In this current age of standardized testing, we often do not give students a chance to be creative. Our focus is on having the right answer, and we – the teacher - know what that right answer is. However, in real life, we rarely know what the real answer is, so why are we setting our students up for failure in this way? I know what you’re saying – “Because they have to pass the test Heidi – or it could be my job.” Well, I’m going to stay out of the politics of this, but I would like to address some ways we can build in creativity and critical thinking, while still teaching what is needed for students to “pass the test”.
1. Let them illustrate. In the upper grades and sometimes even the lower grades, we often focus so hard on writing, that we leave illustrating out all together, because it’s “just” drawing. Every once in awhile – reverse this thinking. Let students illustrate first – and use it as a brainstorming tool. Hand your students a blank piece of paper, give them a topic and an entire writing period (30 to 40 minutes) to draw a picture of that topic. Tell students they have to keep working for the entire time, adding as many details as possible. Then, when it comes time to write, use all these visual details they came up with to add depth and detail to their writing.
2. Let them be the teacher. We know first hand how much creativity and critical thinking it takes to be a teacher. Why not give the kids a chance at this type of thinking? Let students write their test questions for those awful reading passages – or whatever else they are reading. (Grab a pre-made sheet for this from my TPT store.) Have students write their own word problems, and challenge other students in the class to answer them. Give them a chance to create the review game for centers. By being the “teacher” they will look at their curriculum and their thinking in a whole new way.
3. Challenge them to a puzzle. Everything you teach can be put into a puzzle of some kind. I use puzzles constantly in my room (to see how – check out my guest blog post on Mrs. Miner’s Monkey Business April 17th). My students use jigsaw puzzles, self correcting puzzles and critical thinking puzzles. (Grab a template for self correcting puzzles from my TPT store and a multiplication tiling puzzle for FREE.)
4. Use projects. Project based learning always give students the freedom to be more creative and think in new, critically different ways. Cover all those science and social studies topics with project matrixes that allow students to choose their own way to express what they have learned. Let’s face it, kids would rather create an “interview” of a famous person than write a report about that person – and how much more knowledge are they showing if they have to add personality and style to their project? (Grab a matrix for Black History Projects from my TPT store.)