During an intimate workshop I conducted with first grade teachers, I asked what they had noticed about their students’ participation in a recent drama-based residency. One noted that she felt “so surprised to see the creativity of some kids come out that I didn’t know about.” I took the comment pretty much in stride, as that is often the response I receive from teachers who have little experience with integrating drama-based strategies in their daily lessons.
However, the comment later took on greater resonance. As a part of a professional development course for teachers from across the island, I conducted demonstration sessions in each of the participating teacher’s classrooms. I worked with a wide variety of grade levels, ranging from K-12, once each for 45-60 minutes. At the end of each session, I posed the same question: “Why was today’s experience important for you?”
I received the following answers:
1st Grade, “We really got to use our imagination.”
2nd Grade, “Our imagination. We got to try lots of things with it.”
3rd grade, “It’s so fun to use our imagination like this.”
5th grade, “We did our own creative stuff.”
High School, “You let us try our own ideas. Kinda brought out our own creativity instead of telling us what to do.”
I should clarify that I did not, in the course of the session, deliberately introduce nor focus on the words imagination and creativity. Although the words came up casually as a part of our experiences and reflections, the two words were not prominently featured nor discussed.
What struck me most about this series of answers was the uniformity of joy expressed over having an opportunity to be creative. I celebrate that the students recognized the centrality of creative choice within the strategies we explored. I felt heartened that they all joined in with great abandon, considering they rarely had such experiences which often make students a little shy of such risk.
However, what most captured my attention is the implication that creativity plays no role in the daily classroom and that these students recognized that fact. Creativity related to any subject, in any form, for any purpose whatsoever. It strikes me as odd that with all of the education ‘reform’ that continually happens, embedded with words such as ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation,’ that students apparently do not benefit from such ‘reform’ efforts. Such an unfortunate truth as, judging from my albeit compacted experience, students welcome and crave such engagement.
For me this is a call to arms. I do believe that I have always offered students plenty of opportunities for creative exploration, as well as the autonomy to develop and share personal interpretations of our content focus. However, as a result of this recent confluence of events, I feel compelled to track how well I focus on the actual experience of learning, the HOW of the process, whether I teach through or about the art form.
It is essential, I believe, that I should be helping students reflect on and develop their own sense of artistry and an understanding of how they access, make sense of and take ownership over their creative development and interpretive processes. How they come to think and act as an artist, embracing risk, occasional failure and reflective revision that both inspires them and feeds their ongoing endeavors.
Leave it to students to inspire and reinvigorate my practice. Leave it to them to help me continue to tap my own creativity and avoid the trap of regurgitated experience.
An ardent teaching artist, Daniel A. Kelin II is Honolulu Theatre for Youth Director of Drama Education and President of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE). He is on the Teaching Artist roster of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and was Director of Theatre Training for both Crossroads Theatre for Youth in American Samoa and a Marshall Islands youth organization. A 2009 Fulbright-Nehru Scholar in India, he has also had fellowships with Montalvo Arts Center, TYA/USA and the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America. Dan is co-authoringThe Reflective Teaching Artist: Collected Wisdom from the Drama/Theatre Field for Intellect Books. More atwww.DanielAKelin.com
Also by Daniel A. Kelin, II in ALT/space:
My Teaching Artist ‘Ohana’
Christmas in March
Enduring and Essential
I Write to Own
Partners in Purpose
Listening to Learn
Postcard: Shantipur, West Bengal, India