Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity | Video on

Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson shares in the above TED talk, "Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status."  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills maintains that our work force must be prepared "to think unconventionally, question the herd, imagine new scenarios, and produce astonishing work."  (Henderson)  In the midst of the accountability movement which supports conformity in an industrialized education model, how will teachers nourish their students' creativity so that they may become divergent thinkers?  Creativity expert Robert Epstein recommends that teachers dedicate five minutes a day to creative training exercises.

So what kind of instructional strategy would serve as a "creative training exercise"?  How about utilizing thinking devices?  According to Jim Knight, thinking devices are prompts that are so engaging that students "can't resist talking about them." They can include video clips, songs, photos, quotes, riddles, etc.  The key to a successful thinking device is that it meets the following criteria:  it is provocative, complex, concise, humanizing, varied, and my favorite, not lame.

Thinking devices are a great way to incorporate Brain Rules into a lecture:  After 10 minutes of presentation, pause, share a thinking device, and ask students to make connections between the thinking device and the content you presented.  Be careful not to guide them.  Let them be your teacher.  I guarantee they will surprise you!

What are other ways we can incorporate thinking devices into our lessons?  How can we support our students' abstract thinking and reasoning?  How can schools nurture creativity?

citation: Henderson, Jennifer.  "Developing Students' Creative Skills for 21st Century Success"
24 January web:  file:///Users/teacher/Desktop/week%203%20CAI/Education%20Update:Reading%20First:Developing%20Students'%20Creative%20Skills%20for%2021st%20Century%20Success.webarchive

Making Thinking Visible

One of the ways teachers can support students in becoming better readers, writers, and thinkers is to make thinking visible.  Project Zero is a research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education that has created 30 different thinking routines designed to promote self-directed learners who use thinking to achieve understanding.  “One reason sophisticated thinking develops slowly is that thinking happens inside the head: Children do not readily 'see' their own cognitive moves, and most classroom practices do not engage students in substantive thinking around content very much at all, and certainly not in ways that make it visible across the classroom.”  (“Visible Thinking”)  The research-based thinking routines are designed to scaffold learners in their thinking while exploring content, deepening their cognition while developing subject mastery.  The products that they produce support students' communication skills, requiring them to convey the thinking in their heads through speaking, writing and/or drawing.  

citation:  "Visible Thinking."  Web. 21 December 2010

Visible thinking is further supported by Dan Roam, author of Back of the Napkin, who writes about our natural visual dominance and how we have replaced the use of pictures in our lives as a primary form of communication with abstract elements such as text.  (The title of his book is inspired by the many business ideas discovered by doodles on the back of napkins during happy hour or travel.)  In his companion workbook Unfolding the Napkin he writes, "There is no more powerful way to discover a new idea than to draw a simple picture.  There is no faster way to develop and test an idea that to draw a simple picture.  There is no more effective way to share an idea with other people than to draw a simple picture."

citation:  Web. 12 January 2011

What are the ways in which we support, engage, and challenge students to unlock their thinking and make it visible so that they may discover, test and share their ideas?

One idea is to take a visible coding activity and have students plot their thinking on napkins!

Compass Points
In response to an idea or proposition, graph your thinking on a compass using the following criteria:

E = Excited

What excites you about this idea or proposition? What’s the upside?

W = Worrisome 

What do you find worrisome about this idea or proposition? What’s the downside?

N = Need to Know

What else do you need to know or find out about this idea or proposition? What additional information would help you to evaluate things?

S = Stance or Suggestion for Moving Forward

What is your current stance or opinion on the idea or proposition? How might you move forward in your evaluation of this idea or proposition?

Citation:  "Compass Points."  Web. 21 December 2010 

What do you think about this strategy?  How might you use this strategy?

Compass Points on a Napkin

Rigor Defined?

In addition to the running list of curriculum questions we have generated, I am adding "How do we define rigor?"  This has been a popular new word added to our "edubabble", and it seems that almost every new ASCD text or 21st Century Learning presentation, blog, webinar, etc. includes this as a key component of its message.  However, as Tony Wagner shares in his book The Global Achievement Gap, when you actually go into teachers' classes with administrators and peers, evaluating whether or not rigor in present in the lessons is solely dependent upon the individuals observing the work--they all see different things.  So here is yet another example of a standard impressed upon education that is unclear.

Larry Ainsworth shares in Unpacking the Standards that all standards are unclear and that we need to clarify their purpose and drive them with assessments.  And these need to be drawn from the big ideas and essential questions that we see within the standard.  So what are the big ideas and essential questions we see within the standard of rigor?  As I have written in previous posts, praxis is at the heart of these determinations, and Wagner engaged in such a collaboration with administrators and teachers, taking groups of educators and participating in learning walks.  This exercise asked them to observe the same instruction and then debrief what elements of rigor they saw.  As one could imagine, this led to much debate, but more importantly, it created questions that  framed their ability to identify the big ideas, and as such, they were able to created a model to evaluate these questions.  The questions they developed followed: 
   1. What is the purpose of this lesson?
   2. Why is this important to learn?
   3. In what ways am I challenged to think in this lesson?
   4. How will I apply, assess, or communicate what I’ve learned?
   5. How will I know how good my work is and how I can improve it?
   6. Do I feel respected by other students in this class?
   7. Do I feel respected by the teacher in this class?
When it comes to standards, the target need to be clear.  All parties need to understand their purpose and drive them with assessments.  They also need to be a part of the collaboration that identifies the big ideas and essential questions.  And to be a part of this praxis, there needs to be transparency and trust on the part of all the players.  This is a topic for a later post!