“Here is a pile of scrap materials. Your task is to create your own original robot from these materials and then tell us its story.
Ready? Okay, let’s go.”
This sounds like your typical classroom assignment, right? Maybe not so much as we’d like to hope. More often students hear commands, imperatives, or questions that only allow enough room for a simple yes-or-no answer. When talking about education, we know that teaching fact and skill is important. Kids need to learn multiplication, how to write a well-crafted essay, and the events of history. It is also our duty as educators, however, to teach students how to think, and how to think creatively.
A large part of the creative process is centered around asking questions. What can you make with these materials? What kind of story can we tell? How will movement impact the way we interpret this piece of music or our understanding of the water cycle? Open-ended questions like these set the wheels turning, begin to generate a deep curiosity in a child’s brain, and consequently, encourage them to begin making their own decisions. They start really thinking.
So, what kinds of creative opportunities are we stifling in a child’s education when we ask fewer questions, when we choose not to incorporate arts-based teaching strategies into our accepted standard of learning?
Last week I had the privilege of pondering this question while attending one of Right Brain’s Professional Development sessions. At these events, teachers, teaching artists, and school administrators come together to learn about incorporating more creative, right-brained thinking into their daily curricula. It was like a great big melting pot of eager, imaginative minds. Throughout the day we talked about teaching strategies, about making art that matters, and about critical vs creative thinking. We even did a little dancing. It was an experience rich with all kinds of important lessons, but the concept I found stuck in my head at the end of the day was this notion of creative decision-making.
Let me pause here for a moment and tell you a little about where I’m coming from. As a kid, I was always the crafty introvert. I wrote emotionally charged poems in my journal and wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. As an adult, I have taught poetry, photography, and art classes in summer and after-school programs. I’ve experienced the magic of the arts firsthand. I know it’s real, and its something that keeps drawing me back. But where does this magic come from?
When we amplify the number of choices we allow kids to make, they begin to create, to link ideas across different disciplines, to look at a problem from multiple angles. When we put the creative decision-making into a child’s hands they become an active participant in the creation of their own education. They remain more open to new ideas, and they grow more confident in their ability to create something expressive and meaningful. Their sense of curiosity and wonder grows, and their brains light up in all kinds of wonderful ways. That’s the spark, right there.
What kinds of questions can you start asking to open up those young minds? Because sometimes, when we ask kids the right questions, we’re not always looking for the right answers.
Sometimes we’re just hoping to get more questions.
Leah Walpuck is the current Outreach Apprentice with The Right Brain Initiative. Hailing from Bethesda, Maryland she moved to Portland just four months ago for the food, creative community, and the rain and has not been disappointed. When she’s not wandering, love-struck, through Powell’s or devouring a book on the couch, you can find her in the kitchen, sometimes cooking and sometimes just enjoying a lot of cheese.