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Teacher as experimenter

I am not very good at self-promotion. Minnesota modest, I guess. Yet I also think my new book Teaching Outside the Lines: Developing Creativity in Every Learner may improve kids' lives. With that hope, I will be putting short excerpts from the book in a blog post each weekend for a bit. Good thing I don't have to make my living as a salesman.

When academic researchers want to use human subjects in their experiments, a great deal of paperwork and permission-gathering is required. When the procedure or process is risky enough, we try the experiment on laboratory animals first - and not without heartfelt concern by many.

Yet I am going to encourage you as a classroom teacher to experiment on small children. Everyday.

Until every child is working to her fullest capacity and ability, teachers should be devising and trying new approaches to learning in their classrooms. For children who are not engaged, who are not successful when we use standard practices and materials, or who display behaviors that keep themselves and their classmates from learning, we have an ethical obligation to use different methods with them.

If teachers expect children to be creative, they need to model creative approaches to their own practice as well. And it may be that empathy for original thinkers is only possible by those who are themselves innovative.

Educators who wish to deviate from research-based best practices, established curricula, and adopted resources (and wish to use either technology or leeches), the following requirements ought to be in place:

  1. The purpose of the changed practice needs to be clearly stated in terms of a student outcome.

  2. There needs to be a quantifiable method of measuring the effect of the new practice.

  3. The result of the experiment/creative approach is shared with other professional in such manner that it can be replicated.

  4. The rigor of the above requirements is high, all experiments be externally monitored, and all data be statistically validated when possible.

Would we ask any less of those whom we entrust our kids physical health? Remember our definition of creativity from Chapter Two - that creativity shows originality, effectiveness, and craftsmanship. In this case, best teaching practices are the craftsmanship element.


Illustration by Brady Johnson

One of the reasons that we have a dependence on norm-based, high stakes testing is that the educational establishment itself has never addressed its own accountability to the satisfaction of the public. Now we are chafing under these short-sighted (but measurable) metrics non-educators have placed on our shoulders. If we are to be creative in our methodology, to use new technology tools, to emphasize new skills over basic skills, it’s imperative we make accountability a part of our efforts - and respect parents', employers’, and the public's need for it.  Do we really want to continue to be known as good-hearted, but fuzzy headed, artistes?

from Chapter Nine: I Stole the Idea From the Internet: How can educators become more professionally creative? Teaching Outside the Lines: Developing Creativity in Every Learner



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