Students Yearn For Creativity, Not Tests

4/2/2014 12:00:00 AM
The other day as I was sitting in my office, sophomore Sarah Alemeda popped into my office, as she usually does.  After day three of PARCC field-testing I was catching up on some dreaded paperwork, one of the least favorite aspects of my job.  Sarah, bubbly as ever, asked if she could email me her presentation as part of the Academies at New Milford High School.  I said sure, but then asked her when she would be giving the actual presentation. Her reply was later today.  I immediately looked at my calendar, cleared the time, and told her that there was no need to email the presentation to me as I was going to attend in person.

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As part of our Academies program, students engage in authentic learning activities outside the school day in the form of field trips or special projects.  These are in addition to the added coursework required for an Academies designation.  For this particular activity, which was developed by Danielle Shanley (Director of Curriculum & Instruction for the New Milford Public Schools), students had to read Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative by Ken Robinson.  They then watched a video and had to create a presentation where each student was required to share their “creative” experiences with the group. Total freedom was given to create a presentation in any format they wanted to including but not limited to: a written document, a poster, a collage, pin board, a chart etc.  The entire assignment and rubric can be accessed HERE.  Each student had to be prepared to answer/explain the items below.
  • Tell the group about your creative self.  Explain how you are creative (what’s your medium?).
  • Tell when you feel the most inspired.  
  • What stifles your creativity?
  • Tell us about (at least) one other person whose creativity you admire, and how he or she inspires you. 
  • Explain what you believe schools need to do better for students to promote, enhance their creativity.  Provide an example of something that would have helped you to be more creative or something/someone who did help you.  
Now back to Sarah.  After watching some amazing presentations, one of which I will highlight later, Sarah’s turn came. I had to use my administrative privileges to get the YouTube video to work for her (students will be advocating soon for unrestricted access). Once her video began everyone was floored.  I can honestly say that this was one of the best, most inspiring, thought-provoking student presentations I have ever seen.  Not only was it created entirely through self-directed learning, but also it sent a strong message about how powerful creativity is to learning for our students.  Please take a few minutes to watch the video below in its entirely.  She created it using her graphics tablet and the software Bamboo Pad both by Wacom, Quicktime to record the. computer screen as she drew, and iMovie for editing.  If you like it I encourage you to share and send a comment Sarah’s way.

Days like today inspire me to keep pursuing an aggressive agenda for growth while promoting the work we are doing at New Milford HS.  It provides affirmation as to what students want in an education and how we are striving to provide it.  Throughout the presentations I heard student after student discuss through their presentations about how important creativity is to their learning.  Their words expressed how they yearned to have freedom over how they could demonstrate what they know and a true desire to have ownership of their learning.  Like Adobe, I strongly feel that creativity is essential in a students learning experience.  As this report shows creativity matters and it's value beyond high school in terms of potential success in careers cannot be overstated. 

Many students expressed gratitude for the culture that has been cultivated at NMHS, a culture that supports creativity, choice, and authenticity in learning.  A presentation by sophomore Stepany Lazieh put into perspective how creativity is stifled, ways schools can promote more creativity, and ways she has become more creative as a result of the established learning culture at NMHS. Check out her amazing PowToon presentation below.

As a principal and educator you could not ask for a better day.  We witnessed our students shine when given the autonomy to produce a learning artifact that was meaningful, relevant, and reflected the importance of student voice.  The conversations that resulted during and after the presentations acted as catalysts to empower students to take action and work with us to create an even better school. There was one other significant takeaway that I learned from my students this day. When it comes to creativity and learning, standardized tests are one of the most significant inhibitors.  I leave you with one of the many images that students willingly integrated into their presentations to hammer home this point. 

We need to let our students MAKE GOOD ART!

P.S. Due to the amazing response from educators across thew world Sarah made an afterword video.  Check it out below.

cross-posted on A Principal's Reflections

Eric Sheninger is a NASSP Digital Principal Award winner (2012), PDK Emerging Leader Award recipient (2012), winner of Learning Forward's Excellence in Professional Practice Award (2012) and co-author of Communicating and Connecting With Social Media: Essentials for Principals and What Principals Need to Know About Teaching and Learning Science. He presents and speaks nationally to assist other school leaders in effectively using technology. His blog, A Principal's Reflections, was selected as Best School Administrator Blog in 2011 by Edublogs.

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