Tag Archives: students

Creativity is not about Paintbrushes and Poems

I was going through our school library magazines this morning and came across a stack of them that the librarian was putting away. I saw a magazine, Scholastic Instructor the 2011 Holiday edition, and it in there is an article called Challenge your Top Students: 10 ways to meet the needs of your advanced learners-and help the rest of your class, too. by Joan Franklin Smutny. In this article are ten very good ideas to help challenge your gifted students in the regular classroom.

Her list is as follows:

  • Allow Choice

  • integrate Technology

  • Let Kids Work Together

  • Accommodate Pace

  • Determine Prior Knowledge

  • Encourage Goal Setting

  • Teach Creatively

  • Independent Learning Projects

  • Follow their Interests

  • Encourage Self Assessment

Joan does a great job going into details on what regular education teachers can do to help gifted students. I want to focus and expand a little bit on what she discusses on teaching creatively. Joan begins to say that to teach creatively you need to focus on 6 general principles:

Explore: Point out the hidden, less traveled paths and warn against set patterns.

Create: Assign work that requires creative and imaginative thinking.

Envision: Nurture boldness in vision and endeavor.

Support: Support students’ trust in their creative powers

Improve: Give them opportunities to correct errors, refine visions, improve and elaborate.

Exhibit: Find venues for students to show, demonstrate, perform or exhibit.

Creativity has two sides.

One side of the coin is students. Many students look at creativity as something artists, musicians, and writers have. I borrowed her subtitle of this section from her article for my title, because it really goes with what I tell my students. There is no limit to creativity. So you are not an artist. Its alright. You have creativity in the form of creating an app or program on the computer, or your Mindcraft city is so elaborate that you make it look like something off of Google Maps.

On the other side of that coin, is the teacher. We need to look at “outside of the box thinking” when it comes to advanced learners. Teachers, and I include myself, need to stop worrying about how much work it takes to create something that a small group of students would work on and focus on the fact that we are there for the students.

We need to take our own creativity and focus it to challenge students. We need to look at our curriculum differently. We should see the State Standards as the minimum requirements, and work up. The State Standards are the foundation of what we do, and our creativity are the bricks we use to build our fort of fun.

For regular education teachers the easiest thing to do is to create extension projects for advanced learners. The last thing these students need is just more busy work since they get done early. That will kill their creativity, and their love of learning. Give them a project based on your subject, but give them the choice of where to take that project. Don’t do more paper and pencil work. Have them use their imagination. Let them work in small groups to collaborate and create. At that point you move from teacher to facilitator as you support your students creativity.

You may say, as I do, I am not that creative. One aspect of creativity is an attitude. If you think your aren’t creative you are limiting yourself. The other aspect of creativity is to take what is out there, and adjusting it to meet your needs.  Use social media in your classroom. Create accounts on Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and find ideas that you can incorporate into your classroom. Millions of minds together are always better than one alone. Search the internet to find resources and ideas from websites. There are millions of pages out there to help you no matter what grade or subject you teach.

Remember, when you limit your creativity you are limiting your students as well.

What are you doing to foster creativity in your professional life and in the life of your students?


How many Watermelons will fill a Volkswagen?

Do you know how many watermelons it would take to fill a Volkswagen? How would you figure that out? What challenges would your students have to figure that out? How creative would your students need to be to figure that out? My students would ask why would you want to know.

While I was at Edcamp over the weekend, I participated in a session where the topic was “how do we get students to change their mindsets to take on challenges”,  and this was a very informative session. There were so many different types of teachers (high school, middle school, elementary) and each had their own view of what to do with their students when it came to challenges, and how to change their mindset to see challenges at positives not something that is a negative.

