Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Standards and Creativity

On her Academy for Early Learning blog, Lois Feibus called attention to an article in Education Week about states responding to the call for 21st century skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and technological and global literacy. I was saddened to see that no state has connected to a rich resource that is already in place—their own fine arts standards or the national standards for the fine arts. Wisconsin's standards for art and design, for example, include such categories as ability to think, skill in communication, and cultural and aesthetic understanding. I hope Wisconsin is finding those standards to be a treasure house of ideas with myriad interdisciplinary possibilities. In my experience, most policy makers see that the arts provide rich ways of knowing and expression but are not making the connection to this important discussion of "future readiness."

Also, before assessment in 21st century skills becomes a state priority, I think a serious inquiry about the school environment is needed. Learn from the creative disciplines, including arts providers, the world of industrial design, journalists, and technology originators like Google about such questions as:
  • What kind of environment fosters creativity and innovation?
  • What are organizational barriers to creativity?
  • How do leaders promote good ideas among their staff members?
  • What are some roles in a creative organization?
  • What are some outside interactions that ensure good thinking?
Then start by implementing the answers in schools so that teachers will be able to model these 21st century skills. I think 21st century skills are already second nature to good teachers, but the system stifles those skills. It seems to me that assessment of critical thinking in the current system is like a company migrating critical functions to a new computer system before it trains its employees who will be using the new system.

What also worries me about a potential rush to state assessments is the possibility of unintended consequences. These "soft skills" cannot be quantified on a per student basis. Creativity and innovative thinking occur because a problem needs solved or something important needs to be said—not for extrinsic motivators.

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