Tag Archive | modules

Missing: Creative Students

Being creative is part of being a child.  From the moment my kids could hold a crayon, my husband and I encouraged them to be original.  We did a lot of art projects incorporating different types of mediums to get our kids to realize that creativity comes in all shapes and sizes; it is not about fitting inside the box. Two of my four kids are much more creative than the other two.  They get that from my husband because he is an art teacher. He is the abstract thinker that is able to take ideas and make them into an art piece.  I, on the other hand, am not so creative.  I am a concrete thinker who likes to know the guidelines and fit inside the box.  But, I do value the importance of teaching kids how to express themselves creatively in and outside of the classroom.

When my daughter took her kindergarten screening test, they asked her to draw a person.  She drew the typical 5 year old drawing: a big head, rectangular body, stick arms and legs.  She was marked off because she did not include a neck or fingers on her drawing.  How many 5 years olds would consider drawing a neck?  I guess this was part of the new and improved “college and career ready” kindergarten tests.  I was a bit annoyed that she lost points over something that is not really developmentally appropriate at that age.  Little did I know that this would be the beginning of her journey through the more challenging and rigorous standards set upon her education.  These standards have inevitably decreased the time allowed for teachers and children to be creative in the classroom.

In My Classroom

Over the years, my students have become less creative.  I have noticed a big change in how my students approach specific activities and how uncreative many of them are.  I do not feel that this change has anything to do with the different students I teach each year, but more of what they are being taught.  More time is being spent on reading and math and less time is being spent on subjects that allow students to use their imaginations and be creative. Just the other day, my students finished their research for the periodic table element that they were assigned.  Many years ago, I required all of my students to create a “poem, song, or rap” that demonstrated their understanding of that specific element.  Some students were nervous about getting up in front of the class, but overall most students enjoyed this assignment.  They were able to express themselves in an original manner while showing their understanding of elements.

This year, I decided to allow the children a choice in either creating a model or being creative musically by singing a song or rap.  Out of 48 students, I only had 2 students that decided to take the music route with their assignment.  Although the model representation could be artistic, most students just ended up drawing an atom on a piece of paper without putting much thought into the creative side of this assignment.  Some of my students were able to use their imaginations by using beads, beans, stamps, and other items to show the protons, neutrons, and electrons. But, only a select few.  I was disappointed that my students were so standard in their presentations.  I do realize that some students are just not that artistic….that was me in school.  But, I also had teachers who helped me get past that creative block to become more innovative and less standard as I progressed through my educational career.  I am trying my best to inspire my students to break out of their comfort zone, but it seems to be more difficult each year.

When I give my students an assignment, I am very specific in what information must be included, but I allow them to present the information in various ways.  Some of my students want me to tell them exactly how to present it.  This number of students who wants to know the precise manner (graphic organizer, words to say, etc) has grown over the years.  Children are losing their ability to think for themselves and share information in a unique way.  When I walk down the hall in my building, I see projects hanging on the walls that look exactly alike.  I do not want my students’ projects to look exactly alike; they are all unique individuals, and they should be allowed to show their originality in the way their assignment is presented.

My Thoughts

I watch my students’ faces as I tell them be creative.  So many students cringe when I say this word.  Why is that?

I think that students are becoming so used to following their teacher’s directions that they have a hard time thinking for themselves when given the opportunity.  The Common Core Standards are requiring children to read higher level text and go beyond the literal level which can be a good thing, but it is also creating robotic children who spit back information.  Students are all expected to do the same thing when they get the text: read, annotate, answer questions with text evidence, and discuss their answers. Of course we need to teach children how to answer questions by restating and providing details to support their answers.  Unfortunately, this way of teaching leaves little room for the authentic artistic activities that could enhance the students’ learning process.

Perhaps teachers are becoming rote in their teaching methods because of the modules and the lack of time available to get all of the curriculum in by the testing deadline.  There is an abundance of information that must be covered, and the projects that require creativity consume a lot of time. Teachers are tossing these activities aside.  Therefore, students are not able to think outside of the box anymore; I fear that children are becoming more and more dependent on the teacher telling them how to do things that they cannot use their own imaginations.

