This week, I finished reading my first education book of the year — Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner. Previously, I had read The Global Achievement Gap and agreed with Wagner’s argument that it is, indeed, troubling how big the disconnect is between the things that students do in schools and what students will need to be able to do in the workplace.
In this second work, Creating Innovators, Wagner profiles several young professionals in the various fields of innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as several universities (or small factions of universities) that are working hard to bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world.
As a teacher, I found the book particularly interesting because I am highly interested in cultivating the abilities to ask questions and to practice critical thinking in my young students. I spend a great deal of time worrying what the outcomes for students are as we move toward increasingly scripted curricula, which, by its very nature, cannot often allow for meaningful, passion-driven differentiation or for connections to real-world problems of great significance for a particular group of students. These curricula also, all too often, fail to ask students to use their newly acquired knowledge and skills, but rather simply ask them to regurgitate the information at a very basic level.
Earlier this year, my students and I celebrated “Invention Day.” I put my second graders into groups of three and challenged them to come up with an invention. The first step in this process was for them to come up with at least 10 viable ideas for an invention. It was like I had asked them to explain quantum mechanics to me — many of these teams struggled to come up with more than three ideas and they all continually asked me if their ideas were “okay.” Through continued experiences like this one, my students are beginning to make some headway in terms of thinking creatively and being less concerned about whether their ideas are “okay.” Yet, I find it disturbing that in a group of children with such brilliant imaginations, there was a pervasive sense that their ideas had to meet some unmentioned parameter and that there was a nervousness about proposing an idea that wasn’t “perfect.” I think this says a lot about the way that schools can, sometimes unintentionally, pound curiosity and creativity out of students with mindless worksheets with only one “correct” answer and grading that often privileges playing it safe or keeping it simple over taking risks or thinking outside the box.
Have you read Creating Innovators? What did you think about it? What do you do in your own classroom to encourage creativity and critical thinking?