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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Why We Need Creative Classrooms


Ever wonder why so many students think reading is a chore? Maybe it’s because we teach it that way.  ♦ 
Catcher in the Rye, Fahrenheit 451, The Great Gatsby . . . I’m sure you’ve heard of these books before, and would I be correct in assuming you’ve read all of these due to school requirements as well? I thought so (though I’d be thoroughly impressed if not!). Today's students are taught the same lessons, themes, reading skills, and comprehension techniques from a commonly-thin selection of books with little-to-no variation between schools or even past generations. The books themselves might not necessarily be the problem—these books are classics and provide ample experiences for readers to learn from—but they do provide the exact same experiences decade after decade, taught in the same way, and that’s part of the problem.
   When a single book is selected to represent an entire genre, an entire movement, practice, and theme, then that book solidifies itself as a cornerstone, the foundation for all knowledge on that specific subject. In other words, these stories become textbooks, and we all know how textbooks work (and how students tend to think about them). They’re the standard-bearers of information that supply us with the necessary knowledge on a subject. Which is to say, like an obligation instead of something vital and creative or even fun.
   For far too many children, there is little creativity in the English classroom. Essays dictate whether or not we understand a subject, and perhaps more importantly to our teachers, professors, and the school board, they expose whether or not we actually read the book. Teachers have thus become literary babysitters, with little room to navigate the learning imagination, the one tool so crucial to each and every perspective of all the stories in our lives.
   For a student to make an argument based on lessons they learned from the book, when these same lessons have already been taught, and when the "correct reading" regarding themes and takeaways have been cemented firmly into the back of the instructor’s mind for years, there is little room for deviation. There is only one argument to be made, the same one that has been produced by every student at every school during every semester. And none of this sounds like a particularly inspired way to lead students toward the joy and surprise and rewards of reading or writing.
   If a student wants to go about their education in a more creative way, they must often push themselves to do so. Even with such a mindset, they are often stifled in favor of falling in line with the prompt given to them. Free imaginations, adaptability to new circumstances, and critical thinking are qualities all good readers must cultivate, but not allowing them to venture outside of approved course materials, with set outcomes, ends up limiting students' desire to read in the first place.
  What's more, teachers today face a number of obstacles previous generations didn't. According to a study done by Common Sense Media in 2014, 27 percent of 17-year-olds reported they “hardly ever” or “never” read for fun. Compare that to a similar study from 1984, when only 9 percent of 17-year-olds reported the same. This might not be exclusively the fault of canonical books, a rote curriculum, or teaching to the test; the internet today is intertwined in our daily lives, and the constant investment into news from all across the world is hard to look away from. So how are teachers trying to actually save the lost art of reading for pleasure, given the obstacles they face?
   A recent article in The Guardian collected a number of methods teachers have employed in order to assist young learners in developing a unquenchable desire to digest information via text on paper. These tools and activities include such seemingly simple ideas as personal challenges and classroom competitions to incentive reading, promoting reading as a creative escape from stress, and implementing randomized "Drop everything and read" periods, where students can escape from whatever task they're doing for ten minutes of reading. This particular idea encourages students to read anything so long as it is a book, and as a result many different types of literature have healthily invaded the classroom and inspired further exploration. While there is no one, "correct" way to approach these lessons—every student is a unique learner—these fresh ideas are a start and should be further cultivated to continue the efforts to reengage students with books.
  If we want to create a society of considerate, thinking individuals, we must allow (the sometimes strange) youthful creativity to run rampant. Giving choices and adapting to the student’s desires of literature in the classroom is a great place to start. Obviously we shouldn’t undermine the system that (perhaps ironically) led to a skeptical mind writing this argument. There can be a balance. But to start tipping the scale in the direction of a more individual-based desire to learn and create from the knowledge encountered, we must empower said individual to go beyond the scope of basic expectations.
  • About the Author
    Connor Paquette is a senior at Miami University working toward a Bachelor's in Creative Writing with a minor in English Literature. He has authored many short stories and is currently in the process of writing a fantasy novel, as well as a television drama pilot, a feature-length movie, and a children's novel. Connor is adept in graphic design and creates infographics for his hometown soccer team, FC Cincinnati, and contributes to a local blog covering the team called Orange & Blue Press.

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