Inquiry Project: Follow up/ After Classroom Application
Guiding Question: How can I not let the students' creative nature be stifled by their perception of the assessment of their creative works? What environmental characteristics aid in the students' acceptance of creative writing projects?
In the absence of any concrete way to go about concerning this second half of the project, I am resorting to following the three prong list of questions asked on the assignment sheet. The paper will be structured accordingly.
I took as my topic creative writing in general. Upon entering and observing Chris Paglia's senior class one thing was apparent I was going to have to do some creative thinking in order to include any creative assignments in my lesson plans. So, in answer to the first question, I enlisted the help of a fellow patriot concerning the creative writing ways, my own spark, Mrs. Sally Lake. She was the English department guru and in charge of Creative Writing and Writer's Workshop at my high school. We brainstormed and discussed issues in student writing, maintaining a constant proximity to the type of students I would meet in my classroom. The result of the conversation was a new emphasis on student needs and on a specific question -- why I want these students to write.
It is odd how similar our philosophies are and it is no wonder that I have always been attracted to her style and interactive ability. She knows students and was an excellent resource, as usual.
So, I began to address my students and issues concerning our classroom what are the needs of my students in relation to creative writing and why do I want them to write?
I would say that I learned more about the topic by relating it to real students in a real situation; one with real goals and reasons and outcomes and reactions. For so long, I have been reading and rehearsing and idealizing, it is now time for the real fit. What kind of shoes to use for what different reasons?
These questions that I began to ask myself are evident in the research I had found in my initial inquiry project student's needs and emphasis on the student's creativity are always at the forefront. The classroom setting gave me the opportunity to use my own ideas, maintaining allegiance to the stated needs above, and observe how particular types of students would react to these lessons. Here are my findings.
My main reason for having students write was to get them to illustrate their opinions and ideas in a creative manner. I wanted to incorporate different mediums to give each student a chance to use a structure most conducive to their needs. In this manner, I succeeded in incorporating journal entries, poems, sensory description, painting, and music into creative arenas allowing for expression.
Students readily accepted assignments having to do with music and painting, however, there was quite a backlash involving poetry and journal entries. It was extremely evident that the students associated words with themselves more directly than with music or painting. This proximity often resulted in a freezing of the students, disabling them from expressing themselves for fear that it was to traceable to their intellect or sense of being.
I took some time to revisit my inquiry project concerning student needs and the student-centered approach to creative expression and concluded that the students needed to understand that they are important; that their opinions were important to me simply because these opinions were their own.
And then there was the break through. A perfect stimulant to address this issue during class. Upon arrival to school one Friday, a group of anti-abortion activist had congregated and began to verbalize their feelings. What a spark for my students to express their opinions an entire class was taken discussing, in a spirited fashion, personal views and why expression of these views is important. This was a perfect lead to illustrate why their opinions are important. By taking a whole class to discuss, and calling attention for the reason that I did so (because it was important for them to express their opinions), I gained new entrance into their lives and I believe this was a key in their ability to express their creativity in my classroom.
Beyond the relationship that I built with the students, I also tailored assignments to allow for freedom in expression. I was careful not to overwhelm them with assignments which centered completely upon their personal creativity. I was tentative to do so because I feel that this is a major miscue in education concerning creativity. Individuals not accustomed to writing creatively often are overwhelmed by assignments which center on their ability. They feel that they will be judged or too closely related to the work that they pen. In light of this belief, in initial creative assignments, I chose to create a poetry assignment which allowed for borrowing from other, more established minds. To the students, those published have an established ethos. When ideas or quotes are used from others it distances the student from what is said in the works. It is important to wean the student from this type of exercise. However, it is an excellent way to incorporate the beginnings of creativity. I gave the students the choice of writing their own piece or using the mad lib format. It is an easy way to incorporate different ability and confidence levels.
A second way to incorporate creative thinking in the classroom is to supply creative stimulation to students. In my three week experience, I found music to be most beneficial. I wanted students to express how they feel. After the poetry assignment, some students were still not creatively engaged. So I needed to manipulate, once again maintaining the student-centered approach to curriculum. I had students bring in music to play on class players. I concluded that I could have students express their opinions and feelings through music that they had brought in. This would allow students a new creative medium while illustrating what opinions and likes/dislikes they had about creative works. It was almost a clandestine approach. Everyone was engaged. It is clear that students need different experiences to allow them to express their creativity.
A final comment about the experience and its relation to my inquiry the role of assessment and its relation to student creativity. I will give one guess concerning the most asked question during all creative assignments How are we going to be graded (What if mine doesn't make sense/ does it have to rhyme/ do I have to use specific words or colors)? This is a very antagonizing aspect concerning creativity. I maintained an upside-down approach toward assessment, one which I detailed in my initial inquiry project. I chose to concentrate on the expression rather than the details of the writing. This type of assessment philosophy was most congruent with my overall goal and allowed me to concentrate on the students' expression rather than correctness in expression. Once the students were aware of the assessment, it was less stressful and more students remained on task. It was extremely evident that type of assessment affected which students would complete the assignment which would not. Those that were tentative and not confident about their abilities remained static and unmotivated during the initial explanation of assignment and assessment. I explained, at first, that assessment would be contingent upon following directions and expression of ideas. I unknowingly did exactly what I was trying not to do I put emphasis on the creation and expression of ideas instead of on effort. This immediately suggested to the students that they would be assessed according to ability while I was under the assumption that creativity would be seen as effort. After interacting with students and sensing the general fear in the classroom environment, I quickly realized my blunder and manipulated the assessment to more effort related goals.
In conclusion, I used much of my inquiry in my classroom. In the beginning, I felt that I would not be able to explore creativity in the classroom it was apparent that the students had not written in quite some time. In the end, I realize now that I had the opportunity to interact with a special group, one with specific interests and needs. I have learned to tailor what I am doing to fit student needs. A student centered classroom is a more authentic learning environment.