There is a common saying in education lately that we need kids to create not consume. I definitely want to see learners creating and not just consuming (or regurgitating facts). But as I read the book Empower by AJ Juiliani and John Spencer the section on critical consuming really pushed my thinking about the importance of both in learning. What I believe the intention is behind this phrase is to curb the traditional learning experiences that are more about consuming and regurgitating like providing a reading passage (consume) and assigning multiple choice questions about the main ideas (regurgitate). Instead, AJ & John propose this cycle where the key here is critical consuming that leads to inspiration and creative work.
Consume and Regurgitate
As I read this, I immediately thought of my first year teaching when I was given pacing guides to cover “reading standards” and then separate curriculum that was to focus on the “writing standards.” I diligently planned my writing days and then my reading days and if we were lucky we got some speaking and listening in there too. I was teaching these as isolated lessons because I was seeing them as isolated standards. As a result, my students could apply these skills in isolation but never really connected them to their reading and writing to create something meaningful. #fail
I began to see how misguided this was as I started to think about my own learning process and when I really learned something. I thought about how I regularly consume and explore models that provoke thinking and inspire new ideas. Not everything I read or consume is inspiring, but many of these ideas often collide, connect and inspire new thinking and ideas. I might read something (consume), which sparks an idea (inspiration), talk to somebody about what I read or write about what I read and create something (creative work). If you think about how we work and learn and do anything really, reading, writing, speaking, and listening are not disparate skills, they are dependent on one another. Yet, we often separate them into isolated subjects or lessons in school.
Consume, Inspire, Create
After I realized that I was teaching the isolated skills in the same way that I was forced to learn them as a student, which did not inspire a love of reading or writing, I sought out some colleagues to figure out how we might integrate the standards and learning targets in a meaningful way to create a better experience for the learners in our class. According to our pacing guide, we were supposed to be teaching narrative writing and were focusing on literary devices. Instead of reading sections from the basal reader and answering the questions on literary devices at the end of each lesson, we decided that we would have students write their own book with a narrative story structure and include a variety of literary devices (like real authors do). With a date set to read our books to the elementary students next door, we set off to read and learn as much as we could to become authors.
Over the course of a month, we read and analyzed so many amazing children’s books- the messages, the tone, the art, the structures of narrative writing. We curated lists of hooks, literary devices, dialogue and all the things that we loved and wanted to use in our own books. Some students created an entirely novel story, some adapted versions of existing stories, and two students who had just joined our class from the Philippines and spoke very little English, learned new words and phrases as they captioned a wordless book. All of our students met and exceeded the standards to write and identify the literary devices and write a narrative story with descriptive language and conventions. More importantly, they saw themselves as authors, as creators. They had an authentic purpose to apply the skills we were learning. Through the iterative cycle of consuming, inspiring and creating they built their confidence and excitement for reading, writing, and sharing their ideas.
The Innovator’s Mindset
The world needs people who can not only think critically but create new and better opportunities with their ideas. Too often we get stuck in the consume (and regurgitate) mode and think that creation is only for a few. In order to create something better, we have to make space for the iterative cycle of learning and doing, consuming and creating in our classrooms and schools. This will not likely come in the newest curriculum or a revised version of the pacing guide. As George Couros shares, the key to doing this is The Innovator’s Mindset- the belief that your abilities, intelligence, and talents are improved through the creation of new and better ideas.
If we are to evolve with the world and create the changes that we need, not just react to what comes our way, we all need to critically consume, be inspired, and create to continually seek new and better opportunities. We must not only model this mindset and embody these 8 characteristics but develop them in our students to ensure that they can continually meet the challenges and create better opportunities as they navigate our changing world.