The Role of Creativity in a Standards-Based Writing Curriculum

Implementing a curriculum that leaves no room for creativity is dangerously shortsighted. I am not talking here about coloring leprechauns on St. Patrick’s Day or designing dioramas but rather, the creative application of skills that students are acquiring. Only when students apply what they have learned to new circumstances can we tell how deeply they have understood a concept.

A case in point is the study of figurative language. You can teach the definitions of similes, metaphors, personification, and hyperbole until you are blue in the face (employing a bit of hyperbole here myself), and some students will still misidentify the terms on a quiz. Alternatively, you might invite students to use figurative language to describe common objects: their shoes, for example.

  • Simile: My boots are like the tires on a car, taking me wherever I need to roll.
  • Metaphor: Ballet slippers are angels’ wings, lifting me off the floor and into the air.
  • Personification: These Vans are only happy when they feel a skateboard beneath their soles.
  • Hyperbole: Flip-flops are the shoe of choice for both gods and men.

Providing opportunities for student creativity should not end with application, however. It is also important to allow for thinking outside the box—what management gurus call “blue sky thinking.” 

Elliot Eisner, who was an art and education professor at Stanford University, spent his career researching the power of imagination to transform teaching and learning:

Imagination is no mere ornament, nor is art. Together they can liberate us from our habits. They might help us create the kind of schools our children deserve and our culture needs. Those aspirations are stars worth stretching for.

Teachers are faced with the challenge of ensuring that our curriculum meets state standards as well as the needs of students. There must be a way to prepare students for the rigors of rhetorical analysis and the kinds of writing they will be expected to produce in college without abandoning imaginative expression.

The 2017 NAEP Writing Framework distinguishes among various purposes for writing rather than describing writing “types” or categories. Along with writing to persuade and writing to explain, the NAEP Framework assesses writing to convey experiences, real or imagined. This purpose for writing was meant to include many of the kinds of writing assignments that some teachers fear are being lost: personal narratives, poetry, and fictional stories.

For help with making nuanced curricular decisions, I again turn to Elliot Eisner, who wrote:

At a time when we seem to want to package performance into standardized measurable skill sets, questions such as these seem to me to be especially important. The more we feel the pressure to standardize, the more we need to remind ourselves of what we should not try to standardize.

Clearly, standards have helped bring coherence, consistency, and transparency to curriculum. Important progress has been made. Now we need to ensure that this progress doesn’t preclude creativity. Where will we find the time for creative writing in an already packed curriculum? We need to be creative!

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Blog contributor Carol Jago is an author on the new HMH Into Reading and HMH Into Literature K-12 programs.

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