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Inspiring Students to Be Creative Through Compliant Methods?

Last Sunday I posted a great blog on the topic of homework written by my friend Kris Fox. Hundreds of Tweets, dozens of Facebook comments and numerous e-mails took place. People who loved the blog and wanted to connect with Kris sent e-mails, while others who wanted to further explore the topic through asking questions on Twitter.

It's always good when that happens, especially for someone writing a guest blog. However, there was just one unfortunate side to the situation...

My blog queue became empty.

As I sat on a plane heading to Spokane, Washington I read Educational Leadership (ASCD), which is often a source of inspiration for my blogs...nothing.

I listened to the conversations around me which help inspire me...nothing.

As I scrambled to be inspired and not waste the unconnected time plane travel can provide, I put on my favorite headphones and listened to my iTunes playlist of Ludovico Einaudi. Although it helped block out the guy sitting across the aisle who talked with his hands and almost hit me four or five times, as far as inspiring some writing goes...nothing

Finding Inspiration Around Us
It's not the first time this has happened. Over the last 4 ½ years I have posted a blog 3 times a week pretty consistently. When I post the last one in the queue, which has happened more times than I care to count, I get a sense of nervousness. What if I can't think of something to write? It will consume my thoughts from time to time.

Some of you may be hoping that happens more permanently in the future.

The truth is there is a lot of pressure to write 3 posts a week. Some turn out to strike a chord and they do really well; others carry on doing well month after month...while some fall flat...or somewhere in the middle.

Not every post is good.

Writing a blog is not always easy. Sometimes I will write about topics that I see on the road as a Visible Learning trainer for John Hattie or an Instructional Coaching trainer for Jim Knight. Other times I will write about things that happened to me as a school leader or teacher.

Inspiring or upsetting people with the written word is part of the job that Education Week has assigned to me, but the negative or positive comments are not the ones that have stuck with me for so long. The most interesting comments I have received from friends or readers are....

"How do you write 3 times a week?" Which is often followed by..."I could never do it."

Writing on Demand...NOW!
Those 2 comments are the most interesting probably because we do this to students every day. I know I was guilty of that as an elementary school teacher. We even have state exams that ask students to write on demand.

I get that we have to prepare students for job applications or civil service exams that may ask for them to do the same thing, but even college admission applications allow for students to take time to write their best thoughts down and put their best foot forward.

I remember many students who struggled to put words down on paper as I sat with them or stood over them (depending on my mood) who looked at me with blank stares saying they didn't know what to write. Just like using Educational Leadership or Ludovico Einaudi, I tried to find ways to provide students with a little inspiration.

"Tell me what you did over the weekend," I would suggest. I would even use writing prompts as if that would provide students with the proper inspiration to write their best and most creative work. After all, shouldn't we have "No excuses!"?

Many times that didn't work, or if it did it was not always due to my ability to inspire them. Sometimes students would just write to get me away or they would fall into line with my expectation of compliance. Early on in my career, I would have sent the unfinished work home as homework, but luckily I stopped that method of writing torture. 

Alternative Assignments?
How do we get students to want to write? Perhaps we need to stop expecting them to do it every day. Maybe we have to provide some flexibility which means a balance between helping them develop their writing skills and not forcing them to write when they don't want to. And we definitely need to stop sending home the unfinished writing for homework as a method of torture.

Is it possible that we can offer alternative assignments when they don't feel the inspiration to write? Can we allow them to use their handheld devices or tablets to curate some content in another way? Are they allowed to explore their creativity through art, math or science instead?

If we, as adults, don't understand how someone can write a few times a week, how can we expect students to write every day? Maybe, just maybe, by allowing students to take a break and not write for a while, they will be more inspired to write in the future? 

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

Peter will be taking a break from writing Finding Common Ground until December 27th. 

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