Last week I attended a seminar at AVAM on Arts, Creativity & Outrageous Education Ideas. It confirmed that much of what I did before retiring as a teacher was effective—when I was given time to teach creatively and include the arts. Here are just two examples:
Music in Language Arts Class
During our 7th grade literature unit that included medieval legends, students were responsible for research and then presenting a special project. Being familiar with Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory, I liked to give students choices of how to present their research to their class. With some units, they created games or puppet shows. Other times they created books or posters.
One of the project choices in the medieval legends unit was to focus on medieval music and to present it in some way to the class. In one class, one boy worked on music. He was a problem child in a number of ways. He was disruptive by antagonizing his fellow classmates. The more they tried to bully him, the more he encouraged it. Of course, I tried to stop it in my classroom, but I’m sure things happened out of my sight.
This boy asked if he could bring in his piano keyboard when it was his turn to present medieval music and I said yes. Something happened in the dynamics when he presented. Instead of playing the role of a bullying victim, he became a teacher. He taught them what he’d learned in his research and demonstrated it with his musical skills.
The class was in awe and asked him many questions afterward. One student summed up the changed this way, “I always thought you were just a nerdy loser. I didn’t know you were so cool.”
Who Am I?
Several years ago while I was still teaching, a former student came to me during Back to School night. He asked if I remembered him. This young bearded adult resembled no twelve-year-old I had taught and I asked his name. This I did remember when he told me his name. I remembered also that he had missed a lot of time from school.
That night he told me that he’ll always remember my class, that it was his favorite. Since he had failed my class in spite of all the strategies I tried, I was flabbergasted to hear this.
Out of curiosity, I asked him what it was that he remembered about my class. He said it was the hero/monster book project assigned in my 7th grade class. He told me he still had the bound copy of his group’s book and that it was one thing that he really enjoyed in middle school.
Beowulf and Monsters
That year, after reading a modified version of Beowulf, I had divided each class into groups of four for a special project. Each group was responsible for working together to create a book which would have an original hero story that included a monster. Students were given instructions to include specific elements in their story. Besides the illustrations and main story, other elements included book jacket information, table of contents, and an interview with the Grendel’s mother. (Grendel and his mother were monsters.)
This project, truly an activity which reflected the critical thinking that should be taught in every classroom had captured this former student’s imagination. I’m sorry to say after that year, I no longer had time in the curriculum to include this project. It took too long and I would not have had time to do the required teaching for the MSPAP tests. I was responsible for teaching the test jargon and strategy, giving practice tests, doing unit assessments for five classes—over and over again until it was time for the test.
Connecting With School
There was no time for the creative book project. And even so, the time it would have taken to work on the group projects and print and assemble the books might have been in vain anyway because my copy allotment would probably have run out with making so many book copies for the students.
There was no time to teach in a way that I knew turned kids on and connected them with literature, writing and school.
Albert Einstein said that “imagination is more important than knowledge” but those who power the educational system policy must not have discovered this yet. Could it be they lack the imagination to envision what the education of our children could be?
The student who visited me years later during Back to School Night understood the importance of imagination.