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Standardized Expectations vs. Creative Thinking

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Nel Noddings, a professor of education, emerita, at Stanford University, and the author of Critical Lessons: What Our Schools Should Teach, argues that providing a complete structure of what is to be learned and a detailed list of outcomes expected of all students results in quick, shallow learning and swift forgetting.

Students do not come to schools as standard raw material, she writes, and schools should not expect to produce standard academic products. Education requires initiative and independent thinking, she adds, not the tedious following of orders that she sees in today's schools.

What do you think? Does the current approach to school reform favor the regurgitation of random facts over the development of critical and creative thinking?

58 Comments

This is exactly why standards, no matter their intention, are so misguided. First of all, we're completely ignoring a student's individual interests and motivations; and that's what matters in life. There is no prepared script to life, especially in the adult world. You can't micromanage a life from birth - 18, and then expect an independent, productive adulthood. There is a reason childhood now seems to extend into the late 20s and beyond. Kids must have experience making decisions, managing their own time, cultivating their interests, and experiencing meaningful failure.

I am not against curriculum as a mechanism for widening exposure to the world, I just think students should be able to control their own learning. They shouldn't HAVE to study poetry, when they'd prefer architecture, and vice versa.

Montessori schools seem to have it right, as do the Big Picture public schools in Providence, Rhode Island. Other than that, I'd say you'd be hard pressed to find a school that truly respects the dignity of the individual.

Standards and creativity are not mutually exclusive. CAHSEE is given to sophmores in California and most pass it the first time with little trouble and get on with their college prep courses if they choose. The point is there is a certain minimum that is required of all students. It helps precisely those students who need it the most and who were sliding through the cracks when it wasn't required. The problem of college prep courses that have little rigor was recognized recently in most major newspapers. Students in these classes needed remedial courses in college. This is a separate problem and rather the lack of standards.

"Standards-based education" is such a sacred cow that if you dare suggest that there is something wrong with it, people look at you like you are a slacker with heaven forbid low expectations for your students. I thought it was a great idea, when it first came out. Now, I am seeing that the major problem in schools is the lack of connection, motivation, of kids wanting to be in school and enjoying their learning. I think it has to do with standards. We make standards the focus, where it should be the kids. In a way it's dehumanizing. Hand-in-hand with the standards is "rigor" - It is not enough to have standards, they must be rigorous. We set the bar high in hopes that the kids will rise to meet those high expectations. But it seems that these unrealistic, and uninteresting standards do not inspire that leap up, Rather, it produces defeatism, and perceptions of stupidity. we need to get back to where we left off before the standards movement, the time when we were working on multiple intellighences, different learning styles, projects, a well-rounded curriculum so a student can feel successful in their area of strength at some time in the day. In short, focus on the childm not on the standard.

More disturbing than standardized testing is the results of that endeavor! As state standardized testing shifts from one instrument to another after showing huge gains, when compared to NAEP scores, the progress remains flat, or diminishing while the only winners are the book companies and the creators of standardized testing. If we were developing critical thinkers, this would be obvious to everyone, but of course so would billions being spent on misguided directions perpetuated on lies.

The standards and the standardized tests are not particularly imroving the achievement of students, other than on scores, as measured by those same standardized tests. Education, in order to satisfy the demands of federal law, has slipped somewhat back to the obsolete "I.Q." test mentatlity. Test publishers and test prep. companies are making a profit while education is bogged down by a new set of minimum competencies called proficiency standards.
It would be lovely if all students could be geniuses and multi-taskers, but it would also create a very large group of college ready, but unable to attend students. Lifelong learning is what is really desired. The ability to navigate in the modern world is literacy. A few examples, broadcast on national television, of "functionally illiterate" adults does not demonstrate a disaster in our public schools. It does show a need for continuing educational opportunity for all and for early intervention when a problem is sensed or discovered.

The problems our children will have to solve in the 21st century are, for the most part, problems we have not anticipated in the same way that the problems we encountered were not the ones our parents and teachers had solved in their pasts. Teaching children that there are RIGHT and WRONG answers, with such high stakes that entire school districts and most parents are seized with the outcomes of testing, does not give our children the skills and self-confidence they need to solve the unique problems they will encounter in their futures.

Like many dilemmas dealing with "either/or" decisions, the answer here is "both". Critical and creative thinking require knowledge, understanding and skills (KUS) to inform and enrich the process. Thinking without KUS is daydreaming; KUS without thinking is a nightmare. The challenge is to critically and creatively incorporate both into a child's education in such ways as to both challenge and inspire.

I have long been a fan of Nel Noddings' work and I agree with much of what she tells us. I see Dr. Noddings as a solid thinker who researches and reflects before writing. I believe she is right in confronting tightly scripted core learning or standards as, in many cases, leading to shallow learning and little long term usefulness.

I also agree with David Blankenship when he says there is a need for at least a minimum standard of competency necessary for students graduating from our high schools. American public education is expensive and important to our future as a nation. Educators, schools, students, parents and community members must have accountability for what happens in schools.

The discussion starts to unravel for me when I take reality and put it along side rational thought. If none of this discussion was embedded in the ways people think, believe and act, I would be at ease, but it is totally dependent on the not too often rational actions of all stakeholders. Today, the most powerful of the stakeholders seem to be the politicians.

Politicians are not known for their rational thought. Politicians are experts in an arena of scarce resources; money and power. It is a shame that education has become the political football it is and that most attempts to "fix" it are poorly conceived, implemented and/or funded.

When I look at the real task of restructuring our schools I can not help but also see, restructuring our politics, our family and community structures, our funding mechanisms, and our general popular culture. For anyone to believe that "jumping on the back" of the public schools is the answer, is, I believe, the root cause of the problem.

As many have pointed out, standards and creativity are neither mutually exclusive, nor polar opposites.

What I find frightening is the extent to which setting standards, and measuring student progress using what was previously considered to be a fairly standard method (pencil and paper tests) has engendered hostility in teachers and a propensity to abandon creativity in favor of drilling and test preparation activities. Secondary to that are actual cheating attempts and the widespread trumpeting of the belief that some of our kids have been totally ruined before they even get to kindergarten.

