Have you ever graded a stack of papers that felt like a record stuck on the same verse? The kind of stack where each paper looks strikingly similar to the one before and after it and nearly all of them parrot the major themes discussed in class?
Early in my career, this sort of thing was so common that I assumed that student essays as a general rule were mostly plain and uninteresting regurgitations of themes discussed in class. One particularly extreme example that still stands out in my mind came from the first year that I taught The Cather in the Rye. At the end of the unit, I had the students write an essay called “Why Holden?” where they came up with an argument to explain Holden’s extreme behavior. Here are four of the theses from this assignment, written by four of the strongest students in one section:
- “Holden is secretly terrified of growing up because it means things will change.”
- “Throughout the whole book Holden is terrified to grow up and be an adult because he doesn’t want things to change.”
- “Holden is terrified of change and is in denial of the true nature of both those around him and himself.”
- “After the death of his younger brother Allie, Holden is secretly terrified of growing up because it means things will continue to change.”
I bet you can guess the focus of the lesson on the day I handed out the essay.
If deja vu theses, like the ones above, are an issue in your classroom the way that they most definitely were in mine, my recommendation is to start thinking about actively cultivating and teaching the skill of creativity in your classroom. Continue reading “How to Teach Creativity”