Thursday, July 26, 2012

Nok, Nok. Who's there?

Source: 6th Grade Student
Time who? Time to learn, time to think, time to let me ponder what’s next, time to reflect on my work, time to wonder, time to teach, but most of all time to be creative! Sure, we could present the facts to our students, but how much do they actually absorb or retain once the lesson or unit test becomes history? Chances are not much, but if we take the time to let them make something the learning changes, because they are engaged in the process. 

Source: 6th Grade Student
The Nok sculptures peppered throughout this post were part of an introductory unit on the Sub-Saharan region. This early culture with the knowledge of iron-making preceded some of the greatest West African kingdoms during the Middle Ages. Sure, the students could have memorized a list of characteristics to visually describe these terracotta sculptures, but with a little more time they designed their own Nok works of art using the artistic traits of the original pieces. It took two class periods. Not a lot of time, but worth it. Even the reluctant students, who insisted they couldn’t draw, came up with ideas to reflect the style of these ancient heads. Each one demonstrates their personal style in a different way. The sense of ownership is palpable. The pride in their creations is clear.

Source: 6th Grade Student
As with countless assignments like this, students who move up in grades year after year still recall the things they did or made as part of simple activities to full-blown project-based learning units. Kids that “do the learning” engage in the process on multiple levels. When they use visual thinking skills, they need time to look. 

We found giving our students time to be creative connected them to the content. We’ve done this in other areas as well, including designing calligraphy in Arabic, drawing maps, illustrating stories and becoming entrepreneurs. All with the same goal in mind, learn by doing to own it.

Source: 6th Grade Student
While we realize that time will always be an issue, we must, however, do our best to allow for exploration to develop ideas. Perhaps, that is our task, to think how to creatively change the way we teach content for our students to learn it. Building in time lets kids digest and think about the content. Mark Gleeson sums it up perfectly in this blog post Creativity and Quality vs Time Constraints and Quantity. Our school system is so accustomed to pushing “quantity over quality, product over process, and finishing over creating.”

No wonder our students don’t retain what they are taught. As lists of facts pass through their heads, the information slips into oblivion unless they do something with it. It is not about the amount of information they learn; it’s about coming away with ideas, with encouragement, with feedback, with desire to learn more because they are interested in it. How else can we expect to develop life-long learners?

The opening lines of the video Creativity Requires Time featured in Gleeson's post begin with: “Our clients want us to do more in less time. How can we make them understand that for new, effective ideas we need more time?” This sounds like our school system which wants us to do more in less time. As teachers, we should be asking our legislators, school administrators, curriculum coordinators, department heads, whomever: “How can we make you understand that in order for kids to learn something, to develop ideas about the content, to reflect on what we they are doing, we need more time?” 

We should all try the experiment in Creativity Requires Time with our students; better yet, do it during a faculty meeting. Going from 10 seconds to 10 minutes to create something changes everything, and it would sure drive home the point. Perhaps we should ask ourselves some of the 13 Subversive Questions that Peter Pappas proposed as we enter a new school year: When we cover material, what is it that we think we have accomplished? Is being told something the same as learning it? What would content area teaching look like if it were taught the way an art teacher teaches art?

Source: 6th Grade Student
Time is the most sought after four-letter word. When we think of disruptive technologies, or innovations, they all require time. It does not matter if it’s paper or electronic, without time to create we get the same results – mediocrity. Kids deserve more!

Check out our earlier posts on creativity, design, and visual thinking.

For other readings on creativity in education, we recommend:

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