While any teacher, off the record, could point out better and worse teachers and methods in any school in the country, as well as better and worse schools, there is resounding indignation at publicly recognizing that all is not equal in education. And despite federal financial assistance for students in poverty dating back to the 1960's, all is not equitable.

I agree with the presenter. Creativity has been utterly lost in some school because many children have been programmed to think with only in the first order of thinking. If they are taught the necessary startegies to think at a higher level than and only than will they attempted to think using higher level or critical thinking skills. Remember some children today do not want to go the extra mile when they think. Most want the McDonald approach They want it their way. Fast and easy.

I am a middle school teacher with a major in math. I see a complete shift to constructivist thinking in all areas of academics that is having a very negative impact on most of my students. Educators must find a middle ground with traditional skill practice as well as creative thinking projects. Why would anyone think one approach is best?
Money is the answer and NCLB. Since the National Science Foundation will pay for the materials for this new approach, most schools hop on the band wagon. I have witnessed the anger and frustration of parents trying to understand their own child's lack of confidence in math and their inability to do the most basic operation. Forget critical thinking for these students, they are so upset about their inabilities that they are unable to come up with an idea how to even start a problem.
Most of my district's parents have no idea what our secondary schools are doing in the future with their child's curriculum. I see a backlash of anger and frustration in the horizon. Already, professors are telling me students have to take remedial college math classes to even get into a degree program and the student may have to attend a junior college first(if they offer the class) to get into a state or private college/university. I have seen a distinct drop in ability levels from all of my students from the most basic to the gifted in my basic math classes and Pre-Algebra classes. My students mix up all the different methods they have seen because they did not practice a way that worked for them enough to keep it stored for future use.
Why not give every student an IEP,individual goals and instruction, and chart their progress yearly? We cannot do this because of the political game we play directing every school to jump through hoops proving accountability in high stakes testing for funding. I am sick of it and the endless paperwork that keep teachers from teaching.
Whether you chose Standards Based or Creative Thinking, you must use a combination of both. To me math is sequential, a building block like a foundation for a house. Next year's curriculum will not do any building of skills for my students that are not ready for random problem solving.

I completely agree with Noddings. Repeatedly, college freshmen enter my classroom with the inability to think critically. They think reading and writing involves regurgitating of information. They do not know how to process and form conclusions. This is looked down upon in the classrooms prior to college. Yet, college is all about thinking and supporting thoughts with research.
The current education system leaves our students very ill-equiped for academic life. And I have found the teaching of writing to be almost non-existent. First year college writing courses must now do what high school should have done.
NCLB has worsened the situation. Studets are taught to take standardized tests--something they will not have to do in their careers. The skills they need most are critical thinking, reading, wrting, and speaking skills.

The other problem is a lack of engagement. The currrent system teaches to a constructed idea of what a student should be rather than the individual needs of children. This leaves our children bored and frustrated. Those who see the problem and question it often become labeled with behavior disabilities. We are ruining our greatest thinkers--the Einsteins of our era. Likely, Einstein would have been labeled as LD and drugged with Ritalin. It is a great tragedy.


Why is anyone surprised that creativity has taken a back seat in education? Under NCLB, school districts have marginalized or eliminated the arts courses, which teach and develop creative thinking, healthy risk taking, problem solving, and higher order thinking skills, in favor of teaching math and language arts so they can pass the standardized tests. We have left the whole right side of the brain behind.

Our educational system is based on faulty reasoning from the start. We know, for instance, that each person is unique, that multiple intelligences exhist, that learning styles differ, that rates of learning vary, that individual interests are important to motivation, and so on. Yet, we insist on trying to have all students reach the same level of learning at the same time -- 12th grade. My observation is that we don't apply what we know.

How many times do we ask, "What kind of person do we want/expect to come out of our schools?" What kind of society do we envision in the future? Why do we adults impose such different standards on young people than we impose on ourselves? How much of public education is a "power trip" at all the different levels? How many of our schools are run on fear? Where are our top professionals (doctors, scientists, IT) going to come from? After committing 35 years of my life to public education, I've got to say, I'm not very optimistic. This should be the number one item on any presidential/congressional candidate's agenda/platform. It will take some amazing leadership to salvage public education after NCLB.

From a modeling perspective, the problem is that standards are 100% of the curriculum. This forces smart "dumb" decisions. If standards were only 50%, as "Core Knowledge" suggests, then intellectualism and rigor and consistency and fairness have a chance to coexist.

Not all, but a good part of the problem with education today is the interference of the Federal Government. It is called "accountability", but it is really another bureacracy/level of governance that is tking away necessary funding from education. Quite frankly,
it would be more accountable to give the tests to the President and the Secretary of Education, to determine thheir "competency" to address educational issues.

Re: Ms. Noddings Article:

Ironic that when the conceptual economy of the 21st century will require critical and creative habits of mind ("Tough Choices or Tough Times" National Center on Education and the Economy) we STILL test the "three R's" of Recall, Repeat, and Respond.

Irony too in the fact that kids can Google unlimited information on any subject at practically any time,thereby obviating the need to simply remember a bunch of facts. However,we're not teaching them how to apply the information they access, nor do we provide them with contexts for understanding - mere information being simply that, information.

Retention over application, predetermined outcomes
favored over discovery, drill in the place of emotional engagement. It's not wonder that the most often used modifier used by kids to describe their educational experience is the word "boring."

What Dr. Noddings implies but doesn't state is the need for higher level learning objectives that address higher level skilss such as critical thinking, analysis and evaluation. His argument is directed at learning objectives per se and that is not the real point. Current standardized tests do not test for higher level skills.

So few of the comments thusfar have mentioned learning. And learning is the primary goal in any valid education system. Students must be tasked not only with learning but with learning how to learn. If this does not happen, and it should occur at the earliest time possible in the student's career, then the student will not be capable of taking responsibility for his/her own learning. Once this happens, the intellectual fire burncan within the student and it really makes no difference what is "taught." Further, there would be no need for stabdardized requirements of what should be taught. The field of education is short-circuiting itself with the penchant to prescribe objective measures of what to teach. In doing so, the field loses track of its reason for being: learning. Galileo said it best: "I cannot teach you anything. I can only help you discover what is already within you." Try that one on the multitudes of higher education stiffs who lecture people into a trance and call it education. Try it on the high school "teachers" who fashion their classroom approach on that of their university sages and put their charges to sleep even faster. The education industry needs a social revolution in order to find and embrace a learning mode. When will it wake up?