I have spoken to many art teachers, including my husband, about this missing creative piece in students.  They all agree that over the past few years, students have become less original.  Some students are afraid to take a risk in art class because they don’t want to do it incorrectly.  They are waiting for the art teacher to tell them what colors to paint or what to draw.  It is sad that students do not have an imagination anymore.

Teachers are doing their best to foster creative minds; but if 50% of their evaluations are based on the state tests, how much longer will that continue?  I worry for all students across the United States as more emphasis is placed on standardized tests.  Our children are not standard.  They are all different in their own way and should be able to express themselves creatively.  What would our world look like if everyone was the same and there was no more music or art?  Our educational system is headed down this path, and it scares me to think about the lack of originality in the students that are being molded into college and career ready citizens.


Module Madness

Modules have become the new “trend” in NYS.  Teachers are being told to either adapt or adopt these units of study.  I am fortunate enough to be in a district where we are allowed to adapt this so-called curriculum.  I am thankful for that.  EngageNY is the website set up to “show” teachers how to teach their lessons for each module.  I say “show” teachers because the module is literally a script for teachers to follow.  I am not required to follow the script verbatim, but some teachers are.  This is very concerning to me as an educator and as a parent.

My Experience

Two years ago on the last day of school, I printed out the first ELA module which ended up spitting out 800 pages! These 800 pages were a script of what to say and what to do with my students.  I put those 800 pages in a BIG binder and took it home to work on over the summer…yes, teachers do work over the summer!!  I read through much of the module, but just could not bring myself to wrap my mind around what they wanted me to do with my sixth graders.  I was a little, okay a lot, overwhelmed.

I decided to give the first module a shot in the fall of that year.  One of the few good things about the modules are the books that we are expected to cover.  Bud, Not, Buddy was the first book I was going to implement in my classroom; I enjoyed reading the book over the summer and thought the messages that it would send to my students would be beneficial.

The first few days of the module I completed what I could using the EngageNY pages that were included.  I could tell right away that using only those pages was not going to work!  My students were fading fast, and I needed to do something else to keep them going.  One of the problems with the module was that the lessons would take forever to complete if I followed their format.  There was no way that I wanted to drag this unit out over four months!  Also, another challenge was that the 6th grade module was set up for the kids to read the book at home, which some students did not do.  The most frustrating problem was that the students were supposed to have only five minutes to discuss the chapter the following day.  Then, it was time to move on to the next lesson and the new documents being introduced.  I actually did like the included documents that correlated to the text, but the kids did not have any time to discuss what was going on in the chapters they had read.  They were as disappointed as I was because they just wanted to talk about what was going on in the book!

I decided to do the module my way, but use the materials I was given.  We went back to reading the book and discussing it in groups.  The kids were so excited every day to get into their groups and talk about what happened in the chapter they read for homework.  They answered higher level questions and really analyzed the characters and the plot.  I loved the fact that my students were thrilled to read and engaged in meaningful conversation.  Actually, when we finished the module, I had a lunch group that went on to read the next book, The Mighty Miss Malone.  They loved that book too!

Balancing Act

It is disheartening to say that not many teachers are able to adapt the modules the way I was allowed to.  Some teachers across NYS are instructed to teach the modules as they are written.  The problem with this is that the modules are boring, repetitive and drawn out over months and months of time.  The kids lose interest and do not enjoy the books; this is crushing any hopes we have of kids appreciating literature.

My own son who is in 6th grade is lucky enough to have a group of teachers who are able to adapt the modules to fit the kids’ needs.  I am thankful that my son thoroughly enjoyed The Lightning Thief, but only because his teacher was able to make that module her own.  This is the first book that my son wanted to talk to me about and wanted to continue reading.  I believe that if his teacher was not allowed to adapt the module, my son would have tuned out for most of that book.

Many students are losing interest in the books they are reading because they are so sick of dissecting the book and not enjoying the book.  Students are expected to close read (reading a text up to three times), annotate, and show text evidence.  These strategies truly do help children get a deeper meaning of the text, but they can also destroy a love of reading if used too frequently. Teachers try to find a perfect balance of using these strategies, but also allowing the children time to read and appreciate a novel.  This is what makes using the modules so difficult because some teachers are not given this freedom.  How do we protect the children from losing their love of reading?