Many teachers discussed how their students face challenges. Somtimes its all about motivation when it comes to students and facing challenges. Most have students, like mine at times, who shut down when the challenges seemed to be too difficult. Most of the discussion centered on how teachers can be creative in ways they present challenges to students. Sometimes you just have to hide those challenges in a way that is presented in a fun way. Challenges has to have a real world skill application like those posed in project based learning projects. When students see some cross over from school to real life the lessons they learn from those challenges will more likely stick with them. The challenges that teachers face is creating those challenges to fit standards, and yet stretch our students to grow intellectually, and give them real life lessons.


Another session I went to that really stuck with me was “how to be creative in the world of restrictive education.” This one was very interesting to me for the fact that our school lives have aspects of things we can control and not control. We made a list of all of the things that keep us from being creative. Many we have control over; many we don’t.  (You can zoom in on the picture above to see the list.)

This conversation was very informative for me just because I found that I am not the only one who struggles to understand creativity. We had a debate about  creativity being something your are born with, or being born with the ability to be creative. We looked at creativity on the teacher side,and the student side. Some quoted from Carol Dweck’s book Mind set, which I haven’t read yet, but on Amazon, here is the book synopsis:

World-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, in decades of research on achievement and success, has discovered a truly groundbreaking idea–the power of our mindset.

Dweck explains why it’s not just our abilities and talent that bring us success–but whether we approach them with a fixed or growth mindset. She makes clear why praising intelligence and ability doesn’t foster self-esteem and lead to accomplishment, but may actually jeopardize success. With the right mindset, we can motivate our kids and help them to raise their grades, as well as reach our own goals–personal and professional. Dweck reveals what all great parents, teachers, CEOs, and athletes already know: how a simple idea about the brain can create a love of learning and a resilience that is the basis of great accomplishment in every area.

(The discussion of talent also created a debate. We talked about how talent and creativity aren’t necessarily the same thing, or exclusive of each other. We had to develop a working definition of not only creativity but also talent.)

We found that as teachers most of what we face everyday in some form can be influenced by us to either be a hinderance or a stepping stone. It’s all about mindset. No matter what you are faced with you will have to chose if it is an obstacle or stepping stone. Once you do that you will find you don’t have too many obstacles that will hinder your creativity.

One aspect we focused on was social media to help with getting over many of the aspects we listed on the white board. Some of the best resources teachers can use is Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook,and Instagram. I know personally and professionally, social media has given me many different ideas and resources to help me create my units for gifted students.

So to sum things up, what is hindering your creativity? What do you have influence on? What are those aspects that you don’t have influence on, but can make as an asset for your creativity? Remember, this kind of thinking isn’t that “sexy” or “edgy” retrospective thing, but it can change how you view things about your creativity, and that will benefit your students.

So go out there and fill that Volkswagen with watermelons.

Teaching or Facilitating: That’s the Question

This morning my Assistant Principal come in and observed me as part of the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES Rubric).  He sat in my room for close to an hour. He saw my teaching style, and what my students were doing. He observed the classroom environment, and how I interact with students.  Some of you are probably familiar with this because many other states are doing something similar in teacher evaluations.

After the evaluation, he and I began a short conversation about the differences between teaching and facilitating. He noticed that I stayed more in the role of facilitator with my gifted students than lead teacher. I have found that my gifted students achieve more when I help to lead them down the road to success than when I drag them. This isn’t to say I just give them free rein on their assignments. Some need more one on one time with me than others. Some students are very goal oriented which leads to a great work ethic. Some are easily distracted. Those students I work more closely with.

tfs wordle

I feel that it is my job to ask questions. Some are leading questions, but most are open-ended questions where they will need to explain to me the reasoning being their actions or processes of their assignment.

Let me show you the differences in teaching and facilitating.

Teaching: The process where the teacher leads a group of students in acquiring new skills and/or knowledge. Did you see it there? The teacher leads. Teaching is where the teacher is in control of the one-way flow of information. Many teachers including my self had relied on this method. It’s very traditional. At times, this method is necessary, but it should not be the only method you use when teaching.