Dr. Clare Rose's "Current standardized tests do not test for higher level skills." and Jerry's "Students must be tasked not only with learning but with learning how to learn." require focusing "on the child not on the standard." and "respecting the dignity of the individual." All of this can be done by a simple change in scoring multiple-choice tests (the norm for standardized tests).

Scoring only the right marks makes the test a lottery and rewards the lowest levels of thinking. Scoring knowledge (quantity) and judgment (quality) produces two independent scores of what a student knows and how well he/she knows. A test score of 60% can also have a quality score of 100% (no wrong answers).

With Knowledge and Judgment Scoring the test is a means for students to report what they know and know they know (what they trust enough to use as a basis for further learning). Each student individualizes the test to fit his/her preparation. Each question requires all levels of thinking.

Knowledge and judgment are given equal value. There is no need to guess for the highest score. Instead the student with the best preparation and judgment receives the highest score.

I used this on over 3000 college freshmen who came to campus as passive high school pupils and who needed to become self-correcting college scholars. I think it would work well in high school and perhaps earlier.

It is with great interest that I read the postings here. I have been in the classroom for almost thirty years and I have seen many sacred cows come and go. The one thing that has remained constant is that students are actually people. They have emotional and social needs in addition to the need to demonstrate to the world (via test scores, grades)that they are learning. By teaching the whole person, learning will inevitably occur and will be demonstrated in mature actions (such as responsibility and efficiency), creative thinking and critical thinking. While it is true these cannot be measured on a test, they are directly related to the student's performance on a test.

I am currently teaching in a large urban school district on the east coast and without a doubt, the one thing that inspires my students is to be challenged, to be given the chance to think, to see patterns in information, to draw conclusions and to extrapolate information. My students have the opportunity to engage in these activities every day and over the time we have been together both their self-esteem and grades have risen dramatically.

I think that in all this discussion of grades, high-stakes testing and standards that the art of teaching has been cast into the shadows. It is the art, the ephemeral quality of educating young people, that has been overrun by NCLB.

I have recently returned from 18 months of sub-Saharan educational government work. The International community is aghast at what we are doing in the States in the name of education. The future of our world is dependent on the children we are now in trusted with educating. We know so much from research and yet our educational system is not allowed to use it. Brain pathways develop in early childhood. Do we facilitate this? Do we encourage it? Do we high-stakes test it? Using non-DAP programs moves us further away from our stated goals of preparing our children for their future. In 1989 the UNICEF/UNESCO World Conference on Education for All presented overwhelming evidence pertaining to the critical time to develop brain structures and the importance of experiential oportunities.
I so thoroughly agree we need to get back to where we left off before the standards movement. Back to the time when we respected a child's uniqueness in their multiple intelligences, different learning styles, and revealed knowledge through a well-rounded curriculum so a student can feel successful in their area of strength at some time in the day. Truly we are responsible to focus on the child not on the standard.

Ah! The Great Conversation of Humankind. Are we still using Bloom's Taxonomy? Is there not a need to give knowledge as the first order on the journey to creative thinking? Should we assure ourselves that all students have gained that knowledge so that we can move to higher level thinking? And if so what would give us that assurance?

I was talking to several students who just completed Michigan's portion of the ACT for their annual tests. They indicated that they had very little time to complete the reading portions, because of the lenght of the writings in comparison to the number of questions on those specific writings. They ALL indicated that their statistics class had taught them that "C" is the most often used correct answer, so as time was running down they selected "C" for all the remaining questions. Should they have received extra credit for creatively utilizing their math skills? Interesting!

Reading through all of these responses drove me to read some of my state's standards to see if I had gone crazy. What I see in the standards are many statement that begin with "analyze," "compare," "describe," "explain," "apply," "use." Now, I could be wrong, but these things sound like higher order thinking skills to me.

When I look at sample tests, I do see lots of multiple choice--but many of the questions require inference, comparison and other indicators of comprehension of reading passages in various content areas. I also see various "writing prompts," that ask students to respond in various ways to content.

Now, I'm not an expert on how tests are scored, but it does look to me like the standards and tests are NOT the major barrier to students learning or demonstrating more complex thought. I do know, however, that my district, rather than enhancing their teaching in these areas (and I know our students don't do very well at all in the areas of "story problems," or the short answer kind of responses), has put in place a test prep program. They claim that it is teaching aligned content because it uses questions that have been used on state tests. BUT they are not teaching any new content, the work is deadly dull (every student gets a workbook and spends several hours on a Saturday in a quiet room reading and filling out answers).

The only thing that the school can tell me about how well this works is that the kids who show up on Saturday do better on the tests than the ones who don't. I do know enough about research to know that is pretty lame. We don't know if the kids who show would do better anyway, etc. etc. etc. And the reality is, the district is not showing dramatic improvement and is still leaving way too many kids behind.

The one thing that I, as a parent, know about the standards and the tests is that I have a solid apples to apples comparison of schools and groups, that I NEVER had before. Those of us who previously only suspected that our kids were getting the short end of the stick (urban kids, minority kids, kids with disabilities), now have some numbers to back us up when we confront the principal, superintendant, school board, legislators, about why this is.

It is exceedingly frustrating therefore, to see the standards and the tests become the scapegoat for every problem in the schools. My best guess is that the reasons that the "creative methods" that I keep hearing we can't use any more don't produce good scores is that 1) they were teaching the wrong content at the wrong time; 2) they really weren't so successful and now we have measures in place to detect that; or 3) there really wasn't so much of that going on before.

I see way too many worksheet assignments now--and I did before standards. When I look at the worksheets now, I can see that they are not teaching the content (analyze, compare, describe, etc.) that the students are not doing well on.

"What do you think? Does the current approach to school reform favor the regurgitation of random facts over the development of critical and creative thinking?"

Interesting terminology... "regurgitation of random facts"... no prejudice here. I suppose I could ask...

Does the current approach to education reform favor the mastery of content knowledge over the lowering of standards?

