Lessons Learned: Creativity is more than a pretty bulletin board.

True story: As I made the transition from pursuing a future in counseling psychology to a future in education, I literally thought to myself “Teaching is all about who has the fanciest bulletin board. I can do bulletin boards.”

As someone who had no experience with the “other side” of education (i.e. teaching), I had a very narrow and poorly informed view of what it was “all about”. It turns out that I can do bulletin boards.

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But the real creativity that takes place in my job has to do with problem and solution, and revolves around a process we refer to as RtI, or Response to Intervention. When a student is exceeding or falling short of expectations in the general curriculum, I create a plan to give that child (or more typically, group of children) more support. This might look like:

  • Small group re-teaching of spelling concepts from a prior unit
  • “Readiness” math activities that offer students a chance to review concepts or vocabulary (often with manipulatives) before learning new material
  • Literature Circles and Guided Reading (these should really be at the top of the list, since all of my students receive this form of RtI for the entire year)
  • Targeted comprehension practice using small, leveled texts
  • Small group math enrichment projects
  • 1-1 retelling guidance
  • Extra-curricular writing assignments to “perk up” students who are struggling with the genre at hand, that get turned into “Super Short Science Shows” and “Mystery Minutes” via iMovie
  • Leveled texts and questions from Raz-Kids
  • Buddy reading with a lower grade level (my students choose the book and prepare talking points)
  • After school tutoring

The list goes on. You’ve surely noticed the trend of small group, 1-1 and peer-to-peer instruction. I teach almost my whole day in small group instruction so that my students get the appropriate form of assistance from me. This is where the creativity comes in.

Problem: My student is not meeting expectations. Solution: Well, let’s take a look.

Step 1: Get data. Look at assessments or any form of student work (sometimes this might just mean listening to them read aloud). Choose a specific skill to work on.

Step 2: In my case, talk to other teachers, read copiously, talk with my principal, Google Search, lose sleep, and trial-and-error a plan together. Determine a goal, set a time frame, and implement The Plan.

Step 3: Discern whether the student has shown growth via a post-assessment. Determine whether this form of RtI can be phased out or should be continued.

Strangely enough, this process has been one of the most rewarding elements of my first year of teaching. I find the process of designing an individual plan or curriculum to meet a child’s specific needs extremely gratifying (even when it doesn’t exactly work the first… or second time). It’s a whole new level of creativity. That’s nothing, of course, than seeing actual growth from students who have been stagnant for over a year, or continuing to provide academic rigor for students several grade levels ahead in reading.

No apologies for this rosy little perspective on New School education. I’m sold.

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