Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966. It is a holiday celebrated from December 26 – Jan 1. There is a focus principle each day of the holiday. Although these principles are based on African values, I believe if we apply these principles in education we could improve our education system. Today’s principle is kuumba/ creativity – to do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Creativity is definitely lacking today in the field of education. Pre-service educators enter college with grandiose ideas of what their future classrooms will look like. They design creative lesson plans they intend to use once they sign the contract for their first job. Then, reality hits. A veteran educator or department chair explains the pacing guide (the mandated order in which standards should be taught), hands over the adopted textbooks and many even throw in some ready-made lesson plans that follow the district’s curriculum. If the teacher reaches the infamous five year mark, this teacher might lack the creativity he or she had when entering the profession and our unengaged students secretly wish and hope for the spark to return.
I say resist! What does that mean? You’re probably thinking, “Shawnta, I don’t want to lose my job.” District curriculum should be a guide. I do suggest educators follow it in order, but it isn’t necessary to use all of the examples and suggested resources. Many times I have found them useless for engaging my students.
When I was teaching 8th grade English, according to the district’s guide, we had to use a historical fiction text. All of my fellow English colleagues chose Anne Frank, but I chose Chains, a novel set during the Revolutionary war period that focuses on a black slave name Isabel. Not that anything is wrong with reading about Anne Frank, but I knew my students would enjoy the novel I chose and I had some activities that would teach the genre and standards I believed my students would enjoy.
Another time when I was teaching middle school English, our curriculum guide stated we had to teach students how to write a persuasive essay. There were several recommended activities to teach this standard, but I didn’t use any of them. I taught persuasive techniques and had students watch commercials to study persuasion in real-life. Then, they made posters to promote and persuade students to read one of the book they read (all of my students were required to read books of their choice independently throughout the school year). Next, they used Animoto (a video making program educators can use for free) to make a commercial to persuade the entire student body to read the book and these commercials were played on the morning announcements; you can click here to view some of them. Finally, they wrote their persuasive essays. It was a lot of work to implement this, but my students really enjoyed this unit and wrote good essays. I even had colleagues complain to me after the videos aired on morning announcements because their students wanted to make them too.
I believe many of the discipline problems in schools are due to boring and dull lesson plans. Although it might take time and extra effort to figure out how to appease your school district by following the pacing guide while also incorporating creative lesson plans, we need to make this sacrifice so our students aren’t bored to tears in the classroom.