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Does Creative Teaching Hurt College Readiness?

Does Creative Teaching Hurt College Readiness?

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This may seem like an absurd question, but it has been bothering me recently so I will pose it nonetheless. I work at a private college prep school outside of Houston that is similar to Kip and Yes Prep. So our students come from inner-city Houston and are all on scholarships. I am very interested in non-tradition (non-lecture) teaching methods and encouraging discovery and student centered instruction. At the same time, I can't help but remember what college was like (for me, less than a year ago). By playing to how students learn and become interested and engaged, are we teaching them to be college ready students. What will they really face in college. They will have to read large sections of text per week, with one or two lectures where the professor will most likely cover a small (often insignificant) section of the subject material covered in the reading, and students will be expected to be tested through exams or essays on the material regardless of whether the professor directly addressed it or not. If students are not actively exposed to lecture style teaching, especially in the 11th and 12 grade years, how can we say they are ready for college style teaching. They may be ready intellectually but perhaps we have not prepared them to have the student skills required to deal with this style of teaching. I want my students to learn and become interested in the subject. I want them to be prepared to write essays and think critically. However, my students can't take notes - they don't know how - from a lecture. As k-12 educators adapt and work to teach based on how students learn, but the college level continues to (for the most part) teach along traditional lines, are college prep schools making college ready students? How can we be innovating and engaging but also prepare students for teachers and professors who are not?

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dougimmel's picture

We must ALWAYS go back to "The Eight Year Study." It's ALREADY BEEN DONE!!! In the 1930's!!!
The report was lost in the furor of WWII.
Been there, done that. HUGE study. Look it up.
Graduates of "conventional schools" and "freed schools" did roughly the same, BUT, the "freed up" curriculums produced students who were socially and creatively advanced.
So there, NCLB. (Doug Immel, student of History of American Education.)
It depends if you teach creatively AND use study skills and habits which push the bar HIGHER.
NCLB/SAT/Stdrdzd Testing have LOWERED THE BAR.....Beat them at their own game...RAISE the bar and ignore the "importance" (read FEAR) of the stupid tests.
Read Jacques Barzun, Kieran Egan and the Paideia Groups work.
Most classes are too slow, banal, one dimensional, and tedious. Integrate ALL disciplines into the teaching.
Teach with story, biography, mythic frameworks, music, art, etc. (Read Egan)
Taught "creatively" in a public school - scores went up. Private school - scores went up. Adjudicated school - score SKYROCKETED.... It should be RICH, VIGOROUS, ALIVE, ENGAGED, FUN....
Try VIGOR instead of RIGOR....look them up, notice the difference.

Nathan Walker's picture
Nathan Walker
Sixth grade humanities teacher

I agree with Lauren Teather. If there is a better way for students to learn, the onus is on colleges to change what they are doing to fit the better way of teaching.

This article here: tells about a study comparing classes taught by tenured professors using traditional lecture methods, and classes taught by TAs using more interactive methods. The results were astounding: the intereactive method significantly raised test scores. This was a repeat of a previous study that had the same results. Clearly there is a better way to teach students, and it doesn't matter what age they are. Colleges need to make the transition to more effective means of teaching

dougimmel's picture

Everyone gripes about elementary and secondary, but COLLEGES are STUCK!!! The lecture mode is Victorian, Elizabethan or worse.

All that money and such banality. We should expect more from the ones with the cash. Meanwhile we buy our students real books to replace textbook/paperweights. We teach boys in a lock up and have them reading Barzun, Shaw, etc. and deep college/adult biographies, building models, topographical museum models of Gettysburg, composing songs, writing plays, building sets, costumes and props. They don't watch TV or play video games, and they READ!!!!!! This history/English classroom has 1692 books in it. We talk, interact, play, and relate in slow, careful respectful loving ways. I'm working with 'criminals' and it's the safest, best environment I've EVER seen. College, bah,'s a racket. I designed my own upper division curriculum in a tiny college (World College West ) in the 70's - 30 students total - we hired renowned profs on contract as adjuncts (Linus Pauling!!! Rollo May!!!) and then sent our students to developing nations for sophomore year. All students worked half time. Antioch for grad school - same thing. Small, slow, mindful, ...
C'mon...Small, loving cohorts...we KNOW all this...the GREEKS knew this. Lecture's fine for some people, some of the time. Desks in rows?....harrumph. We won't create minds like Milton's in factories like Ford's. Just cynicism, bitterness, boredom and discontent. Kids' executive function is two years younger than it was 40 years ago. Hmmmmm.
i HATED school as a youngster...I LOVE school now! And the kids do, too. First day back from Christmas....YAY!!! School again!!!

