25 September 2012

Giving Examples: Defining Expectations, or Killing Creativity?

"How do I do this?"

 Even the most well crafted, backward designed, standard aligned, rationale based of projects is going to elicit that response from at least a handful of your students. The easiest answer, I suppose, is, "Like this," and then you, the experienced, organized, amazing teacher pulls out 8 different examples in differentiated degrees of mastery, craftmanship, and creativity. But maybe you don't have those.

Then what?

 I say, forget 'em.

 Before I continue, let me first say, I completely believe in giving students clear guidelines on what you want/don't want to see. Never estimate the value of a clearly defined, communicated rubric. Let the kids judge for themselves before you pull out the gavel. Rubrics give students parameters. Examples often give students limits. 

"As long as its good as that one, I'll be okay." 
"I could add some extra commentary on that one section and really take this to the next level, but Adam last year got an A without it, so I'll just go to bed."
"I'm having trouble coming up with a format... I'll just copy that one - it passed."

My Algebra II students had an assignment earlier in the year to write an inequality story. These were the parameters:

  1. At least one page
  2. The protagonist faces a "real world" inequality scenario (one a teenager might face in everyday life)
  3. The inequality is solved (showing the algebraic work)
  4. The solution process is explained
  5. A reasonable resolution to the inequality is presented
I had some personal interest in this assignment, too, so I wrote up an example of my own one day during lunch about setting up my room in August. It was essentially about counting desks. I got back one that was formatted exactly the same; all she changed was "desks" to "llamas," the numbers, and names of characters. I did a car salesmen commission problem in two of my sections, and wouldn't you know it, we saw a ton of commission stories from them.

Besides being boring, here's the lie we feed our students when we assign meaningful projects, but provide examples:

Innovation and creativity aren't breathed from individuals following examples. If the research that concludes most all of our learning potential and brain connections are developed by age 5 is true, then we owe it to our students to all least keep their creative, innovative, work-is-play spirits alive.

The common core state standards address a need for college and career readiness... get your students ready for travels more like this:

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Thanks for sharing!