Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Can Creativity Be Taught?

By virtue of our humanity, we are all creative beings.  Creativity is as much a part of us as is our very heart, soul, and mind.  So, creativity itself need not be taught.  What CAN be taught are ways to recognize, develop, and nurture that creativity within us.  Students can learn (or re-learn in many cases) that they are indeed creative.  Students can learn to rediscover the inner child.  Students can learn to think creatively and critically.  So, as teachers we certainly can teach how to explore our innate creativity, how to think creatively, and how to use our imagination to foster an open mind, heart, and spirit.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

As I See It

​My philosophy of teaching is simple: make learning relevant and fun. As a teacher of high school English, my goal is to help my students to become better communicators. The desired outcomes in my classroom, then, go beyond simple recall and identification. Rather, the students need to develop ways to communicate effectively on an interpersonal as well as an intrapersonal level. That is, students must be trained to be independent, critical thinkers and problem solvers who can tap their creative and imaginative potential. Simply put, they must develop their thinking, writing, reading, and speaking skills - and creativity. To achieve this, it is critical that the students see the relevance of what they are learning, and have some fun learning it.

Realistically, not every student is going to find everything that is taught in my classroom relevant all the time, and not every student is going to enjoy every lesson, every method and every activity. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to try to maximize the opportunities. To this end, students need to have lessons presented to them in a variety of ways, and be given the opportunity to show what they have learned in a variety of ways. Students must be challenged to transcend their comfort zones by trying modalities that are not particularly in their realm of expertise or even experience. It is impossible to watch creative ideas come to life and not believe that every student can participate and make a contribution when given the opportunity to demonstrate what they know through artistic expression.

Integrating arts modalities into the academic curriculum is as important a priority as any issue facing American education. For both the student and the teacher, the arts offer the opportunity to reflect on both content and process, and play an integral role in joining fact and meaning in a person's education. Learning through and with the arts inspires the creativity and imagination that is so essential to think critically, love deeply, and to live fully in a diverse and complex world.

Cultural awareness and enrichment have always been essential parts of my educational philosophy. That is, it is important to raise student awareness of various cultural experiences. In our examination of the themes reflected in selections of prose, poetry, and drama, my students and I discuss the universality of human experience as we celebrate the diversity among the cultures and people of our world, both past and present. Through such discussions, I also seek to raise awareness of the limitations of stereotyping through the analysis of literary characters. In my literature classes, this exploration occurs primarily through the study of fiction, drama, and poetry. My theatre arts classes allow further exploration through the participation in improvisational theater, pantomime, characterization, musical theater, and oral interpretation. Improvisational theater, by the way, is a wonderful mechanism for exploring the constraints of stereotyping, not only on stage but also in the arena of multiculturalism. When students easily fall into the habit of relying on stereotypes to develop characters, it provides the opportunity to examine why we stereotype as well as the dangers of stereotyping.

Literature teaches us profoundly about the human condition. Using the arts to teach makes sense because the arts appeal to the multiple intelligences, the arts are a universal tool for communicating, the arts encourage students to participate actively in their learning environment, and it is through art that children can appreciate best their cultural heritage.
Art Therapy Teaches Students to Engage Constructively with Their Emotions

This article on Lesley University's website provides yet another testimony to the power of the arts in education

Monday, July 14, 2014

Teaching Through The Arts: "Gamification" I Like the Sound of That and So Wil...

Teaching Through The Arts: "Gamification" I Like the Sound of That and So Wil...: Walk into many high school classrooms a few minutes before class starts and what will you see? A large number of students will be on their c...

"Gamification" I Like the Sound of That and So Will Students

Walk into many high school classrooms a few minutes before class starts and what will you see? A large number of students will be on their cell phones, iPads, etc. and many of those will be playing games. So if they like playing games (and who doesn't?), then shouldn't we be figuring out how to take advantage of this in the learning process? Like making a worksheet into a "playsheet" perhaps. In her article "Beyond the Worksheet: Playsheets, GBL, and Gamification" (I love that term), Educational Technology Specialist Alice Keeler discusses how using electronic devices to play learning games in class has become a hot topic in education. 

She defines the following terms as "GBL [Game Based Learning] is when students play games to learn content. Gamification is the application of game based elements to non-game situations."

Keller also goes on to discuss the use of playsheets instead of worksheets; it's a thought-provoking argument that may be useful in your classroom this fall. Here are 5 benefits of using playsheets from the article.

