David Warlick blogs on his site 2 Cents, a platform devoted to sharing ideas and new concepts in education. Recently, David said, "Every year, there are fewer teachers who have known the experience of confidently entering their classrooms with creativity, passion and the freedom to replace their textbooks with learning experiences that are unique, personal, powerful and authentic."
Does he believe the classrooms of 2013 are becoming too prohibitive and strict because of the pressures of preparing students for 'high stakes' tests?
David has strong feelings on the matter. "With scattered exceptions, teachers in my country are no longer encouraged to be creative, and in instances creativity is discouraged – and this is largely the result of an accountability system based on high-stakes testing. For years, scientific research-based teaching strategies were coin of the realm, where teachers had to be able to point to research findings that supported the learning activities that their students were engaged in."
So, has this lead to a lack of creativity in the classroom, or less of a focus on creative activities? David mentions that, "There have been teachers who have devised creative ways to improve their students' test performances, but where is the inducement to imaginatively accomplish the goals set by unimaginative people?"
Are some creative teachers being "punished" for thinking outside the square? David believes that this certainly does happen from time to time.
"I know of teachers who have been urged by administrators to scale back their creative practices because other teachers were complaining. That's rare, but it does happen."
David is highly passionate about new technology in the classroom, saying in a recent blog post, "I think that our students have every right to expect that their teachers will teach more from today's information landscape." (You also said) "Current students grew up with computers and the internet. They become so accomplished with these tools because it's play for them." So, what difference does he perceive in the way teachers and students are viewing technology for learning?
David says, "It's a good question. However, I think it would be fairer to characterize the perceptions of a rising education technology industry that seeks to use computers to automate schooling. The primary focus is data, generated by students' performance and used to refine teaching strategies. In and of itself, this is not a bad thing. I mean it's what teachers have been doing for decades. But just because computers can do it faster and more comprehensively, does not mean that it is the best use of the machines.
"Our students use technology to empower themselves, to extend their presence and perception beyond the world that they can see and touch. We've always want that. It's why children pretend. It enables them to form community and empowers them to work playfully. I've watched my children play their video games and to me, it looks like work!"
So is this becoming second-nature for the younger generation? David is really not so sure, quoting a Marc Prensky (an American writer and speaker specializing in learning and education) piece from 2001 called Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives.
David says, "It was a useful observation at the time. But I believe that using the technologies at hand are second-nature to all of us, regardless of age. As adults have had more access to computers and the internet, and especially with the advent of touch-sensitive tech like iPhones and iPads, we have devised incredibly creative ways of using them to accomplish our goals.
"These new technologies have threatened many people of my generation (I'm 61). It is because of the uncertainty that they imply about our future, and there is truth in this. However, what a future of uncertainty brings is a future of opportunity. I am increasingly replacing phrases like 'the 21st century' and 'the digital age' with 'The Age of Opportunities'.
So, should teachers be using technology in more creative and unconventional ways to teach conventional and core subjects? David thinks they should.
"Yes! But (and this may surprise you) part of the problem are the conventional/core subjects. In my years, there is one thing that I am certain about, that we are living in a time of rapid change. When so much around us is changing, what our students are taught becomes less important, because the answers to the test questions are changing. It's 'how' they are taught that has become important – or more to the point, "how they are learning to teach themselves" that is important.
"A time of rapid change necessitates what I call a 'learning lifestyle'. Higher learning should be focused on helping students learn to be tenacious and resourceful learners. In fact, I am also increasingly replacing the term 'literacy' with 'learning-literacies'."
David recently expanded on a concept mentioned by blogger Carla Beard, stating that, "The most important thing to remember about technology in our classrooms is that it's not about the technology". David recently asked teachers to supply the answer to the question, "What is it about?" He received some very interesting replies from his audience of teachers and educators.
He says, "Most frequently I hear that it's about the learning or it's about the students. I would agree with both. But I suspect that when they say that, "It's about the learning," they are referring to what they are learning, not how they are learning.
"I believe that it should be about how they are learning and what they are learning to do with what they are learning. Rigour is an adverb that is used quite often in the U.S. to describe where teaching needs to be going. But what is meant is that our students need to be learning more stuff. To me, rigour is not how much they are learning, but what they can do with what they are learning.
There has been some interest worldwide with making class times less structured and more responsive to creative opportunities. Does David think that class time should be more responsive to those moments when students may get a creative urge?
David agrees that this could be a good idea. He says, "I believe that class time should be more conducive to the 'creative urge', not just responsive to it. Creativity should be an integral part of what makes the class work, not just an unpredictable by-product. Students are rarely shown novelty and even more rarely invited to play with it. Teaching should become more playful."
It's thought that creative people have a tendency to over-react to stimulation. Does David agree? If so, has he noticed this in students of various ages?
"I am not sure what is meant by "over-react" or "over-reactive." Sounds like A.D.H.D. to me," says David. "As an adult who has been clinically diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (not hyperactive), I believe that what many see in me, that looks to them like creativity, is simply the highly random way that my mind works. I come at things from a different direction, because nothing lines up on my brain. Does that make sense?"
How essential is it for students to have creative parents in order to thrive? Or at least parents who understand the importance of
"Wow!" exclaims David, "That's a tough one. Personally, I do not like our reliance on the term, creativity. Too many people think about art and music when they see or hear the term. I prefer to talk about inventive or resourceful strategies for accomplishing a goal."
"That said, I do believe that we come to be creative by being around other creative people. It's why I think it is so important that teachers be given permission to be creative and encouraged to make mistakes. The best teaching might happen when the teacher says, "I made a mistake yesterday and this is what I learned from it."
There has been some reporting that negative early experiences in childhood can stunt creativity. David has a few ideas on how creativity be encouraged in a student that is displaying this sort of impingement. He says, "…we learned to be creative in the sandbox, and that our formal learning environments should come to have the qualities of a sandbox. It should be a place that the learner has a certainly amount of control over, and that control empowers them to do things that are bigger than they are."
A recent statistic indicated that 78 per cent of people say that creativity is very important to their careers, but only 57 per cent thought so when they were in college or university. Does David believe that creativity has been under-valued in the past, with a focus on academic performance over creative achievements?
He says, yes, "Academic performance is considered more highly than creative achievements. But some colleges and universities are starting rethink their purpose and practices. There is a much lauded list of eight hundred colleges and universities (all appear to be US) that no longer require S.A.T. or A.C.T. test scores for admittance. There are schools of design and engineering that are taking on a studio approach to learning in contrast to their old classroom lecture models."
"But much of this comes from our notions of what teaching is and what a teacher does. Teachers believe that they are content experts, and that their job is to effectively convey their expertise to their students. Anything other than that, and they are not doing their jobs. I recently saw a keynote address where the speaker (Superintendent of Philadelphia Public Schools) said that we do not need content specialists today nearly as much as we need context specialists."
David has a very novel way of kicking off his talks. He explains, "I always begin my presentations these days by sharing something that I didn't know yesterday. I try to help teacher come to believe that they should become master learners."