It kind of makes it hard to take the current education establishment seriously, when ideologes pose such biased questions.

Does the current approach to school reform favor the regurgitation of random facts over the development of critical and creative thinking?

Yes, that is a strongly biased way of putting the issue.

"Asked and answered."

Isn't that the phrase?

The reality is that teachers are testing to the test because the way the state standards and test are designed follows the "mile wide, inch deep approach". With this approach, students are learning random facts without conceptual understanding or relational understanding. We need to focus on fewer concepts at each grade level but delve deeper with each so that students get a chance to grapple with the concepts and make sense of their learning through critical thinking and problem solving.

The tacit assumption is that if our students score higher on standardized tests that they will be better prepared for life. As such, the question, according to James Popham, has shifted from "How can we improve student learning?" to "How can we raise test scores?" Albert Einstein perhaps said it best, "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." AND "The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education."

Thank you for sharing your excellent thoughts on "Standardize Expectations Vs. Creative Thinking" which should be shared nationwide. If I may ask that you put me on your email list to receive this information as an attachment as well as future educational issues.

In my role as a chief of elementary, we search long and hard for educational information and sources to support education and learning.

I find it quite incredible (ironic) that here is a discussion about critical thinking and there is no attempt to define what that means. I always thought that educators focused on generalities because they are easier to argue, and they are a good way to make parents go away. The classic approach is to talk about "balance". Who could possibly be against balance? Now it seems that educators really believe that all of this vague talk is really meaningful.

"Does the current approach to school reform favor the regurgitation of random facts over the development of critical and creative thinking?"


"regurgitation"? and "random"?

versus

"critical and creative thinking"?


Give me a break. Is this the usual level of analysis at Education Week? And these people are in charge of defining "critical thinking" for my son?

I told my son's first grade teacher that he loved geography and that he could find all states and countries, and knew most capitals. She said "Yes, he has a lot of superficial knowledge." She either thought I was stupid enough to think that that was all there was, or she didn't think much of facts. It turned out to be the latter.


For math, most educators don't know enough to have any clue about what critical thinking means, if they even attempt to define it. Usually, it ends up as some sort of magical way (guess and check) to solve problems with little or no prior knowledge or skills; a top-down approach to learning, instead of one built on a solid mastery of basic skills.

What bothers me most is that discussions of creativity or critical thinking lend an air of credibility to modern "reform" math curricula. However, when you get down to the dirty details, you see a quite different picture. Facts versus understanding is a strawman. You have to compare curricula. You can't just argue over generalities of old versus new or traditional versus reform. I get to do this comparison daily with my fifth-grade son, who has Everyday Math at school and we do Singapore Math at home. This is not an argument over (trivial) state standards or understanding. It has to do with low versus high expectations. It has to do with getting kids ready for a solid course in algebra in 8th (9th at the latest) grade.


Talk of critical thinking or creativity is just a cover. At best, reform math provides only a superficial or graphical attempt at understanding. There is no translation to a mathematical or symbolic understanding. This might work in the very early grades, but fails miserably by the time the student gets to algebra. By sixth grade, reform math ends up being behind based on any measure you want to choose. All they have left are generalities.

I completely agree with Debbie Sheffield. We need a mix of BOTH, first the basics, then the creative applications of the basics.

I ask you, Dr. Nodding, would you go to a surgeon that has not taken anatomy, only learned to do surgery with "creative thinking skills" without the basics? How many "creative thinking"-only people would go under the surgeon's knife in that scenario?

VALID Research from reading research indicates you need BOTH, first the basics (phonemic awareness)surrounded with and followed by experiential (whole language).

How about it Dr. Nodding--I'll hook you up with that surgeon today...

"Give me a break. Is this the usual level of analysis at Education Week? And these people are in charge of defining "critical thinking" for my son?"

I second SteveH's sentiments. I don't see "critical thinking" being defined and supported with actual illustrations of critical thinking in action in the various subject areas. This would be helpful. I get the feeling that "critical thinking" is being invoked ad nauseam in rote fashion, parrot-like, because the phrase has an impressive ring to it, and somehow that impressive ring is felt to obviate the need to give it substance through detailed examples.

What is sorely missing is critical thinking about "critical thinking."

"The reality is that teachers are testing [sic] to the test because the way the state standards and test are designed follows the "mile wide, inch deep approach". With this approach, students are learning random facts without conceptual understanding or relational understanding."

It is true that there is a lot of NCTM-inspired fluff in state test and so-called standards. These so-called standards are usually too vague to be called standards. See California's standards for real standards: http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/mthmain.asp

Substantive math problems on state tests are the culmination of many skills and sub-skills that must be learned over time. If teaching to the test is occurring in a mad, last-minute rush, then this is not so much because of the mile wide, inch deep approach, but rather it is a clear indication that time was wasted during the school year when these topics should have been taught in a coherent and systematic fashion. Instead, endless time is wasted on a fruitless, calculator-based "discovery" journey with NCTM-inspired constructivist programs, also known popularly as fuzzy math.

instructiist http://instructivist.blogspot.com/

In 17 years of teaching, I have observed students entering my classroom without study skills or thinking skills. Creativity is a lost art, but they are master bubblers'. I hope there is a future job market for these new skills.

"I completely agree with Debbie Sheffield. We need a mix of BOTH, first the basics, then the creative applications of the basics."

But who gets to decide on the balance and the details. Mastery of the basics needs to come first, but there are very many in the education world who despise this idea. They want balance only from a top-down, discovery approach. The problem is that mastery of the basics never quite happens. That's because many educators see little linkage between mastery and understanding. Mastery seems to them to be a little too much like drill and kill, so they come up with a weak definition of understanding. This whole argument is more of a bottom-up versus a top-down argument, rather than one of balance.

For a real example, my son was given the following math problem (in fifth grade) to solve without any development of prior skills (other than arithmetic). At least Singapore Math teaches the kids about bar models.

You have 860 brown and white marbles. There are 230 more brown marbles than white. How many of each color marble do you have?

This is a classic top-down, discovery approach to math. Once you learn a little bit of algebra, this problem is trivial, but for my son's class, it takes them the whole period. Not only does it waste precious class time, few kids in the mixed-ability discovery groups discover anything of value, and what they do discover could be wrong or not applicable to any other problem, especially when the problems get harder.

