Fostering Creativity

Last year I showed my students Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about schools killing creativity and we had a discussion about whether they agreed or disagreed with his argument. Every student felt that during their school day, creativity was definitely NOT a skill that their teachers were trying to foster. Sadly, many felt that even their own parents killed their creativity, as they were told not to pursue their love of music or art, as it would not provide a stable income for them in the future. Right about this time, we were finalizing our study of the allegory, Animal Farm. I figured the best way for students to understand the purpose of the genre was to write their own allegories and I made it a goal to encourage both written and artistic creativity. It was a huge success, so this is now a unit I implement every year.

During the process, I encourage students to either develop a movie or book plot that symbolizes a historical event of their choosing. The steps include researching the historical event, diagramming plot, writing a scene or chapter passage, designing a book cover or movie trailer and presenting to the class.

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Outline for Project HERE.

Student Outline Sample #1

Student Outline Sample #2

Sample Book Covers:

Allegory Book Cover
Mixture of both hand drawn illustration and electronic text
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Made with Canva
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Mixture of both hand drawn illustration and electronic text

Sample Presentations:

A huge part of fostering student creativity is offering students choice. This year, I had students ask if they could use certain tech tools and or create book trailers instead of book covers, and my response was always “go for it!” Sir Ken Robinson says “we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it;” our job as teachers in the 21st century is to reverse this trend and the only way to do so is to make a conscious effort to design learning environments that “educate [our students]” into “their  creative capacities.”

Robinson, Ken Sir. “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” TED Conference. CA, Monterey. 2 Feb. 2009. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.


Fall in Love with Reading

Our English Department requires students to read at least one ORB (outside reading book) a semester, along with reading the grade level novels on our curriculum guides. Last year I noticed because the ORB reading ended in one culminating project, my students either “fake read” or rushed to finish a book at the last minute. I was fortunate enough to attend the UCI December Conference for Teachers and the keynote speakers were Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle…I know, awesome, right? Both Gallagher and Kittle make reading in class  a priority because as Kittle suggests “engagement leads to volume leads to rigor.” The more time and encouragement we offer students to fall in love with books, the more likely they will read more and then in turn try more challenging texts. Following the conference, I made outside reading a priority. Here’s what I did:

1. In Class Time for Reading

I tried my best to offer 15 minutes each day solely to the reading of their ORBs. This was my opening activity and as soon as the bell rang, I stared my One Click Timer and everyone read quietly until the timer went off.

2. Reading Conferences

Taking the idea from Gallagher, I created a Student Reading Conference journal and called up about 3-4 students each period to talk about their reading. During this time, I learned what types of books my students loved, their favorite genres, and discussed the plots of their current books. Not surprisingly, many students said they enjoyed reading, but with all their homework and extracurricular activities they had stopped reading for enjoyment. Several of my  Honors freshmen explained that the last time they had read a book out of their own volition and not because it was a class assignment was in upper elementary or sixth grade. The conferences were extremely valuable as I felt it also helped me establish stronger relationships with each student in my class.

3. Book Clubs

Also inspired by Kittle and Gallagher, this past month, I assigned students to Book Clubs. I selected six books for the students to choose from and asked students to complete a Google form ranking their top choices; to help, I supplied a brief synopsis of each book and links to book reviews to make ranking easier. I used the results to assign students to Book Clubs in each period. Most students were assigned to their  first or second choice.

Students met once a week in Book Clubs to discuss their reactions. Each week, I provided guided questions to help support their conversations, along with assigning one task. These questions and tasks were shared on Google Slides during each Book Club meeting.

Meeting Foci (we had 4 meetings total):

  1. First Impressions
  2. Character Analysis
  3. Passage Annotation
  4. Theme/ Character Analysis (Final Meeting)
    Sample Book Talk Slides (1)
    These are samples of tasks completed during Book Club meetings via Google Slides.
    Today was our final Book Club meeting and I tried for the first time a Fictional Twitter Account activity I discovered on Twitter (ironic?). Tony Vincent tweeted this blog post. Check it out! The students made a copy of the Google Drawing template and then once they were done, downloaded the file as a JPEG and uploaded it to our Google Slides. Their creativity was astounding! As I circulated the room, I heard giggles and conversations such as “that character would say that!” How awesome to observe students having fun while they critically thought about the characters in their Book Club books.

