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Does the Common Core Punish Creativity?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 -- Scott Sterling

As with all new mandates in education, teachers and parents feared the worst when the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were released. Would the new guidelines further dictate how class time is used? How structured is the content? Where will the money come from?

In other words, for classes that are already overcrowded and strapped for both funding and time, how much more wiggle room will teachers lose? If teachers are forced into less creativity, does that mean students will be as well?

What do the standards actually say?

To the true outsider, because the CCSS do not specifically address the arts and prescribe more non-fiction readings in the English language arts standards, they were viewed as an attack on creativity in the classroom. Only if you dig deeper and look particularly at the assessments that are being developed for the new standards can you see that they may in fact force our students to become more creative, not less. In order to squeeze that creativity out of the kids, teachers will have to adapt themselves.

One of the samples released from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two groups developing assessments for the CCSS, is striking. The goal of the question is to assess place value rounding and it uses an animated video of five swimmers.

“Five swimmers compete in the 50-meter race. The finish time for each swimmer is shown in the video. Explain how the results of the race would change if the race used a clock that rounded to the nearest tenth instead of the nearest hundredth.”

Then there is a text box. That’s right. Not only will the students have to write in a math test, but they will also have to explain their reasoning regarding the skill at hand. This is not only assessing real-world problem solving, much like someone in the “real world” would have to do, but it affords the student an opportunity for creativity. No longer is the answer purely black and white.

Adapt and thrive

That’s not to say that if a student orders the swimmers incorrectly but can creatively justify their reasoning that they will not still get the question wrong, but that this kind of questioning allows students to reach the right answer in a variety of ways without worrying about whether they used the right order of operations or other mathematical rule. In other words, creativity.

Think about what kind of instruction germinates that kind of thinking in a student. Lecturing at the front of the room simply won’t do it anymore. Students need to be able to work in a hands-on, experimental environment with a creative teacher that can model critical thinking skills, not just download information and data into students’ heads.

If you aren’t already, you have about a year and a half to become that teacher. Make that journey and you won’t believe how much more rewarding your profession becomes.