Creativity is even more poorly defined, but many toss it out like everyone knows what it means. What is creativity in math? It's something that is only possible when it is built on mastery of a whole lot of basic skills. It is not something learned top-down. You have to know what is inside the box before you can think outside of the box. There is nothing worse in the scientific world than a technical report whose authors do not cite (or even know about) other work in their field.

Here is a problem that I had to solve a number of years ago. Find, as fast as possible, the intersection line segment of two triangles. The triangles are each defined by three [X,Y,Z] points and you have to be able to eliminate triangles that are not close very quickly.

Employers do not want "creative" employees who want to rediscover the wheel. They want employees who know the literature and can look it up. When they have to look it up, they need to know where to go and they need to implicitly know the difference between a dot product and a cross product. They need to know what a box check is; not creatively discover it. Only after reviewing the literature and finding no solution that meets the need, do you begin to get creative. But creativity takes knowledge and mastery of the basics. Real creativity is only possible by standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before you. Creativity is not sheer dumb luck. Knowledge and mastery do not reduce creativity, they enhance it.

Creativity is not a top-down process.

Is it possible to engage in critical thinking if one has nothing interesting or important to think about? Knowledge is the currency of the realm in helping students learn to analyze, synthesize, and otherwise Blooms-Taxonomize. Debbie Sheffield hits the nail on the head: "Whether you chose Standards Based or Creative Thinking, you must use a combination of both."* Educators who believe otherwise do so at their students' peril. *(That assumes, of course, that states have meaningful standards, which many do not. California, Massachusetts, and Indiana standards seem pretty solid.)

I have been in favor of standards for many years and yet I also bemoan the inability of students to think critically and creatively. I don’t see one as the cause of the other. We need national standards so that our students, teachers, administrators, school districts, and states can work together on a common goal. Much of the rest of the world is leaving the US in its academic dust. The problem is not the standards (at least not in the sciences). The problem is in the simplistic approach to reaching them. Poorly conceived tests are a reflection of this problem.

Teachers such as I are often faced with a “between a rock and a hard place” dilemma. We know that students need to be taught, trained, and challenged to think critically and creatively and to be tested on their ability. We know that this kind of thinking is clearly expressed or inferred in the standards under which we operate. When we ask to students to think critically and creatively, however, we get opposition from students and parents and eventually from administrators. Students who come to my high school science class are used to a “memorize and repeat” method of teaching. So when they are asked to “evaluate” and “create,” 2 higher-level categories found in Anderson and Krathwohl’s revision of Bloom’s taxonomy, they rebel. Test questions that require that students perform at the higher level of the Anderson/Krathwohl/Bloom taxonomy, elicit complaints by students to parents that they are being tested on things not taught in class, parents complain to teachers or directly to administrators, and administrators pressure teachers to back off. Everyone in the system has become part of a nexus that waters down real standards; standards that require critical and creative thinking. Most teachers simply are not willing to put up with the pressure from all side to make things easier for students.

The one thing that buoys me are the supportive comments that I get from the small minority of current students and parents who see the value of challenging their children and from the increasing number of former students and parents who credit me with the success of the former student in college.

"Students who come to my high school science class are used to a “memorize and repeat” method of teaching. So when they are asked to “evaluate” and “create,” 2 higher-level categories found in Anderson and Krathwohl’s revision of Bloom’s taxonomy, they rebel."

I teach the Living Environment (high school course) to 8th grade honors in a middle school. Students come to me NOT having any good studying skills, not even "memorizing and repeating". Memorizing and repeating is not so bad - to memorize something well one need to understand it and to repeat several times. I had to teach this as well. To evaluate and analyze - one need a strong knowledge of content, in which evaluation is happening. To create - the same.
If the kids could come to me in 8th grade having the skills to memorize and repeat, I wouldn't have to focus on it so much! But to go to the higher level, one have to get the basics up to the level of reflexes. Logic, as always.

I again, agree that you need BOTH, with memorization and learning of basic facts first, then applying these concepts creatively.

This has been shown by the National Institute of Health to be the best model for learning to read. This debate occurred 10 years ago in reading and it is the same debate.

Such a shame. I think parents and students should sue state Boards of Education, and Local Boards of Education for malpractice when they can show economic damages from not competently learning subject matter and later being relegated to McDonalds and Walmart.

[As such, the question, according to James Popham, has shifted from "How can we improve student learning?" to "How can we raise test scores?"]

Same difference. If student learning is improved, test scores go up (assuming the tests reflect the curriculum, if any).

The problems our children will have to solve in the 21st century are, for the most part, problems we have not anticipated in the same way that the problems we encountered were not the ones our parents and teachers had solved in their pasts.

Actually, most of the problems our children will have to solve in the 21st century are problems past generations have already encountered and solved.

Humans and the rest of the planet doesn't change that much. People in the 21st century still need food, shelter, warmth. The laws of phyics stay the same - so people in the 21st century can apply the same lessons about how to build a leak-proof roof, or how to cook grains so they're edible, or how to treat cancer, or how to write a poem, or how to avoid hyperinflation.

Of course not everyone needs to know the solutions to all of these problems, but overall each new generation should know, between them, all the old solutions.

Then many solutions to new problems draw on past techniques and solutions to old problems. For example, mathematical models of the AIDS epidemic drew on already developed calculus skills. Models of possible SARs epidemics drew on models of the AIDS epidemic. Our response to future potential wars will draw on historical experiences with the Iraq War, the Gulf War, the Vietnam War, WWII, WWI, the Boer War, the Crimean War, the Napoleanic Wars, etc, etc.

Then there are the problems that are not solvable but recurr from generation to generation, such as love and death, where English literature can provide important assistance.

Teaching children that there are RIGHT and WRONG answers, with such high stakes that entire school districts and most parents are seized with the outcomes of testing, does not give our children the skills and self-confidence they need to solve the unique problems they will encounter in their futures.

Actually there are RIGHT and WRONG answers. The roots of 25 are 5 and -5, not 6 and -6. Women have the right to vote, and democracy is a better form of government than dictatorship. Pencillin is a better treatment for a bacterial infection than bleeding but it doesn't work for virus infections. The Treaty of Versailles came before WWII, not after.

