Guest Post by Aubrey Jones, Education Specialist/Education Advocate
Twitter handle: @spedteacheriam
Opinions expressed are those of guest author.
Myspace was the oldest of the five big brothers born on August 1, 2003, quickly followed by Facebook, who arrived on February 4, 2004, followed by Twitter two years later on March 21, 2006. Then there was a bit of a break, and then Instagram was born on October 6, 2010. One year later, Snapchat was born on September 16, 2011.
My big brothers were moderately successful in providing the world with a distraction. They had the latest feeds and showed the mildly glamorous life of everyone. People seemed happy. There quickly became an obsession with screens and snapping the latest moment. Oddly, tragedies or sadness were not captured.
As I sat in my English class being told how to think, the teacher gave us a template to write our essay from George Orwell’s 1984. It was mostly filled out leaving no room for original thought. No one asked a question as the period dragged on. The teacher indoctrinated us with his ideas on the book. Everyone was responding in a robotic fashion if they managed to look up from their screens.
As I sat there in the hot classroom waiting for class to end, a thought entered my mind. I couldn’t record it anywhere as the essay only allowed for certain words or phrases to be filled in. As I sat there reading the book, filling in the mandated phrases, my thoughts wanted to desperately escape and join the other words on the paper. I thought of my big brothers and how they were able to consume everyone’s thoughts and time and energy; it was slightly genius.
Even though there were predictions of a robotic society controlled by Big Brother and the jokes that Big Brother was “always watching,” there were never predictions that people would buy the cameras themselves. It was creative and genius. The idea that Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat were able to control society and get people to buy cameras and photograph every aspect of their lives was brilliant.
As that thought came to fruition, the wall in the back of the classroom crumbled. The crumbled wall showed smoke in the distance; almost like a bomb had gone off. There had been recent whisperings of a conflict that could lead to World War Three. No one else seemed to notice the wall crumbling. In fact, no one looked up from their devices. A whole part of the wall had crumbled and everyone was still writing frantically.
As the bell rang, everyone got up (almost in unison). The massive zipping of backpacks could be heard as it was almost deafening. Pencils were dropped into empty backpacks. There was a mass rush as everyone had somewhere to be or something to do. Papers were quickly picked up in a flurry and tossed into the direction of the basket. It was like a well-oiled machine and there was no part out of place.
How odd that no one questioned the hole in the wall. Once the papers had been flung towards the basket; people turned toward their devices, not speaking; posting to social media platforms and adding emoticons to others’ posts. The classroom was suddenly eerie as part of the wall crumbled a little bit more as the preceding stampede of students vacated the room. Facebook being the oldest, had some dark secrets under his name. I mean who else could harbor the guilt of the infamous “like” button that was created to create and maintain addiction. These bright dings of pseudo-pleasure have caused and fueled social media addiction. Even though my big brothers have been documented as having the worst effect on young people’s mental health, their hold on the world continues, like the curse of the grim reaper.
My big brothers have made users addicted resulting in negative effects on their mental health and adding idiocy and stupidity among the masses. That pseudo-ding and the partial attention that goes along with social media use scares me; my big brothers have dumbed down users, decreased their ability to focus, and potentially lowered their intelligence. My big brothers have caused a distraction and this distraction with every “ding” occurs all the time.
As I joined my classmates in the hall, there was no talk of the smoke or the crumbled classroom wall- as if it didn’t exist at all. Instead, it was about how many followers so and so had or how many likes, retweets or forwards a post or picture had received.
Snapchat, a glorified version of his older brother, except that it only captures videos or pictures for ten seconds. So, Snapchat requires that you look at the picture or you miss the chance to see it and be part of the buzz that everyone is consumed by. My big brothers have allowed people to send messages to each other while breaking the rules of conversation. This is why the school dance was quiet as everyone was glued to the screen of their phone.
School has become a regurgitation of others’ ideas. It is not a place for free thought. It is decorated the same, scripted the same and even responses are the same. There is no room for creativity or beauty. There is no room for something different without being teased mercilessly. There is no room for different anymore, to question the material is considered offensive and rebellious. However, this is all part of the script that my big brothers have wanted; part of a bigger script that has been written and the scariest part of the script is that there is no room for questions. The reality is that this is not the narrative that can exist through creativity and safe environments.
I felt liberated as I turned in my paper and knew that my teacher embraced creativity through the creation of a safe environment through play, taking risks and exercised autonomy. They created a supportive environment and wanted to pass these tips along:
- Create a compassionate, accepting environment. Since being creative requires going out on a limb, students need to trust that they can make a mistake in front of you.
- Be present with students’ ideas. Have more off-the-cuff conversations with students. Find out what their passion areas are and build those into your approach.
- Encourage autonomy. Don’t let yourself be the arbiter of what “good” work is. Instead, give feedback that encourages self-assessment and independence.
- Re-word assignments to promote creative thinking. Try adding words like “create,” “design,” “invent,” “imagine,” “suppose” to your assignments. Adding instructions such as “Come up with as many solutions as possible” or “Be creative!” can increase creative performance.
- Give students direct feedback on their creativity. Lots of students don’t realize how creative they are or get feedback to help them incorporate “creative” into their self-concept. Explore the idea of “creative competence” alongside the traditional academic competencies in literacy and mathematics. When we evaluate something, we value it! Creating a self-concept that includes creativity.
- Help students know when it’s appropriate to be creative. For example, help them see the contexts when creativity is more or less helpful—in a low-stakes group project versus a standardized state assessment.
- Use creative instructional strategies, models, and methods as much as possible in a variety of domains. Model creativity for students in the way you speak and the way you act. For example, you could say “I thought about 3 ways to introduce this lesson. I’m going to show you 2, then you come up with a third,” or show them a personal project you’ve been working on.
- Channel the creative impulses in “misbehavior.” For students who cause disturbances, see if you notice any creativity in their behavior. Perhaps that originality could be channeled in other ways?
- Protect and support your students’ intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation fuels creativity. It is suggested that educators try to limit competition and comparison with others, focusing instead on self-improvement. Experiment with monitoring students less as they work, and provide opportunities for them to pursue their passion when you can.
- Make it clear to students that creativity requires effort. The creative process is not a simple “aha” that strikes without warning. Tell students that truly creative people must imagine, and struggle, and re-imagine while working on a project.
- Explicitly discuss creativity myths and stereotypes with your students. Help them understand what creativity is and is not, and how to recognize it in the world around them.
- Experiment with activities where students can practice creative thinking. “Droodles,” or visual riddles, are simple line drawings that can have a wide range of different interpretations and can stimulate divergent thinking. “Quickwrites” and “free-writes” can help students to let go of their internal censor. As part of reviewing material, you could have kids use concept cartooning or draw/design/paint visual metaphors to capture the essence of complex academic information.
The best thing about my teacher is that they practiced what they preached! In other words, they believed that we can approach any situation in life with a creative spirit. Teachers who can model creative ways of thinking, playfully engage with content, and express their ideas, will beget creative students. Students need to see teachers who have passions, whether it’s drawing, mathematics, painting, biology, music, politics, or theater. That contagion of passion and positive emotion is a hotbed for creative thought. Creatively fulfilled teachers may also be happier teachers.
Teaching is, through and through, a creative profession and so is learning!
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