Where's the Revolution: Bringing Creative Thinking and Personalization into All Classrooms Would Be a True Revolution Learning

By Hathaway, Nan E.; Jaquith, Diane B. | Phi Delta Kappan, March 2014 | Go to article overview

Where's the Revolution: Bringing Creative Thinking and Personalization into All Classrooms Would Be a True Revolution Learning


Hathaway, Nan E., Jaquith, Diane B., Phi Delta Kappan


Every education system in the world is being reformed at the moment. And it's not enough. Reform is no use anymore because that's simply improving a broken model. What we need is not evolution but a revolution in education.

--Sir Ken Robinson (2010)

American education today wants what it can't quite grasp--creativity in teaching and learning. Creativity isn't really elusive--we can sense it when we experience it--but an infusion of creativity in schools requires fundamental changes in attitude and approach. Sir Ken Robinson believes transformation is essential to bring creative thinking into schools (2009). Change is hard. Who will take the first step to embrace ambiguity, the hallmark of creativity? Who will risk public scrutiny to take a stand for innovation? Who will go the extra mile to infuse daily instruction with personalized learning? As reform initiatives are added layer upon layer, teachers speak of a broken system, untenable expectations, low morale, and students who quit. Too often, learning remains a passive endeavor where teachers dispense knowledge for students to acquire, retain, and repeat back on tests. In a recent study, Kyung Hee Kim (2011) unveiled a disturbing trend: Over the past two decades, students' IQs have increased while their capacity for creative thinking has decreased, especially among elementary students. Kim states, "To reverse decline in creative thinking, the United States should reclaim opportunities for its students and teachers to think flexibly, critically, and creatively. Standardization should be resisted" (p. 294). It's time we give Robinson's theories serious consideration.

Transformative practices

To transform education, Robinson (2009) recommends three major changes: Dispense with subject hierarchy, focus on curricular disciplines instead of subjects, and elevate personalization. Let's examine the first idea, the ranking of subject priority. Reading and math have dominated most school schedules since NCLB went into effect, thus reducing time for every other subject (Ravitch, 2010). Academic achievement as measured by testing is not necessarily improved by narrowing the curriculum, as Diane Ravitch explains:

   Test prep is not always the best preparation for taking
   tests. Children expand their vocabulary and improve
   their reading skills when they learn history, science,
   and literature, just as they may sharpen their mathematics
   skills while learning science and geography.
   And the arts may motivate students to love learning.
   (p. 108)

Reducing, marginalizing, and eliminating programs that aren't measured by standardized tests decreases opportunities for students to learn through individual strengths and interests while developing creative thinking skills. Curricular decisions clearly inform all stakeholders--especially students--about what is and is not deemed important by adults. In the most watched TED Talk of all time with over 23.5 million views (May, 2013), Robinson unabashedly states: "Creativity is now as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status" (2006).

Robinson's second transformative concept considers sets of disciplines, rather than singular subjects, in order to broaden connections across the curriculum. Children do not compartmentalize their learning until schooling causes them to think this way. A child was overheard to comment that her favorite subject is math. Her teacher stated, "I thought art was your favorite subject." The girl replied, "Art is not a subject. It is a 'special.' " In fact, art is so special that it activates thinking through science, math, history, language, and technology! The same can be said for every other discipline studied in school. It is through cross-disciplinary connections that children deepen their understandings about the world. Education does a grave disservice to students by enforcing artificial curricular boundaries. …

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