If our children are to have the skills and self-confidence to solve the unique problems they will encounter in the future, they first need to know the difference between RIGHT and WRONG answers. If schools and parents are seized with teaching the skills necessary to pass those tests then it's a good first step to giving the kids the skills and self-confidence to solve future problems.

Creating a mathematically literate society requires standards for achievement, where critical thinking is created in a constructivist environment. First, Mr. Noddings states that learning objectives based on standards work against intellectual habits. However, if the objectives are to explore various equations to find one that makes sense in modeling the problem, or to construct personal reflections concerning what has been learned, if the students engage in evaluation and interpretation of the learning, then the objectives are intellectual because of the critical thinking required to meet them. Standards are as necessary in our society as they are in a classroom. We need to know where we are going and we need to get there together. Second, Ms. Stafford questions whether constructivism is the one best approach. She seems to not recall that traditionally students were given just one method for solving a problem, and then required to practice it at nausea. If the student could use this method consistently to find the same answer as in the back of the book, they would then delude themselves into thinking they were good math students when in reality they were only practicing a procedure and not doing math at all. A constructivist approach, on the other hand, facilitates a mathematical experience requiring students to create their own procedures. This allows each student to find the one best approach that works best for them. The classroom may look fuzzy to an outsider, but both the answer as well as the conceptual understanding is solid. When students are allowed to construct their own understanding of the math they gain confidence and ability that has positive effects on their learning. If Ms. Stafford does not see these results, then I question her ability to facilitate a classroom that creates them. Finally, Margo misses the true sense of critical thinking when she mentions the terms analyze, describe, explain, compare and apply. These words really refer to problem solving and decision making, whereas critical thinking is to reflect on these aspects of problem solving. SteveH states that we make no attempt to define critical thinking and this simply is not true. Marzano defines critical thinking as making judgments about the quality of thinking. He goes to say that critical thinking is to seek a clear thesis with well formed sources that account for the entire situation. It looks for alternatives and is open minded, but takes a stand when the evidence is sufficient. Critical thinking involves inferencing where inductive reasoning is used to analyze data and deductive reasoning is used to interpret it. It also involves social interactions where logical, rhetorical, and presentation strategies are used to inform and/or persuade an audience. R.W Paul states that. “a strong critical thinker… realizes the necessity of putting his own assumptions and ideas to the test of the strongest objections that can be leveled against them.” SteveH states that critical thinking builds on the solid foundation of skills, it does not! Critical thinking is built in a classroom where students wrestle with problem situations and then evaluate the effectiveness of their methods and results.

"A constructivist approach, on the other hand, facilitates a mathematical experience requiring students to create their own procedures. This allows each student to find the one best approach that works best for them. The classroom may look fuzzy to an outsider, but both the answer as well as the conceptual understanding is solid. When students are allowed to construct their own understanding of the math they gain confidence and ability that has positive effects on their learning."


According to Mayer (2004), “The constructivist teaching fallacy is that the only way to achieve constructivist learning is through active methods of teaching." Actually, avariety of instructional methods can lead to constructivist learning. Active interpretation/processing (or constructing of knowledge, if using such term makes you feel better) occurs even when information is transmitted directly.

All learning is constructivist in nature. What differs is the amount of guidance given. Putting a bunch of kids in groups with some problems and a few hints, is like having someone who barely knows how to drive a stick shift, find their way around in a new city in a manual transmission automobile.

With proper guidance, discovery learning is quite effective. I point you to the Singapore Math books which DO use discovery learning approaches. Imparting necessary information is key, but the books allow for students to make cognitive leaps. The scaffolding is there and students are constantly challenged to apply new information to their prior knowledge. In other words, they build upon skills and concepts they have mastered, and it isn't spoon fed to them.

When students do not come into contact with the to-be-learned principle because they have too much freedom with minimal guidance, they have nothing to integrate with their knowledge base.

See http://projects.ict.usc.edu/itw/gel/MayerThreeStrikesAP04.pdf for a good article on this.

Mayers states, “I do not object to the idea that constructivist learning is a worthwhile goal, but rather I object to the idea that constructivist teaching should be restricted to pure
discovery methods." He goes on to use the work of Shulman and Keisler (1966) to promote his thesis that guided discovery is generally more effective than pure discovery. I agree and would add the work of John Van De Walle, Brian Cambourne, James Stigler and James Heibert to the list. Van De Walle developed the Launch-Explore-Summary model to guided constructivist instruction, Cambourne has developed the Conditions of Learning which create engagement and active focus, and both Stigler and Hiebert promote the Lesson Study model for staff development so that the art of facilitating a guided constructivist classroom is understood by all teachers.

Facilitating a constructivist classroom includes formative as well as summative assessments where the instructor use classroom data to make judgments about what students need in order to create their own understanding of the concepts at hand. Individualization is a key component of this because different students need different levels of guidance.

The most difficult task you can ask a teacher to do is to teach in a way they were not taught themselves. When we ask teachers to facilitate a classroom rather than control it we are looking for a cultural shift in the way we do school. Research shows that guided constructivist classrooms promote more thorough conceptual understanding; we as educators are responsible for using the best practices research has to offer.

First of all, I see the "standard-based education" as the least harming idea among nowadays educational strategies. The need for standardized expectations has come from the low level teachers in the classrooms. It is scary to leave it to the teachers' discretion decide what is more important to teach on their courses. It is even scarier to let just students decide. If you leave it up to the kids, after they pass the adolescence they might ask: "OK, I was a kid, I didn't know better. What about you adults (teacher/parents), who were responsible for my education? Why didn't you guided me appropriately?" How can you answer this question?
If we had better teachers in the classrooms, teachers we can trust, then yes, give more space to creativity and let the curriculum requirements be in the backstage. But do we have those teachers?

"A constructivist approach, on the other hand, facilitates a mathematical experience requiring students to create their own procedures. This allows each student to find the one best approach that works best for them."

