Monday, January 20, 2014

Can Teachers Allow Students to be Quirky (Creative) in Our Standardized Schools?

Flickr -
I recently discovered this picture from Bill Ferriter (William M. Ferriter on Flickr) and it got me thinking. I teach in a public school where high stakes testing drives so much of what we do. We are fully implementing the Common Core State Standards this year, but are still tied to our state's LEAP test for accountability. My fourth graders must score Basic or above on the ELA and math portions of the test if they are to be promoted to the 5th grade.

Is standardization really the best thing for the kids in my classroom? Sure, many students tow the line and learn how to "play school" well. They do the assignments, prepare for the tests, and for the most part follow the rules. But what about the "quirky" ones - the free spirits, the ones will very little support from home, the ones who like to test the status quo? What happens to the ones who don't "play school" well?

I pride myself on being an innovation educator. My students have tech-infused lessons on a daily basis. We communicate and collaborate with other classes around the country and around the globe. But are Mystery Location Calls, commenting on each other's blogs, and shared projects enough?

There have been so many days this year that I feel I am sucking the life out of my students, especially the "quirky" ones. I want to give each and every one of them Genius Hour to pursue their passion project. I want to let each one create awesome digital stories or paper slide videos or Minecraft projects, but that is not preparing them for "the test" that will arrive in the spring.

How many of our students remember us as the one who helped  prepare them for the standardized test? I have had former students visit me and talk about the bread we baked and the butter we made, the pumpkins we scooped out and the seeds we roasted, the time we all cried at the end of the class novel I read aloud to them, the holiday card exchange we participated in and all the places we pinned on our map. Not one ever mentioned learning the times tables or the parts of speech.

I want all the kids in my classroom, especially the quirky ones, to feel valued and not to feel that I am trying to make them a data point that supposedly validates them as a learner.  I want them to know that their opinions and ideas matter. I want them to believe that anything they dream is possible. So how do I accomplish that in this day of standardization?

How do you manage innovation, curiosity, and creativity in your classroom?