Sunday, November 4, 2007

Washington Learns Creativity

I was asked to present at a creativity summit, which took place this week on October 30. It was amazing. I didn't realize it at the time, but the summit was the result of recommendations Washington Learns made to the state to not just improve public education, but totally transform it. The report came out about a year ago. I had heard of Washington Learns and their work from a friend who helped organize the event, but never looked into it. Thursday, after school, I read the entire report. It's exciting and revolutionary. And what's even more impressive about this, is that legislators in Washington have begun to act on it. Here's what it says:

"Our current education system was designed for the previous economy, and our students are falling behind international standards. As our economy and the world around us changes ever more dramatically, we must transform our education system in order to better prepare our children." It found that Washington is in a unique position right now. We rank second of all 50 states on the New Economy index, which means that we have a very high potential for being a leader in the global economy. Of the top nine states on the index, we rank bottom in education. Only 50% of our kindergartners come to school ready to learn. Only 74% of our ninth graders graduate from high school with their peers. Just 60% of our African American and Hispanic students graduate from high school with their peers. And nearly one-quarter of employers report difficulties finding qualified job applicants, thus importing educated workers from other states and countries to fill our best jobs, leaving less stable and lower paying jobs for people educated in Washington. It it because of these factors, that we must transform our public education system. Here are some of the recommendations Washington Learns made:

1. Develop a lifelong seamless education system that starts at birth and continues through the graduate level. Already, the state has created a department of Early Learning. In fact, at the summit, I met their senior policy advisor. The state sponsored Department of Early Learning is real! They are working to implement a "Thrive by Five" program, which is a public-private partnership that offers support to prepare young children so that they are ready to learn when they reach kindergarten.

2. All day kindergarten - Haven't kindergarten teachers been saying this for years? It's about time. Starting this year, my school has one class of kindergarteners who stay in school all day.

3. Increase opportunities for everyone to get post-secondary education. There are a number of recommendations for how they plan to do this, including mentoring middle school and high school students where students connect with people in the fields in which they have an interest. Scholarship programs are available for students to get degrees in math and science. Also, there will be increased investment in workforce training.

4. Attract and retain the best and brightest teachers, which translates to increased bonuses for National Board Certified teachers. Whoo hoo! We got $5,000 this year, and I went to Costa Rica for a week this summer! Starting this year, those teachers who teach in a school with over 70% free and reduced lunch will get an additional $5,000. While I don't like to be happy about the dire need of the families in my school, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't happy about this one. My school is at 71% free and reduced lunch. So... I'm thinking... maybe Europe this summer?

5. Create K-3 classrooms that build solid foundations. This one is very intriguing. What they're recommending is to redesign the K-3 grade classroom so that students are grouped according to ability, not according to time logged. And in these classes they would increase students' exposure to arts, science, music, foreign language and other subjects. The thinking behind it is that every student is an individual, with individual needs. Not all learn at the same pace and acquire the needed skills by the end of third grade. These students then enter the intermediate grades behind, and continue to be behind throughout their schooling. By restructuring the primary grades, their hope is that all students enter the fourth grade at a fourth grade reading level, with a basic understanding of math, and the ability to work cooperatively. I can't say I'm completely sold. I have some concerns about ability grouping. But, I'm intrigued. I wonder what this will do to Reading First?

6. Here's the one I'm most excited about, so I'm going to quote directly from the document: "Offer better support and teacher training at all levels, making sure that teachers have the skills and resources to bring math, science, and creativity into every classroom."

Did they just say math, science and CREATIVITY? Not reading? So, does this mean that my administrators should be promoting the teaching of creativity in my class? Doesn't that completely go against the GLAD training I received the week before? So much of what our professional development work has been over the past few years is reading, to the exclusion of other subjects like social studies, science, and art. I've never been told that I shouldn't be teaching those subjects, in fact I've been told the opposite. The challenge has been how to fit them in with the required 90 minutes of literacy instruction. They've gotten so strict with what counts as "literacy instruction". Writing a persuasive essay does not, but writing in response to your reading does. I've taken all of this with a grain of salt, and been given the freedom to do so. I've been lucky to able to explore how to integrate the literacy instruction with other subjects and have found ways to make it work. Not all teachers have had that luxury. Just remember my previous entry with the boy who thought he was learning history. What I love about this recommendation is that it sounds like a directive from the state to be teaching creativity. And if this is to be implemented, like many of the other recommendations out of the Washington Learns report, I think it is.

That brings me back to the creativity summit. One of the strategy recommendations made was to launch a public-private campaign to promote creativity and innovation. Creativity Matters, with the prompting of our governor, Christine Gregoire, and led by Eric Liu, member of the Washington Learns Steering Committee, launched this campaign through the summit. The foundational ideas of the summit were that creativity matters, that it can be taught, and therefore, it should be taught. Eric broke creativity down into five "Habits of Mind" which include:
1. Observing intently
2. Taking risks
3. Persistence and the capacity for resilience
4. Recognizing patterns
5. Making connections
These five habits of mind are what creative thinkers do, and if we teach these skills to students, we can teach creativity. What has happened, however, is creativity has been viewed as an extra for which we don't have time. And now, our students aren't prepared to enter the workforce, where, in our global economy, creativity is a must.

Unfortunately, Eric said, we have "succumbed to the tyranny of the measurable." All of us face this. It's why Reading First has taken over K-3 classrooms in schools. It's why I had to go the GLAD training. It's why we don't teach creativity right now. It is the belief that these systems have caused test scores to rise. How do you argue with that? Schools that have implemented a system such as Reading First, direct instruction, or GLAD have watched test scores rise, and why would you want to mess with that? Unfortunately, the tests only measure certain skills. And, what people don't recognize, is that if you implement any system, where all staff members buy into it, everyone uses the same language, and you're consistent, test scores will rise. I also believe that test scores will continue to rise if we educate the whole student.

The report did not directly name any of the programs I mentioned. But, at the same time, they don't seem to fit in the same way we see them put in place now with this new vision of public education in Washington. It's an exciting time to be a teacher. I just hope our leaders in education have the creative capacity to see it.

Oh! And thank you to Lance for teaching me how to hyperlink text! I never would have figured that out without your help. I also love the Google Maps Eagle Cam you built. I will share that with my class, and I'm sure it will inspire them.


Creative Crossings said...

Hi Tracey,

I loved your blog. I liked the one on the GLAD training. What struck me the most is how similar we are--though I am from the counseling perspective and you are from the teaching perspective.

I have been to so many workshops where they want you to teach a set curriculum and I find it hard to stomach. I think the problems of the world and our future will not take rote learning, but creativity and thinking outside of the box.

The other things I believe is that we have to pay more attention to parenting skills. If we have kids that can't read and write and need double or triple doses---it just seems so sad that those kids are missing out on all the things that make them confident and creative.

Yet I do acknowledge that there are kids that struggle with their basis skills and I think that that is from an increase in drug-addicted parents and allkinds-of other problems in early childhood. So it makes me sad that we don't put our energies there too.

While I'm at it, I find it interesting that there are these key words--and everyone starts using them, including ME. Like Turn and Talk. Or GLAD.

Okay, I could go on--but that's my babbling for the moment. Don't know if I made any sense.

Keep writing, I love it!

Kerda said...

Well written article.

オテモヤン said...