Kyriakides is the author of Transparent Teaching of Adolescents: Defining the Ideal Class for Students and Teachers.  Become part of the conversation!


Grading for Creativity, not Conformity

Comic courtesy of Daniel Powell, illustrator and writer, also one of my former students and co-author of Transparent Teaching of Adolescents. 

I appreciate the much-needed refreshers on the integration of creativity and creative components in lessons for students. I've read about some fantastic ideas for students that allow for artistic expression. We do tend to get stuck in a pedagogical rut now and then, and a splash of imagination simply wakes us up! 

But we need to make sure we are truly emphasizing creativity and not conformity. If we're going to run into trouble with anything to do with creativity, it will be in our assessment of it.

Below is a rubric I found that purports to emphasize creativity:


Required Elements
Includes all of the required elements as stated in the directions.
Includes all but one or two of the required elements as stated in the directions.
Missing 3 or 4 of the required elements as stated in the directions.
Missing 5 or 6 of the required elements as stated in the directions.

All are appropriate and add to the enjoyment of the project.
Some are appropriate, and add to the enjoyment of the project.
A few are included and are appropriate to the project.
A few are included, but are inappropriate or distracting.

Exceptionally clever and unique; design enhances the project.
Clever at times; thoughtfully and uniquely presented.
A few original or clever touches enhance the project.
Little evidence of uniqueness, individuality, and/or effort.

Exceptionally neat and attractive; typed or very neatly hand-written, appropriate use of color, particularly neat in design and layout.
Neat and attractive; typed or neatly handwritten, good use of color, good design and layout.
Generally neat and attractive; handwritten, some use of color, some problems in design and layout.
Distractingly messy or disorganized; handwritten; little use of color; several problems in design and layout.

Required Elements: This category, depending on what the required elements are, may be stifling to creativity. Instead, this teacher might consider offering the student an option to choose a single required element or more, thus opening some breathing room for creativity. Consider that the depth of a project is only as good as the depth of the focus. Too many “things” will halt creativity in its tracks. Creativity thrives with focus.

Graphics, Pictures: For a tangible project, I can understand why this category would be here, However, it limits the student to a two-dimensional product. Unless this is a 2D art class, which I’m sure it isn’t, then why the required format? What if the student wanted to create something three-dimensional or create a video, song, or speech? Consider those students who don’t do so well with artwork, per se. However, they can sing or dance.

One of the best thematic analyses I ever received was a student who wrote a piano composition for Chopin’s The Awakening. It was absolutely breathtaking, taking the listener through Edna’s frustrations and realizations.  What really hurts is that the student had to ask me if she could be permitted to write music, given that the assignment was expected to be presented in an online format. I was floored by her request and painfully made aware that I had potentially immobilized any number of other students with my rubric for that project. Creativity and options go hand in hand.

Creativity: Here’s where we may really be messing things up. This shouldn’t be a category at all.  The creative nature of the project is through the process, not the product. Either way, the teacher misses the mark because she’s combined too many points in this category:  uniqueness, cleverness, and effort—all of which are very different, have nothing to do with creativity, and if she wanted to assess them, they’d need to each be their own category! Creativity is not a what, it's a how. 

Neatness/Appearance:  Notice that the student who uses a computer or word processor for this project automatically makes above-average. I’m not saying that graphic art is not creative—it is!—but think like a student for a moment. You’re assured of a better grade if you use a word processor. Already, your creativity is being manipulated.

As we strive to allow students to truly and authentically create, we just need to make sure our assessments of the same do not mistakenly support conformity. Take another look at your rubric.

Mindy Keller-Kyriakides is the author of Transparent Teaching of Adolescents: Defining the Ideal Class for Students and Teachers.  Become part of the conversation!



Discussion Forums in Online Classes: Worthless or Worthwhile?

I've got a bone to pick with higher ed online education courses. Maybe it's just me, but is something amiss with how the discussion forums work?

Problem: The Sunday Influx
Sunday is the deadline for posting 1) an original post, and 2) two replies to two other posts.  Most of the students in the class are teachers or at least working all week, so a good number don't post until the weekend. However, we're locked out of the discussion after the deadline. Those who desire to post early have to wait; those who post late run the risk of few or no replies. The conversation stops.  

