Friday, September 28, 2012

Right and Wrong

Shakespeare was fabulous. Even if you don't like his stories (hard to imagine, but I know some don't), and if you have a hard time enjoying the language (a little easier for me to relate to—it's why I make sure I know the story before I go see any of his plays), you have to appreciate his ability to make up over 1700 words such as, assassination, bandit, advertising, bedroom, bloodstained, caked, and compromised. (I'm sure he came up with words in the later part of the alphabet as well...)

Did Shakespeare get told he was wrong for making up a word or two?

I have no idea. Maybe, but he kept making them up anyway.

I like the word dirth. I wonder where it came from. I wish I had invented the word dirth. And apparently, according to my spellcheck, it isn't even a word. (I don't have time to look it up right now. It  means a lack—to me it means lack. But spellcheck doesn't like derth either.)

Are we spellchecked to death? Are we afraid of inventing words? For example, I really like the word, scrumdidlyumptious. Not a word, but it is a word to me, thanks to Roald Dahl.

Are we afraid to step out of the lines? To bubble something incorrectly?

Let me explain. I was the visiting writer in Shaemus's classroom today. I was supposed to talk about being a writer, so we did a writing exercise. I told the kids we were going to make up a story about a boy named Alvin (from my favorite boy series, Alvin Ho).
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Alvin is afraid of EVERYTHING, and he is about to go camping. He is terrified. He is miserable, and we all decided by the end of the story we wanted him to be both happy and brave.

But how would he get there?

I asked them to come up with three big events that could happen to Alvin to test his bravery. The first event could be a smallish thing, but it had to end in failure. Alvin could not be brave after the first thing—he could be a little bit brave, but mostly, he needed to think he was still a big scaredy cat (scaredy is not an official word!). Same thing for our second event, but the second event had to build on the first, be more dramatic, and still end in failure—miserable failure this time. The third event is the climax, the moment where events one and two are resolved, and when Alvin learns how to be brave. This is one basic story structure, good to learn, and simple for kids to understand.

They nodded their heads as I explained this in first-grade speak. I asked them to give me an idea for event number one.

They couldn't do it at first, none of them. They were stuck on my previous question: "What is another word for the opposite of scared?" I had emphasized when I asked this question that there was more than one right answer, but once we came up with brave we moved on.

These kids had such a hard time with this! They couldn't come up with any events for Alvin, and the boys in particular were stuck on my previous question. They wanted to get the right answer. They were thrown by an open-ended question.

I'm sure there are psychological and biological reasons for this, but I'm also sure if they were asked open-ended questions on a regular basis, they would be used to answering them. I would have been peppered with ideas, because these kids would be great at brainstorming. It would be a part of their DNA and not just at writing time.

Creativity, going outside of the box would be a comfortable thing for them.

Creativity seemed to me to be a painful thing for these children. A scary thing. They wanted to get the right answer, and it wasn't that they were afraid to say a wrong answer, they couldn't come up with any others.

It reminded me of this video:

which I love. If you haven't seen this before, you must watch it. I particularly love the image of mass producing children that look exactly the same.

After I gave them an idea—a bear could come to camp—they began giving me ideas of their own. Unfortunately, they were all different variations of mine. "Maybe a wolf comes!" "Maybe a cougar!"

I had not expected this. I had expected great, crazy ideas I would have to reign in and make sense of. But the ideas weren't there.

Where were they? Where was their burgeoning creativity? Are kids that age truly not creative, able to come up with ideas on the spot? Or are we squeezing their creative juices dry?

Are these kids having experiences daily where they get to brainstorm, both on their own and as a group? My kids always come home from school with rubrics for their projects and papers. Rubrics explain what the kids need to do to get certain grades, and while it's nice to have those guidelines, are these rubrics hampering our kids desire and ability to be creative? Are they just looking at the rubric and checking off the boxes one by one so they can get their grade?

Are we too focused on the right answer? As if there is a right answer to most questions in life?

I think I saw evidence of this today on the faces of these sweet children. I wished I could get my hands on them, to meet with one by one, listen to their ideas, talk about books with them, brainstorm with them, and encourage them to be writers.

By the end, they all had ideas they wanted to share, even about my own story that I was reading aloud to them. (One little boy kept raising his hand as I was reading to tell me new things my character could do for revenge on the boy she can't stand—and a lot of them involved blowing things up).

It took them a long time to understand  that their ideas were simply their ideas, not right or wrong, bad or good. I would listen and cheer them on no matter the idea, and we'd move forward from there.

We should do this at home! We should take a book, read it with our child, shut it part way through, and brainstorm with our kids all the different things we think might happen.

For example, Bake Shop Ghost by Jacqueline K. Ogburn is a great book to do this with. You can pause the book when Annie, the baker, first meets the ghost. You can ask your child, what do you think Annie might do? Then when they come up with something, you come up with something, then your child comes up with something else, then you come up with another thing, and in the end you DO NOT choose the best possibility, you do not see if it matches up with what happens in the book, you do not get them to PREDICT what will happen, because you don't want them to predict. You want them to come up with their own stories and ideas, and when you focus on getting them to predict what will happen, you make them think there is a right or a wrong answer.

You make them afraid to think or be different. If they aren't doing this in schools, then we have to do it at home, because I don't care what jobs our children have in the future. They will need to be creative. They will need to make themselves stand out by their ability to solve problems no one else can solve with ideas that came from their own unique heads, and those ideas won't come unless we provide them with the fertile ground to create them.

Let's get brainstorming!!!
The Bake Shop Ghost

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