Facilitating: The process where the teacher helps a group of students learn together in acquiring new skills and/or knowledge. Did you see it there? The teacher helps. Facilitating the binary flow of information. Facilitating isn’t one way flow of learning. . It flows back and forth. Instead of using one mind, you collectively use all minds in learning.

When you really delve into the teaching verses facilitating paradigm you really have to look at who is at the center of your class. If you are a teacher in the teaching paradigm, then you are the center of your classroom. Everything should revolve around you. If you are a teacher in the facilitating paradigm them the students are the center of your classroom. Everything should revolve around them. (Here is a chart of what I mean.)

One of the main differences in teaching and facilitating that I believe is the most important is the role of the students. In teaching the role of the students is to sit and listen. They are the passive, and not part of the learning process. When a teacher is facilitating the role of the students is to be actively engaged. They are part of the learning process.

How do you move from teaching to facilitating? You have to let go. You have to change your thinking from being the focus to your students being the focus. You have to sharpen your questioning skills. You have to allow students to use their prior knowledge they learned, and show them how to apply it to whatever you are doing in your classroom. Remember facilitators teach. They just do it in a way that involves the students allowing them to be creative. By allowing your students to be creative allows you to just as creative, and it makes your class so much more enjoyable.

So the question is: are you stuck in the teaching paradigm or are you a facilitator? Are you transitioning from one to another? Let me know what your expereinces are.

(The Wordle is the text of this post.)

The Struggle is Real

A few weeks ago my 15-year-old son and I were talking about school, and how he was doing in a few of his classes. After telling me his grades, some which weren’t up to par, he looks me straight in the eye and says, “Dad, the struggle is real.” My response was “punishment is real.” Since then his grades have improved. But what he said to me has stuck with me.

One of the most important aspects of being an advocate for children is to realize their struggles are real. We have students in our classrooms who have struggles. Those struggles aren’t always plainly seen. Sometimes their struggles are social, emotional, and sometimes educational. Their struggles could be bordem, lack of motivation due to work that they feel is unworthy to do, or being the class tutor. Some of our gifted students are withering away.

The social and emotional struggles can be based on not fitting in with their peers, or being seen as the “teacher’s pet.” some students here in my school try to hide their giftedness so they have some street credibility. Some students are seen as nerds, geeks, and weak. Sometimes gifted students are used by other students to get answers or help. Once the help is over then they are ignored.

There is a few things that advocates of gifted students need to do. Here is a list, but it doesn’t include everything. I also created a wikispace about being an advocate. Feel free to check it out.

Listen to you students: I have found the more I listen to my students about what they are doing in their regular classroom I can get a clearer picture of what they are learning. Sometimes, they share their frustration with me. When that happens I try to work with the regular education teacher help come up with some activities that my gifted students can do to help with their struggle. Let me tell you, it takes a lot of time to build a working relationship with teachers, but it will make a difference for students.

Give your students time to be creative: One of things I try to do in my classroom is to give choice to my students. I feel it is important to give choice to gifted students. I try to get them to be as creative as they can depending on their strengths and interests. I want my students to have time to work on something they enjoy, and are interested in.

Communicate with parents and teachers: As I stated above, it is important to keep in communication with other teachers. No teacher is an island. To be an advocate for your students you need to work with your gifted students regular teachers to help make lessons and activities for your gifted students. When possible give advise to teachers who need some assistance. When you get word about webinars, conferences, or speakers that regular education teachers would benefit from pass it on to them. The more resources they have, the more of an advocate they can be for your gifted students.

Another important aspect of being an advocate for your students is to keep in contact with parents. Let them know what you are doing with their children. When you get word about webinars, conferences, or speakers that parents would benefit from pass it on to them. If you can’t meet with every parent, use social media to help spread the word about those resources.

Along the lines of using social media, start a Facebook page or a tweetchat for your school or program. This will help to get an active parent / teacher interaction.