Solution: Make deadline for initial post on Sunday, but make deadlines for replies the following Wednesday. Why have them all on the same day? Is that for the instructor's sake or ours? I realize having everything in a categorized little "Unit" box is all neat and nifty, but that isn't how learning works.  I want to be able to go back into a discussion later to add or retract or clarify after an arbitrary due date. My learning in Unit Four will impact my learning in Unit One.  Let us make the conversation meaningful and seamlessly integrated!

Problem: Mediocre Dialogue

The posts are lukewarm, with most people agreeing with each other. While it's nice to know that we all agree that parental involvement and teacher-leadership is important, where is the exigence, here? What am I supposed to learn from agreement other than, "Yay"? If I have to read another post about how someone agrees with someone else, and that's all they have to say, I'll spew. Seriously. On the keyboard.

Solution: Require that replies to initial posts are three-pronged.  The poster should 1) indicate one point with which he/she agrees in either the post or article, 2) indicate something with which he/she disagrees in the post or article and why, and 3) ask the author of the post to clarify one point that is confusing or vague.

That way, we avoid the "hey, aren't we all great" pablum. We're going nowhere fast. Maybe I'll find something to respond to, but I've got to wait....until Sunday, then, I'm locked out of something that's not graded anyway, which brings me to--

Problem: Discussion Assessment (or lack thereof)

We aren't graded for this component of the course, but it's considered to be of vital importance. If it's so crucial, then why isn't it graded? Many of the students posting do not follow the assignment description, which leaves the rest of us in a quandary. We can't follow our reply rubric because the initial posts are not substantive. Why have a rubric at all if we're not being assessed?

Solution: Stop presuming that adult learners really want to learn. What they really want is the credit, and they're going to blast through just to get it. If this part of the course is as vital as purported, then make it so. Make it a worthwhile learning experience.

I'd really like to hear from some of you higher ed folks about this. I am, after all, but a post-grad wannabe.

Mindy and some of her former students recently published Transparent Teaching of Adolescents, a discussion of effective teaching strategies for high school. Join the conversation!


Goldilocks and The Three Peers

As we move into the school year, with all the whoopdeedo of improving professional practice, we often hear about peer review or peer evaluation.  Sometimes, this is a preset program, such as PAR.

But I'm guessing that most of the time, due to lack of funding or time or energy or any combination of the three,having a peer review completed is much more informal. We're told "Do a peer review" or "Get a peer review".  However, do we take the time to determine the best representatives to call our peers, or do we just automatically figure that our friends in the faculty lounge will do just fine?

It's tough to find good peers, actually. It's a lot easier to find friends. We can shoot the breeze with friends, but if the same person we see shloshed at Friday Night Happy Hour is the one who's going to observe us Monday..ermm...awkward.

I also don't want my best friend (who happens to be a teacher) to evaluate my work. She's seen me through the depths of despair, emotionally and financially. She would take all of that into consideration when providing me with feedback. Not because she can't be objective, but because it's simply in our nature to be increasingly subjective with those whom we are increasingly familiar. She would either be too kind or too harsh.

Choose wisely.

You need peers that are...

                                  wait for it...

just right.
For a teacher, having a peer who shares the same educational setting as you do is probably preferable. He or she knows the foundational issues that exist. That's fair.

However, you may find it more conducive to have a peer review from someone outside of your department (for secondary), or from a different grade (for elementary). An English teacher might provide the most objective, productive review of a Math teacher's class, for example, and vice-versa. Math isn't my thing, so if someone explains it in a way that even I can understand, he/she is on the right track.

I also like the idea of an Art teacher reviewing a Science teacher. Can you see where some potential for STEAM collaboration may lie if only for that moment, they decided to take a risk with their peer-reviewer selections?

Likewise, having a first-grade teacher evaluate a second-grade teacher can work towards more authentic vertical alignment ( we see what's going on where). Would it also not be of some value for the second-grade teacher to see where her students were last year as a means to create more powerful transitions in curriculum? Thus, the observations may prove more fruitful.

Another point to consider when selecting a peer is his/her contribution and participation in required Professional Development seminars. Who does the complaining? Skip them. Who sits in the back? Skip. Who talks the whole time, whether to others or to the presenter, just to hear themselves talk? Skip.

