Sunday, November 8, 2015

Be creative: Keep reading

Scholastic Parents shared this graphic. I'm going to ignore the percentiles for the moment and the number of school days to focus on the number of words: the kind of vocabulary development that could happen if a student reads 20 minutes a day or 3,600 minutes a school year. Nearly 2 million words.

Of course there are some assumptions that must tag along with that--that kids are reading a range of books and some of those books might be above grade level.

But it's not just the vocabulary development that's so compelling. Absolutely that's important, but something else happens when we read.

In June 2015 Buzzfeed published "26 Reasons Why You Need to Read More" (and the editor in me would say they could have excluded the "why," but I quibble). They asked attendees at a conference to share their reasons for reading. Pretty cool. One of my favorite reasons is "Because books tell the stories of people we don't know, places we haven't been, and worlds we can only imagine." Another favorite reason is "Reading stimulates the mind in a way that movies and TV cannot; reading awakens a dormant imagination and keeps the mind fresh." Along the same lines is this reason: ". . .the knowledge alone that's written in books is worth any time invested in reading, and also the adventure and journey that they take you on is priceless."

The "show your thinking" image has made its way around the internet and will likely continue to have some visibility. It made me laugh because I LOVED the way the student interpreted "show your thinking." In my opinion, the student interpreted the statement correctly. He was asked to show his thinking. Now we know the teacher meant for the student to show how he worked out the answer to the problem; "show your thinking" has become today's version of "show your work." I'd give the kid style points and then rewrite my questions so they make more sense to my students.

Around the same time I saw the "show your thinking" image, I saw (and reposted) the creativity graphic. I've seen a couple of versions and this one may not be the most "creative," though I do like the old-fashioned typewriter look and feel. What's important to me are the words.

Because I think kids who read, and who read for pleasure as well as school, tend to be more creative people. I also think that we have some really curious views of what it means to be creative.

I think about some of my former students and the kinds of things they do with their families and for themselves that bring them pleasure: bake, sew, write and/or play music, etc. Yes, that's creativity. But creativity isn't just about "the arts." Creativity, in my opinion, is how we approach situations or problems that need some sort of resolution.

I have a friend who is a programmer. Every time she has to solve a problem or fix something in the system for which she is responsible, she has to exercise some level of creativity to see the options to the solution.

We don't always think about science, math, or engineering as "creative," but take another look at a bridge, or the engineering behind an artificial limb or some of the dozens of things we use on a day-to-day basis that seem to be mundane but are really quite. . .creative.

We use the word "innovation" a lot. Where does innovation come from? Doesn't it come from creative thinking?

David Hill reminds us of Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talk on schools and creativity. Hill quotes Robinson: "Human resources are like natural resources; they're often buried deep. You have to go looking for them, they're not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves."

I think about the stories of the history of inventions: the accidental discovery of Post-It notes; Grace Murray Hopper's work that led to COBOL; and a whole long list of inventions by women that aren't just for women.

Creativity isn't just about "the arts" or inventions, though. We see creativity every time a kid makes up a new game, every time someone in an office figures out an improvement to an existing process or policy, every time someone chooses to think differently.

I don't believe that all 10 of those signs of creativity are in play all of the time. Plenty of us abide by rules but are still creativity within certain spheres of influence. Some of us are creativity and don't take a lot of risks and our creativity is informed by the need to reduce risk.

Recently I've heard increasing buzz about sketchnoting. Sketchnoting isn't new but it's just now beginning to attract some attention. Some people think it's just doodling, which it kind of is, but it's doodling with a purpose and with some semblance of organization.

Sketchnoting provides students with a mechanism to meld words and visual thinking. Sure, the graphic to the right says "Draw, don't write" but the beauty of sketchnoting is that it is about the ideas and visible thinking. It is about thinking creatively and making connections. Sketchnoting appeals to those who are easily bored (1), who like to take risks (2), who prefer to color without too many lines (3), etc.

So what does sketchnoting and thinking about creativity have to do with how many words a kid might read in a school day? That's a good question, though not the only question. Let's set aside sketchnoting for the moment.

The more I read, the richer and stronger my vocabulary. The more I read, yes, the more I know and the better able I am to make connections between that which might not seem obviously connected. My critical thinking skills for analysis and synthesis will get stronger as I read more and read more diversely. The more I read the more I know to determine what is most likely true or appropriate; the more I read, the more information I have to make better informed decisions and insights.

The more I read, the more likely I am to see things--literally and figuratively--differently and if I use sketchnoting to document my thinking and the way I analyze and synthesize what I hear and read, the more likely I am to get bigger ideas on paper and the more likely I am not to lose some of the details because I don't have to find words right away, I can sketchnote what I'm thinking that will help me see it again later, perhaps see it differently and more clearly later.

Yes, sketchnoting could be a great tool for students who are learning the language and that means that there is a powerful link between word and image--though we've always known that--and that how a student chooses to show his or her thinking offers great insight for the student, the parents, and the teacher.

Authors, poets, songwriters, playwrights, and screenwriters remind us of the power of words. Each time we read a text we can be reminded of their power and what they ignite or inspire within us. Even so, we talk about reading as though it's not very creative though so much of what we read insists we use our imaginations. We talk about reading textbooks and learning as though reading textbooks and learning are somehow mutually exclusive from creativity. . . and yet every time a reader makes a connection, there is a spark of creativity and who knows what could grow from that?

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