There are so many ways to be an advocate. Sometimes they are only appropriate for your situation. Be creative when advocating for your students. How are you advocating for your students? How are you trying to help their struggle?


Are Life Skills Needed in the Gifted Classroom?

This past Friday, I was able to participate in the weekly #gtchat conversation.  (You can see the transcript here.) The topic was one that I have thought about and  try to incorporate in to my Gifted classroom, and that topic is Life Skills. Is it really important to teach our students life skills in our classroom? Is it one of those things we can afford to spend time on since we have so many high stakes testing in our schools? To me the answer is YES!

There are many life skills that need to be taught in the Gifted classroom that will transcend school and home, and into the future work place of our students. Here is just a few, but not a complete list:

  • How to fail
  • How to work with a partner/group
  • How to control emotions / overexcitability
  • How to be organized
  • How to express one’s self
  • How to deal with struggle
  • How to multi-task
  • How to manage time
  • How to be a leader / knowing when to follow

Not to say that many teachers don’t incorporate these life skills into their classrooms, I just think many times, even I, take my students abilities for granted. Just because these children are smart doesn’t mean they have life skills. Our gifted students and children need to know how to do many of the skills above to be successful in the workplace.

Teachers must work with parents of gifted children to experience many of the life skills in the list above. Some parents, like the ones in my urban school district, don’t have the means or the training to help their gifted child out when it comes to school curriculum or life skills. Many are just trying to survive with jobs that are second or third shift. These parents don’t have the time to work on these life skills. This isn’t to say they don’t want to. They just don’t have the time. That’s where teachers need to be a bit more sensitive, and get to know their students. When we do, that’s when we can assist parents in teaching our students these skills.

I do a lot of projects in my classroom. I make my students chart out their project, and when the due date will be. I try to get some students to work with others so that they have the opportunity to lead and follow. They also have to deal with struggling, but knowing they are not alone. I almost have my students make a portfolio for the year. It contains their projects, grades, pictures, outlines, anything they feel that was important to their project. They show these portfolios to their parents at conference time.

How do you feel about incorporating life skills into your Gifted classroom? If so how do you do it? If not, why?

Advocacy Groups for Students

I teach in a building of great teachers and administration. Our administration allows teachers the flexibility to help change our school climate. I teach in an urban school district that is beginning to reclaim its school spirit, positive community identity, and I feel this is because of the administrators, teachers, and students want more than what we have had in the recent past.

My school is divided into 4 teams; two teams are 7th grade, and two teams are 8th grade. I learned today that one team of 8th graders has created advocacy groups for their students. They have 110 students they teach. They broke down their students into groups of ten. Each of the five teachers on their team is assigned a group of ten students. The five teachers  also brought in the nurse, assistant principal, school councilor, a special education specialist, and our CTAG (Closing The Achievement Gap) advisor.

The advocates have decided that once a week, usually on Wednesday mornings they would meet with their advocate. They extend their homerooms for an extra 15 minutes so that the students have time to discuss anything they feel is important to them.  The advocates also so do some team building activities during that time. The overall goal of this teacher driven initiative is to give each of their students a safe person they can trust to share something that is going on in their life at school or home. Students need to have someone they trust at school when things don’t go their way.

The second aspect of this that may get over shadowed is the fact that our principal  has a philosophy that if you invest some time into researching ways to improve our school, then try it; if doesn’t work pull the plug or try to fix it so that it does work. Our principal encourages teams to try to do things for the benefit of our students, especially when it is generated from teacher teams. This is just one more example of the great leadership of our principal.

On a side note, our principal allows two (one 7th grade and one 8th grade) teams to loop their students. These two teams did research to back up their idea and implemented it last year. So those teams have their students for two years for both 7th and 8th grade.

How much freedom do you have to help change the climate in your school? Does your principal encourage teacher teams in you school building to do whatever it takes to make our school better, but most importantly help make our students successful?