It is lovely that the approach *allows* students to find the one best approach that works best for them. However, I believe a more relevant objective for a maths class is that students actually learn an effective approach. I would prefer a classroom that taught every kid a standard approach to mastery to a classroom that *allowed* every kid to find "the one best approach" but only 10% of kids actually manage to do so.

May I ask how you assess whether a kid has found "the one best approach that works best for them"? Is it by the speed of their problem-solving? Do you calculate the number of operations required for each approach? And how many kids in your classroom do find "the one best approach that works best for them"? And how well does each kid remember that "one best approach that works best for them" a year later?

And also, it's not just matter of a kid finding "one best approach that works best for them". There are a large variety of mathematical problems that require different skills - navigation is a different problem to dealing with rates of change. So a constructivit classroom requires kids to develop (oh, sorry, does not require, only allows) a multitude of "the one best approach that works best for them". This strikes me as rather time-consuming, given that it took thousands of years for mathematicians to develop skills like calculus.

"The classroom may look fuzzy to an outsider, but both the answer as well as the conceptual understanding is solid."

Evidence for this statement?

"When students are allowed to construct their own understanding of the math they gain confidence and ability that has positive effects on their learning. "

Out of curiosity, if I wanted to stop a student from constructing their own understanding of maths, how would I go about it?

I was taught by a fairly traditional maths curriculum, but I don't recall any of my teachers actually managing to reach into my brain and stop me thinking about maths. One teacher tried to tell me that you couldn't subtract 3 from 2, but one of my uncles had already explained negative numbers to me, so I refused to believe her.

It'll take me a while to catch up on this reading. In the meantime, a story about an after-school pre-algebra class I'm teaching: I asked a room full of middle school students how to convert 2 and 3/4 from a mixed number to an improper fraction. All recited the standard algorithm: 2 times 4 plus 3. So I asked if 2 and 3/4 is the same as 11. They told me to keep 4 in the denominator. Ok. Then I asked why. Why use this algorithm? All but one said "because that's what our teacher/book told us to do". Ok, try again. Why does the algorithm work? One gifted 6th grader said "because someone came up with the formula and tried it many times and it always worked, so it became the formula".

On the first day of this class, I told these kids that "Math makes sense and you have a right to understand it". So I gave them a few (very few) leading hints, and they were readily able to derive the formula that is taught as the standard algorithm in question. This was only on the second day of class, and these are kids are not at the top of their classes (the gifted girl was just visiting). If I could have a wish come true, it would be that "because that's the way the [insert knowledge source here] said to do it" would become a WRONG answer.

Nel Noddings argues that providing a complete structure of what is to be learned and a detailed list of outcomes....etc. The critical word is "complete." This doesn't argue against (basic) standards; but (as per David Blankenship et al) may reduce creativity.

The bugaboo in these arguments is actually not the standards, but assessment fear and dislike. There is, in turn, much misinformation about testing. For instance, that multiple choice tests cannot/do not test higher order thinking. However much one may disagree with NCLB, the standards and their assessment have helped previously neglected students (a considerable population) - and this is very good for our society and for these students as they meet up with the post-secondary world.

So much has been written about the need for constructivist, inquiry-based math and science that it is becoming a mythical concept. The basic fact is that these subjects are simply not taught this way for the most part, and not just because of standards or underqualified teaching, but because of testing beyond NCLB, such as the AP tests. In addition, the first year gateway science courses in college also are regurgitant and recipe driven.

However, national standards are appearing quickly on the horizon, and in retrogressive fashion. National organizations are pushing states (currently a group of 23) back into to an old-fashioned (50s-60s) standard of 3-years (bio, science, physics) of science [as well as math] as though new sciences (biotechnology, environmental etc) didn't exist. This kind of standards development is one that should concern the society as a whole since it excludes information, or understanding or learning, that are critical to future thinking and creative problem-solving.

Tracey says, “May I ask how you assess whether a kid has found "the one best approach that works best for them?”
Students share their ideas when they struggle within their groups to work through a problem. Each is forming an understanding of the method to solve it individually as well as collectively and this process allows the facilitator who is observing the conversation to assess the conceptual development as it occurs. The results are a generation of many different methods both within the group as well as across the classroom. The facilitator now may take on a more traditional teaching role as he/she helps the class sort out misconceptions, but usually the class will identify them on their own. Some of the student’s approaches may be less efficient than others, but this is of little consequence as long as everyone gains conceptual understanding. Over time students gravitate towards methods that make the most sense to them; efficiency coming with more practice. I recently had a conversation with my superintendent concerning multiplication and division facts. My comment to him was that I would rather see students walking around with a pocket full of cubes to use for arithmetic until they understood the concepts, than to have them memorize facts in a vacuum without a thorough conceptual understanding about where that answer came from.
Tracey says, “And how well does each kid remember that "one best approach that works best for them" a year later?”
Read the research listed in one of my previous responses as well as the new research on how the brain works and you will find that it shows in numerous places retention significantly improves when students determine procedures on their own. The reasons for this seem to be due to how the brain works. When we figure things out on our own our mind makes more sense of them they become more useful and we remember them better.
Tracey says, “This strikes me as rather time-consuming, given that it took thousands of years for mathematicians to develop skills like calculus.”
This begs the question, “Why do we need to reinvent the wheel?” My response is to quote John Van De Walle, “It is true that we do not need any more wheels, but we do need more inventors.” Students need to struggle through the problems that the great mathematicians and scientist of the past struggled with in order to become the great mathematicians and scientist of the future.
Lavinia says, “The basic fact is that these subjects are simply not taught this way for the most part, and not just because of standards or under qualified teaching, but because of testing beyond NCLB, such as the AP tests. In addition, the first year gateway science courses in college also are regurgitant and recipe driven.”

This may be true, but at the k12 as well as college level it is changing. Most of the top rated colleges in the U.S. not only accept students who have been through a problem based constructivist experience in high school, but some are beginning to use this approach to educate students on their campuses as well. They are changing because they are beginning to understand the findings of their own research.

I also agree with Lavinia that some aspects of national standards are very scary. It is our job to educate our state and national lawmakers on the standards that will educate our next generation of citizens.

Ken Jensen said: "Research shows that guided constructivist classrooms promote more thorough conceptual understanding.."