You know that teacher who says maybe one thing in a meeting, but when he/she does it's a moving point or powerful suggestion? There's a peer who can provide you with an objective, thoughtful look into your practice. We had an educator who spoke out maybe three times a year in meetings, but when he did, huge things changed. He just had that knack of moving right to the core of an issue. That's a critic worth listening to.

We also had a teacher who would make extremely valid points, but she would do so with such snarkiness and nastiness, no one listened to her. Don't be a masochist. Find the person who can say what needs to be said professionally and clearly and without malice.  Ask him/her to review you. Explain that you selected them specifically, and for them to do it would mean a great deal to you. I doubt you'd find anyone that, when presented with the thought that they were chosen for something, would feel anything other than flattered and pleased to do it.

By using purposefully-chosen peers to review us, we will naturally improve our practice. Because we may, for the first time, be given a truly critical look at our practice.  

Mindy and some of her former students recently published Transparent Teaching of Adolescents, a discussion of effective teaching strategies for high school. Join the conversation! 


Cynical Teens and the Literature We Feed Them

I suppose I have to preface this whole thing by saying I don't want to eliminate the use of powerful literature. I do support the teaching of works from Faulkner, Cisneros, Orwell, Walker,and many others. I'm not talking about historical selections either, by the way. We have to teach history and all the ickiness that comes with it.

However, I'm sure you'll agree that most literature selections for high-schoolers (9-12th grade) are profoundly negative. They deal with negative themes, such as revenge, racism, anger, war, genocide, injustice, abandonment. Most include murders, suicides, abuse of authority/power. 

Our non-fiction selections center around individuals usually in dire circumstances, who overcome those circumstances (maybe). Those circumstances generally being war, poverty, abuse, illness, and more. Even poetry selections tend to be negative. Consider these lines from Jarrell's "Death of a Ball Turret Gunner":

               When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Our lesson for the day? Imagery. Apparently, as our teacher said, we were not "getting it". So, she assigned this one from our textbook. For the student to get the imagery, here, he/she has to visualize someone shot to death in WWII ball turret to the extent that the body is a mash of bloody pulp. (I mention this particular poem because it traumatized me for months after reading it.)

I have to think that today's battle-weary gamer would shrug this off with ease.   Callousness is another potential issue with the negative themes and story-lines. The impact is minimal.  Murder? Pshaw, just another news story, game, movie.

Somewhere after middle school, the literary tide turns to the darker side human life. One of the arguments for the selections promoted in a recent discussion I encountered was that students need to see the non-examples in an effort to get them to understand negative consequences or to create "What if" scenarios.  For example, what if so and so character had chosen to do something else (as opposed to murdering, bullying, abusing, etc.). What might be a better way to handle this situation?

Of course, literature can be used this way, but I have to wonder why we can't provide them with an example of someone doing the right thing or a positive example. I have to presume this has to do with the cynicism of teens. They simply don't see people doing the right thing very often, do they?  They see adults in their lives self-medicating with alcohol, drugs. They see abuse, whether physical or verbal. They see authority figures doing the wrong thing. 

They see the core of the darkness all the time. They live it.
Is the emphasis on negative themes truly helping them consider potentially negative outcomes? Or would they be better served by our providing them (at least once in a unit) with a positive text? Granted, we can only teach To Kill a Mockingbird (effectively) one time, and it is a middle-school selection. But surely, there is another Atticus Finch for high schoolers? Would they accept him/her, though, or would they sneer with derisive cynicism because nobody "really" acts this way?

Does the positive message of a text get lost when a good person makes the right choices, but the problem--racism or corruption, for example--remains? What does that say about our ability to tackle the social ills that plague our cultures? If our students feel that the problems are insurmountable, and don't see the impact of small changes or ideas, then they may be less apt to even consider the "What if" scenarios.

Because they might feel that doing the right thing doesn't matter anyway.  If we can, we need to help them see a much larger picture. And we're going to have to have some evidence for it. Literature may be one way to do that.

I'd love for you all to share some of your literary selections that emphasize a positive example or a character making positive choices! Maybe we just need to have a few to consider, specifically for high school.  

Mindy and some of her former students recently published Transparent Teaching of Adolescents, a discussion of effective teaching strategies for high school. Join the conversation!