5 Benefits to Using Playsheets in the Classroom

Most math games created for the tablet devices are playsheets. The gaming elements are superfluous to the learning objective -- for example, shooting space aliens when answering math facts correctly. Playsheets are not bad. While they may be described as chocolate-covered broccoli, students do enjoy playing playsheets.
Here are five benefits to using playsheets in the classroom.
  1. Engagement: Students are engaged in their learning. The gaming elements draw students in and motivate them to continue practicing. You can find students voluntarily practicing playsheets, even when they are not assigned.

  2. Feedback: Digital playsheets have the advantage of giving students immediate feedback. This alone is an advantage over traditional worksheets. Students can correct their mistakes or ask for help before they have practiced incorrectly too many times. They don't have to wait for the teacher to grade their work to know that they're doing a good job, because the work is corrected after every question. Success breeds success. As a student is successful, he or she will continue to practice.

  3. Progress: Typically, a playsheet allows students to know what their score is as they play the game. A progress bar, adding stars, or a tally of the number of correct answers can help students feel that their efforts are resulting in positive progress. They're able to set goals to help push themselves beyond what they would normally strive for.

  4. Celebrate Success: Playsheets often have elements that encourage students and help them feel successful. This motivates them to continue playing. Sound effects can help the student know he or she is on the right or wrong track. Words or stars can appear, helping the student to feel as if his or her efforts are being celebrated. When a student reaches a certain level, it becomes something that we as teachers can celebrate with the child. Reaching a short-term goal is something to get excited about.

  5. Self Grading: Digital playsheets can free up teachers' time. They spend less time grading worksheets and reviewing answers with their class. Instead, they have more time to engage with students and design activities that continue to stimulate and challenge. This allows for a shift in what is possible in the classroom.

Image from Ninja Math app.
 Credit: Thinking Garden
Playsheets are not a substitute for teachers. While playsheets can be a part of the learning environment the teacher creates, they should not be the entire educational experience. Using playsheets in place of paper worksheets has tremendous benefits, but this format can never replace engaging activities, projects, and discussions. As with all things, moderation is the key.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Thinking and Having a Voice: "Save the Last Word for Me" Activity

In this age of let's memorize this content or this form of writing so we can do well on the high stakes testing and pretend that we learned something valuable, it becomes more and more important for us to get our students to think and have a voice. Allowing students the opportunity to come up with their own ideas and cultivate a point of view can often get lost in the race to cover content. This activity called "Save the Last Word for Me" from Facing History and Ourselves is a way to facilitate thinking and voice for all of our students. I'm definitely going to use it this fall.

Save the Last Word for Me


“Save the Last Word for Me” is a discussion strategy that requires all students to participate as active speakers and listeners. Its clearly defined structure helps shy students share their ideas and ensures that frequent speakers practice being quiet. It is often used as a way to help students debrief a reading or film.


Step one: Preparation
Identify a reading or video excerpt that will serve as the catalyst for this activity.
Step two: Students read and respond to text
Have students read or view the selected text. Ask students to highlight three sentences that particularly stood out for them and write each sentence on the front of an index card. On the back they should write a few sentences explaining why they chose that quote - what it meant to them, reminded them of, etc. They may have connected it to something that happened to them in their own life, to a film or book they saw or read, or to something that happened in history or is happening in current events.

Step three: Sharing in small groups
Divide the students into groups of three, labeling one student A, one B, and the other C. Invite “A”s to read one of their chosen quotations. Then students B and C discuss the quotation. What do they think it means? Why do they think these words might be important? To whom?  After several minutes, as the A students to read the back of their cards (or to explain why they picked the quotation), thus having “the last word.” This process continues with the B student sharing and then student C.


  • Using images: This same process can be used with images instead of quotations. You could give students a collection of posters, paintings and photographs from the time period you are studying and then ask students to select three images that stand out to them.  On the back of an index card, students explain why they selected this image and what they think it represents or why it is important. 
  • Using questions: Ask students to think about three “probing” questions the text raises for them.  (A “probing” question is interpretive and evaluative. It can be discussed and has no clearly defined “right” answer, as opposed to clarifying questions which are typically factual in nature.)  Students answer the question on the back of their card. In small groups, students select on of their questions for the other two students to discuss.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

"Embodied Cognition" We Think With and Through Our Bodies

I love learning new terms and putting language to concepts; it helps me to learn it better and also helps me to explain it to others better. Allowing students to move so they can learn and think has been a constant theme in this blog, and the term "embodied cognition," thinking with and through our bodies from the article "The Body Learns"  by Annie Murphy Paul on discusses the importance of getting the body involved in the learning process.