That is not what Mayer's paper says, nor several other research papers (Khlar and Nigam, 2004; Kirschner, Sweller and Clark, 2006). See http://www.psy.cmu.edu/faculty/klahr/personal/pdf/KlahrNigam.PsychSci.pdf and http://www.cogtech.usc.edu/publications/kirschner_Sweller_Clark.pdf.

Mayer said guided discovery is better than minimally guided or pure discovery but he also said:

"Activity may help promote meaningful learning, but instead of behavioral activity per se (e.g., hands-on activity,discussion, and free exploration), the kind of activity that really promotes meaningful learning is cognitive activity
(e.g., selecting, organizing, and integrating knowledge). Instead of depending solely on learning by doing or learning by discussion, the most genuine approach to constructivist learning is learning by thinking. Methods that rely on
doing or discussing should be judged not on how much doing or discussing is involved but rather on the degree to which they promote appropriate cognitive processing. Guidance, structure, and focused goals should not be ignored. This is the consistent and clear lesson of decade after decade of research on the effects of discovery
methods."

In a personal communication with Mayer, he stated
it is important to discern what type of guidance to give, when it is to be given and to whom.

Asking questions in a Socratic style is generally not effective. And while some who promote constructivist classrooms maintain that the level of understanding is superior, the research of Mayer and Khlar/Nigam show does not support this, at least not for novice learner whose domain knowledge is low. Other studies do show there is some advantage to minimally guided discovery, but generally for those students with larger domain knowledge, who have acquired the schemas or building blocks with which to integrate new information with prior knowledge. Without such building blocks, you are in the situation you described in your previous posts where students are talking to one another and trading misconceptions, which then have to be sorted out and facilitated by a teacher. In the meantime, without having the building blocks and prior knowledge to integrate the new information, these students' short term memory is on overload. It is similar to learning to find your way around a new city in a manual transmission car, and you've never driven a manual transmission car before.

Students with larger domain knowledge may be given more freedom to discovery with less guidance. To assume this is true for all students is a mistake.

Also, you cite John Van De Walle, Brian Cambourne, James Stigler and James Heibert as being consistent with Mayer. Actually, they promote what Mayer is saying is not effective. They call what they do guided discovery, but the nature of the guidance is questionable.

We are arguing over "the best" way to elicit creative and high-order thinking faculties from children. There isn't a best way as the studies refereneced thus far have already pointed out; there are many fantastic and effective approaches. Just how fantastic and effective rarely depend on the third-party; namely, those outside a classroom.

I am a mathematician and teacher, currently teaching middle grades maths. Three of my four classes are student-centered and inquiry-based; one is more teacher-directed and traditional. Why? Based on demographics and historical academic performance all classes are the same and the same expectations are held for each class; however, personalities, preferences, and motivations differ. If I taught all classes the same certain individuals wouldn't learn as well.

Any person advocating a single instructional style refuses to recognize individual differences present in any population, with respect to both teachers and students. Differentiation is difficult to consistently implement on an individual level in any classroom, so a sensitive educator tailors teaching and learning as best they can to each group of children. When instructional choices are limited students suffer.

Learning isn't linear...it's messy. Different folks reach the same concluions using a variety of approaches. If every child took the same path towards a conceptual understanding, and learns the lesson, I would be looking at a group of academically identical kids...the very antithesis of creativity.

Creativity is a function of variation and innovation, both of which are absent without differences; differences do not occur without choices and no one can make a choice without having freedom. You cannot expect students to develop creative tendencies if they are in a school environment that doesn't value and encourage creativity. Educators must be allowed to employ a variety of instructional strategies in order to meet the needs of the individual learner. Children must learn in ways that allow them (we use the word "allow" because this acknowledges freedom) to develop different routes towards understanding the same concept.

Do standards hurt creativity? Only if some of you convince educators that in order to achieve the standard, teachers must limit thier own creativity.

It may indeed be the case that the effectiveness of explicit instruction depends on the degree to which pupils are habituated to this form of instruction. Since this mode is typically not the norm, pupils for the most part are conditioned to be unreceptive to this form of instruction (in one ear, out the other). Non-instruction thus creates its own conditions for its perpetuation.

I suggest a re-exam of Bandura and Vygotsky's learning theories.

If the only lessons someone has learned come from the explicit instructions of another, then that student is missing out on many (if not most) of life's lessons.

Wake up and smell the roses.

"The current debate about whether we should have a national curriculum is phony. We already have a national curriculum locked up in the seven lessons I have just outlined [see below]. Such a curriculum produces physical, moral, and intellectual paralysis, and no curriculum of content will be sufficient to reverse its hideous effects. What is currently under discussion in our national school hysteria about failing academic performance misses the point. Schools teach exactly what they are intended to teach and they do it well: how to be a good Egyptian and remain in your place in the pyramid...Look again at the seven lessons of schoolteaching: confusion, class position, indifference, emotional and intellectual dependency, conditional self-esteem, surveillance -- all of these things are prime training for permanent underclasses, people deprived forever of finding the center of their own special genius."

full text at http://hometown.aol.com/tma68/7lesson.htm

Having first hand experience and knowledge of teaching critical thinking in order for students to be able to apply skills to new information, and also being inundated by paced, information specific curriculum mandates, I say we are producing non-thinkers. This is not to say that memorization doesn't have it's place, I certainly did my share as a child, but pouring in, testing, pouring out opld, input new, test again - what aspect of real life does that apply to pray tell?

I find myself agreeing with several of the previous posters. Creativity and standards are not mutually exclusive. Standards are simply those bare minimums that should be mastered in order to work and function in today's global society and business world. Eighth or ninth grade standards in core subjects are not too much to ask of any student who desires a high school diploma and will either go on to college (right away or later) or into the workforce. (And no, there is really no other acceptable option)

Creativity is highly desirable but, when it is not integrated with relevant, factual knowledge and some technical skills, it can easily lead to creative nothingness when it comes to becoming a productive and self-supporting member of society.

When it comes to classroom curriculum and practices, my experience is that creative educators can build creativity into any and all learning. We need to "get over it," and do what will provide the best of both worlds: present standardized or non-standardized subjects and curriculum in creative ways that engage students and produce self-sufficient citizens.

yaah......................gud luck

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