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Book: Out of Reach

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Book: Unwind

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Book: Shattering Glass

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Book: 13 Reasons Why
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Book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Next week, my students who read Out of Reach will get to Skype with the author, Carrie Arcos during lunch. This will be my first time Skyping in the classroom, so I am super excited!

I don’t yet know how I plan to follow up Book Clubs, but I do know that I care about making the love of reading in my class a priority and I hope when students leave my class this year they will be able to say that they fell in love with at least one book!

Upgrade Those ERWC Units

Part of the ELA curriculum at both my previous school and current school include the integration of ERWC units. The Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum, developed by the Cal States, focuses on engaging students in the reading and writing of Expository texts. The belief is that most students will not major in English and should enter college with skills to handle the close reading of informational text, which is also a focus of the Common Core standards. I think most English teachers understand the need to teach these skills, but often find some of the ERWC units disengaging or tedious. One of the problems I have found with the units is the fact that a unit focuses on one expository article, and the Common Core standards and CAASP performance tasks tend to focus on the reading and synthesizing of multiple sources. Therefore, I like to add to the ERWC units to help my students think more critically about the topics raised in the expository articles. I then add elements that foster student creativity, which makes the unit relevant and engaging.

ERWC Unit: “How Self-fulfilling Stereotypes Can Drag Down Performance”

Before I dive into my To Kill a Mockingbird unit, I teach the ERWC unit about self-fulfilling stereotypes. It’s a great “into” unit.

Step 1:

In Lit Circles, students use the QFT (question formulation technique) strategy to create open ended questions about the subject of stereotypes. If you have never heard of this strategy, check out the book Make Just One Change and the website. The Lit Circles decide on their favorite question and this becomes their focus for close reading and annotating the sources I provide.


Step 2:

Students read and annotate the sources I provide, which are linked on my Haiku page. If the source is a web site, my students use the Diigo extension to annotate and then they submit their annotated links via a Google form.

Haiku ERWC

Step 3:

Students complete a graphic organizer that I share via a Google Drawing to synthesize their sources. Their goal is to find an answer to  the question they developed via the QFT strategy. I teach students the SEE-THINK-WONDER strategy at the beginning of the year to annotate paintings/images. This strategy is from the book Making Thinking Visible. It’s an awesome resource!

ERWC Unit Synthesis Chart

Step 4:

Students use Google Drawing to create an Infographic in their Lit Circles that displays their question, answer, and evidence from multiple sources. They also must do outside research to find additional evidence to support their answers.

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Why I LOVE Google Drawings

Before 1-1 technology, I was a strong proponent of using graphic organizers in my classroom. I would design them on Word and make enough copies for each of my students. These graphic organizers helped students visually organize ideas and or plan for writing. Now that my students have access to technology, most of our work is done using GAFE. One of my favorites is Google Drawings. I love how students can collaborate on one document and I can check their revision history; it also fosters their creativity. I share out my documents via a Document management system called Doctopus (I haven’t switched over to Google classroom since I love the group sharing process w/ Doctopus along with its ease of use with the Goobric extension).

I will send out a blank Google Drawing with a text box off to the side with the directions. This week for example, we are wrapping up the semester and students will have to compare Of Mice and Men to To Kill a Mockingbird. To have students review, I assigned a  group Theme Map.

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I am always amazed by my students creativity!

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I love that while from home I can access their work and see their revisions and chats about how to accomplish the task. If I notice any confusion, I can jump into their chat and add feedback.

Sample comments in theme map

Finally, because I use Doctopus with the Goobric extension, I can grade the Theme Map with a rubric created via Google spreadsheets, score the theme map, and the rubric automatically gets emailed to each student.

Goobric with theme map

I am super excited about the new Student Goobric extension for self-assessment and peer evaluation, and I am hoping to begin this process next semester. Check that out here!