Sarah Danielle's picture

Feeling the passion here. I worked with very intense SED labeled kids grades 4-12 for years, and I support a highly constructivist curriculum packed with what you describe. 100% for it. And yeah, college being the objective is what creates the difficulty due to its archaic pedagogy. Look at the game of Life now. Choosing the college path at the beginning of the game does nothing for your success, it only puts you out $100,000. We never use it anymore as a family, and I think hard about that. My two degrees have yet to put me past the $50,000 mark. But I digress. Still, fact remains - many fields do require a degree.

We have two goals here, for the moment. One is to make the education process awesome - as you have so beautifully described, and the other is to enable students to learn in different ways, which right now does include lecture. Not just college but all manner of seminars, packed with fascinating knowledge and understandings, await. When confronted with educators of all different styles, as most students will encounter, it will be to their practical benefit to be empowered to make the most of each person.

Students will continue to go to college until college decides to modernize its pedagogy. IN THE MEANTIME, the students need the skill set to deal with the imperfect reality without needing to detach from the student-centered learning they've hopefully gotten used to. IF THEY INTERNALIZE the integral wonder of learning, a page worth of text read or narrated by someone in the front will still peak their fascination. But at that moment, they can take it forward and create something exciting in their learning - BECAUSE THEY KNOW HOW from being taught that talking, interacting, playing, projecting, etc. is an inherent part of education. The STUDENTS THEMSELVES CAN BRING THE CHANGE TO THE COLLEGE LEVEL. Those of us who know the engrained structure of academic professorship, tenure and all that hoohah, realize the germ of galvanization must needs come from without.

IN THE MEANTIME - I fully agree with the position above. I think we all do at this point. I think that's why we're here on Edutopia. But pragmatically, there is just sooooo much work to do to effectively make these changes in more than just some classrooms - another word that needs to morph.


Sarah Danielle's picture

Professors like Mr. Fox were the ones I searched for, the ones I worked my schedule around. I knew they were there, and yes, they galvanized me and made my college experience a great ride!


dougimmel's picture

Much resonance Sarah. There is NO reason creative classrooms should miss the lecture, note-taking and listening and deep reading modes. Moffett (English prof from Phillips Andover/Exeter) wrote "where deep intellectual inquiry abounds, morality may ensue." I show my kids "Emperor's Club" first thing each year and that stimulates desire to be serious scholars - from kids who never got anything better than a C, and hated school/writing and reading (texts). Memorable moment - "Hey Mr. I, that makes me want to be a real any of that Shakespeare stuff?" I almost wept - burst out laughing in joy instead.
We have turned note taking, recapitulation, summarizing and condensing (and re-hydrating into story telling from notes) an ART. They (and their parents, when there ARE any) are thrilled. Most never learned the art of notes. Lectures? I LOVE 'em ,,,when I'M motivated and interested. When I'm NOT? It's like bad dental work. or worse. Human children we love deserve better.

ChrisM's picture
social studies teacher from MN

I do agree that colleges are still using the traditional method of teaching. Elementary, middle school, and high school teachers are exploring with non traditional teaching, but is it the best for the students? If students are exposed to non traditional teaching, ultimately, it may hurt a students chance for success in college.

ChrisM's picture
social studies teacher from MN

I do agree that colleges are still using the traditional method of teaching. Elementary, middle school, and high school teachers are exploring with non traditional teaching, but is it the best for the students? If students are exposed to non traditional teaching, ultimately, it may hurt a students chance for success in college.

Becky's picture
Gifted Education Specialist

I think there is a need for balance. When my daughter was enrolled at UW, I recall one of her classes has students engage in project-based learning. I was glancing at it once during a visit and noticed a glaring error. Since none of them had expertise in the field and the project allowed them to "learn from one another," no one was able to correct a huge, foundational misunderstanding, never mind smaller errors. Students need correct information from texts and instructors - not just experiential learning. There is a place for more creative demonstration of learning, but it fails to impart expertise.

Sandee Levine's picture

Using and teaching Critical Reading is a great way to engage students and teach them the skills they need to read and understand a text.

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