In a series of experiments carried out more than a decade ago, Arthur Glenberg of Arizona State University "found that children’s reading comprehension improved when they acted out a written text, using a set of representational toys (a miniature barn and horse, for example, accompanied a story about a farm). Glenberg then demonstrated that the same procedure could work on a digital platform: In a 2011 experiment, he showed that having first- and second-grade students manipulate images of toys on a computer screen after reading a story benefits their comprehension as much as physical manipulation of the toys."

Games are also an important learning tool for students and not just for the young ones either; we use games all the time at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Never make the mistake of thinking that what you're doing is too childish for the students in front of you; they'll love it. Here's a great game described in the article: 

"Mina Johnson Glenberg (who is married to Arthur Glenberg and also works at Arizona State, as director of the university’s Embodied Games for Learning lab) is taking the embodied approach even further, designing educational games that engage learners’ entire bodies.
program called the Alien Health Game, for example, presents students with this scenario: “You have just woken up to find an alien under your bed. It is hungry and it is your job to figure out what makes it healthy.” From an array of foods, users learn to choose the ones that are most nutritious, and then must dance, jump, and exercise to help the alien digest his meal. (A bonus: The game is so physically active that it measurably elevates users’ heart rates.)"
Take a few moments to read it, and you just might agree. Of course the challenge, as always, is implementing this type of learning in a system that is set up to keep students quiet and in their seats. But that's the great thing about being a teacher: rising to the challenges and making them happen for our students.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Bates Middle School: Transformation Through Arts Integration

In our age of showing results through data, the Wiley H. Bates Middle School is doing just that. Check out their results after integrating the arts for just four years. Click on the link for Edutopia to read what they've accomplishes. It's worth the time.
Arts integration has been shown by several rigorous studies to increase student engagement and achievement among youth from both low and high socioeconomic backgrounds (Catterall, Dumais, & Hampden-Thompson, 2012; Upitis & Smithrim, 2003, cited in Upitis 2011; Walker, McFadden, Tabone, & Finkelstein, 2011). Arts integration was introduced at Wiley H. Bates Middle School, in Annapolis, Maryland, as part of their school improvement plan in 2008 after the district applied for and was awarded a four-year grant under the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) Grant Program.
Since arts integration was first implemented at Bates, the percentage of students achieving or surpassing standards for reading has grown from 73 percent in 2009 to 81 percent in 2012, and from 62 percent to 77 percent for math during the same period, while disciplinary problems decreased 23 percent from 2009 to 2011. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, math and reading scores among students in grades 6-8 have shown a long trend of improvement across the state of Maryland. However, the percentage of students proficient or advanced at Bates has grown nearly 12 times faster than the state in reading, and four times faster in math. Science achievement among eighth graders also has outpaced the state from 2009 to 2011. Teachers and staff report that arts integration has been one of the key reasons for the school's improvement. Several research-based practices contribute to the success of arts integration at Bates Middle School:


Since focusing on arts integration, this school has achieved the following:
• English-language learners increased their achievement in math and reading by almost 30 percent.
• Special ed scores jumped higher than hoped.
• The school is developing a body of research data that shows that arts integration can help struggling students learn standard curricula.

 715 | Public, Suburban
$7,451 District | $4,694 State
Data is from the 2010-11 academic year.
46% Free/reduced lunch
10% Special needs
7% English-language learners
39% White
34% African American/black
20% Hispanic
2% Asian

Data is from the 2011-12 academic year.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Benefits of an Arts Education by the Arts Education Partnership

Integrating arts modalities into the academic curriculum is as important a priority as any issue facing American education.  For both the student and the teacher, the arts offer the opportunity to reflect on both content and process, and play an integral role in joining fact and meaning in a person's education.  Learning through and with the arts inspires the creativity and imagination that is so essential to think critically, love deeply, and to live fully in a diverse and complex world.
Check out the following link from the Arts Education Partnership that  "offers a snapshot of how the arts support achievement in school, bolster skills demanded of a 21st century workforce, and enrich the lives of young people and communities."

Preparing Students for the Next America: The Benefits of an Arts Education

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Principal's Research Review" Recognizes the Research on the Value of Arts Education and Arts Integration

The National Association of Secondary School Principals recognizes the importance of integrated arts education.  Click on the following link to read "The Arts: New Possibilities for Teaching and Learning" by Dr. Lauren Stevenson published in the Principal's Research Review: Supporting Principal's Data-Driven Decisions.  As we have said so many times, being able to cite the research gives authenticity and credibility to educators advocating for arts integration in the everyday curriculum.