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Response: Ways To Develop Creative Thinking In The Common Core

Mary Jo Groeneveld asked:

What are some tools teachers can use to address new common core standards while developing creative thinking? Teachers are in a constant vice grip of time with too much curriculum to cover with unrealistic differentiation expectations for ever increasing numbers of students. They have a hard time justifying the time needed to move away from focused cognition. Do you have a collection of quick techniques, "tools" that teachers can insert easily, thus successfully into their structured, fast paced test and retest and report data regimen?

Today, three author educators -- Amy Benjamin, Ben Curran, and Heather Wolpert-Gawron -- have contributed guest responses to Mary Jo's question.

Readers might also find these resources helpful:

Response: Best Ways to Prepare Our Students for CCSS in Language Arts

Response: 'How on Earth Will I Implement' Common Core for Language Arts?

Response: Ways To Try Using The CCSS With English Language Learners

Response: Several Ways We Can Help Students Develop Their Creativity

Response From Amy Benjamin


Amy Benjamin
is a teacher and national consultant specializing in improving student performance through literacy skills on the secondary level. Her most recent book is Big Skills for the Common Core. (Eye on Education, 2012). She has also written But I'm Not A Reading Teacher and Vocabulary at the Core:


The Common Core emphasizes analytical thinking: close reading of complex text, writing argumentation and explanation, and academic vocabulary. Creative thinking involves being able to make new combinations (synthesis) and to be flexible with traditional concepts (divergent thinking). How do we integrate the analytical thinking skills of the Common Core with the creative thinking skills that are also necessary for college and career readiness?

First, let's thumbnail the Common Core. Its literacy standards cluster around three main ideas: 1) Text-based answers to reading comprehension questions, 2) Source-based writing, and 3) Academic vocabulary.

Where is there room, then, for creative thinking? Although the Common Core decidedly calls for less narrative writing, it certainly does not eliminate the classroom staples of having students write stories, either fiction or memoir. At the elementary level, we are working toward a 50/50 balance between informational and narrative writing; at the secondary level, English language arts classes retain the narrative writing component for about 20% of the writing curriculum. And the few secondary teachers who have always used creative writing as a means for learning content outside of English class, there's no reason for them to discontinue that practice. Excellent teachers in all subject areas have long recognized the value of having students process, extend, and remember facts and figures by creative language activities such as skits, creative writing, and word play.

Academic vocabulary, foundational to both comprehension and production of academic text, offers lots of opportunities for creative thinking. Here are three tools for accelerating language acquisition:

1. Word games: Word games are great for generating language profusion, flexibility, and the repeated exposure that is so necessary moving words from receptive ("I know it when I hear or read it.") to productive ("I use it in my own speech and writing.") On my website you can find (free) classroom-ready puzzles that recruit the words from the Academic Word List (Coxhead).

2. Synthesis: Some teachers present a handful of generic academic words (Tier II), and simply ask students to put these together in a sentence that expresses something that they've recently learned in class. This valuable activity synthesizes Tier II and Tier III (domain-specific) words and is an excellent, low-maintenance way to solidify learning.

3. Metaphorical thinking: "It is the greatest thing by far to be a master of metaphor." So said Aristotle in his Poetics (350 B.C.E.). Metaphor-making is the embodiment of creative thinking, as a metaphor is, by definition, a new combination, a new perspective that ingeniously brings together the salient elements of two disparate things. We can ask students to explain, in speech or writing, their understandings of newly learned concepts and definitions by devising a metaphor and then explaining its aptness.

Creative and analytical thinking are not mutually exclusive. We should work to make them mutually supportive to engage the whole brains of our students.


Creative-and-analytical.jpg


Response From Ben Curran

Ben Curran is a K-5 instructional coach at a charter school in Detroit, Michigan. He is also co-founder of Engaging Educators, co-author of Learning in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @engaginged:


As they explicitly state (Introduction, page 6), The Common Core Standards in English Language Arts represent what teachers should teach not how. This empowers educators to teach meaningful content in engaging ways, ways that tap into students' creativity and that develop critical thinking skills.

There is one writing anchor standard that jumps out as well suited for developing students' creative thinking--anchor standard six: "Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others."

Several tools exist that would enable students to not only meet this standard, but express themselves in creative ways. Two of my favorites are blogs and wikis. Both are easy to use and free.

With blogging, students are able to easily write the persuasive, informational, and narrative pieces called for by the standards. However, the added element of a potential global audience can be highly motivational. For students younger than 13, I love what KidBlog.org has to offer. For students old enough for a gmail account, Blogger is a very user-friendly option. (Check out this post for more details about blogging with students.)

Here's where the creative thinking comes in: student bloggers should be challenged to design a blog that will appeal to their audience. This involves visual design and content. Asking "What makes a blog attractive to readers?" can push students to think carefully about the writing their publishing and thus raise the quality of their work.

Wikis, websites that are easy to create collaboratively, allow for creative thinking, as well. A site such as wikispaces allows educators to create student accounts. Within no time, students will be building their own web pages, which can integrate video and images along with text and other plug-ins. I've enjoyed great success having students as young as fourth grade build wikis that serve as electronic portfolios for all of their digital projects. Wikis also can be used collaboratively, with multiple students building pages together.

Both blogs and wikis not only provide an avenue for student creativity, but they enable students to meet Common Core Standards as well.


Response From Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Heather Wolpert-Gawron is a middle school teacher in San Gabriel, CA and author of 'Tween Crayons and Curfews:Tips for Middle School Teachers:


Teaching Levels of Questioning is vital. Costas is a great place to start because it's a simpler version of Blooms and it can be more user friendly.

Also, I think student developed rubrics are awesome. Having the students own their own standards and expectations is very effective in establishing their own comprehension. Introduce them to something like rubistar4teachers. Have them build their own rubrics for each other to assess their work. Have them develop their own rubrics to turn in with their work so that they are working in tandem with their teachers.

Critical thinking is about independent learning, and independent learning is about seeing the teacher as a partner and a guide rather than the sole authority. If there is not a sole information authority on the room, but instead a guide to help them find the answers they seek, then their brains will really be forced to sweat. Kids will lean back on what they can. If your purpose is to create kids who utilize their own resources and only use you as a guide to find resources, than you must teach some kind of internet literacy or safe search strategies. Alan November's website is a great resource for tools to help along those lines.


Responses From Readers

Kimber Larson:

Creating metaphors and analogies are a staple in my room! Engaging and challenging!


Thanks to Amy, Ben and Heather, and to readers, for contributing their responses, .

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