The Student or the Lesson Plan?

forest of reading1

Our resource centre is in full Forest of Reading mode, with everyone super excited to read the new books.  One of the nominees for Blue Spruce this year is Oddrey by Dave Whamond (@DaveWhamond).  It’s a story about a young girl who’s a little ‘odd’, but very creative and surprisingly positive despite the fact that she does not really fit in at school.   I instantly fell in love with this character and was reminded of some of the “Oddreys” I had the pleasure of teaching over the years.

However, the reason for this post is not Oddrey, but her teacher.  This is the second picture book I’ve read in the past couple of months (first one being Al Yankovic’s My New Teacher and Me!, another great read) where the teacher is portrayed as unsupportive and discouraging of the child’s creative ways.  This made me reflect on the teaching profession, past and present.  At first I thought that these authors may be writing from experiences they had at school when they were students.  Surely, the teaching profession has moved above trying to get kids to conform at all costs.  We have long since realized the value of play based and experiential learning.  We know that drawing on our students’ strengths is the key to their success.  We encourage creativity and divergent thinking.  We do, right?

Allowing students to express who they are and build on their interests in class often leads us off our path and requires us to give up some control.  Are we always comfortable doing that or do we make up excuses so we don’t have to?  We’ve all been there; curriculum needs to be covered, units need to be finished, progress needs to be evaluated and reported.  It’s not that we don’t want to encourage creativity in our students, it’s the conflicting demands of our job.

So what do we do?  Do we make the curriculum and the tests our priority, nurturing student creativity only when we have the time to do so? Or do we make students the priority, encouraging their curiosity and creativity while allowing the curriculum to take second place?  What struck a chord with me in reading both Oddrey and My New Teacher and Me! is how detrimental the former is to the students that we serve, to the teaching profession, and society in general.  I used to think that the most important role of a teacher is to instill the love of learning in his or her students.  I now realize that children do not need us to learn how to love learning; being naturally curious, they love it already.  Our role as teachers is to feed that love through our encouragement, our support, and our guidance.  To paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson (How Schools Kill Creativity), our role is not to kill it with content they are not ready to learn and practices that promote conformity instead of exploration.  In her book Wonder, R.J. Palacio wrote: “When given the choice between being right, or being kind, choose kind.”  Similarly, I would propose that as teachers, when faced with the choice between adhering to our lesson plan, or nurturing the creativity of the students we teach, we should choose students.

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Posted on January 18, 2014, in 21st Century, Teaching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I think for many teachers that like the control that comes with sticking to curriculum vs the chaos that may come with creativity, it’s hard to let go and take the risk. I realize that curriculum is important but if we hold too tight to it, we can lose our students. I have seen some students who lose that curiousity and love for school because they are constantly hit with a barrage of worksheets and paper assessments that “need to get done”. I can only hope that others start seeing the great things that can come when we “embrace the chaos.”

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment Catherine. I agree that it can be very scary to give up control; but as you said, ‘embracing the chaos’ can be surprisingly liberating and rewarding for students and teachers alike and can lead to great learning.

  2. When we tackled creativity in our 6 Cs series, one of us noted how hard it was to teach. It’s innate, inborn, what can we do, we might say?

    I think your post suggests to me that it’s beyond formal structures and lesson plans-we just need to provide physical and mental space to be creative. We must unleash it, not be afraid of it. Too often, perhaps we are- we don’t want student work to go ‘off script’ or to challenge us too much.

    Great post!

    • That’s precisely it Matthew; we need to allow the freedom, opportunity, and time for students to show and develop their creativity and that cannot always be ‘scripted’ as you put it. It is often messy, disorderly, loud, and yes, scary for many of us. We tend to put all these constraints on our students in terms of the topics, the format, the tools we want them to use, success criteria, etc., it does not allow much room for creativity. Yet when some do manage to be creative despite of it all, what do we do? Do we recognize it and praise it, or tell them they did not follow instructions? I want my students to develop their creativity because of my efforts, not despite of them.

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