The C scan: looking for innovation in classrooms

looking through lenses

(This is the fourth letter in a continuing conversation about the ideas in Ken Robinson’s book, Creative Schools)

Dear Ken,

When I first started reading your book Creative Schools, I experienced a combination of inspiration and despair. I felt inspired by all the examples of innovation but despair when I thought about all the political work that would need to be done before those innovations become the norm, not the exception. Being a teacher can be such a Sisyphean task sometimes.

But then I remembered where change actually begins: inside teachers, inside classrooms.

While reading the chapter What’s Worth Knowing in your book, I realized that you have provided us teachers with a way to look at what is missing from what we are currently doing in our classrooms. Your list of eight competencies, things that educated students should be able to do/be, can be a kind of CT scan of our teaching practice!

Just as a CT scan would reveal anything that was missing or out of place, any teacher anywhere can use the lenses of your eight competencies to look at her current classroom practice. She can then make changes in the places she notices anything missing.

When I subjected my Humanities co op program to the C scan ( can we call it that?) I noticed that there was a lot of evidence of students developing competencies in communication, collaboration, citizenship and creativity but only middling evidence that they were developing their skills in compassion, composure, criticism and curiosity.

On the other hand, when I looked at my Psychology classes, there was lots of evidence of compassion, composure, creativity and collaboration but not enough evidence of citizenship and criticism.

When I looked at English classes though, I found a complete imbalance: most activities focused on criticism with only a few activities focused on compassion and collaboration. Given that all students have to write a standardized English exam in order to graduate, the skills and knowledge needed to pass the exam crowd out practice in other competencies.

I think it would be quite the trick to ensure there were enough activities to cover all eight competencies in one course in one semester. How much exploration or practice in each competency is enough, I wonder? Is there a way I could measure ‘enough’?

After thinking about all this, I imagined a grid that had your 4 purposes of education on the x axis and then your 8 competencies on the y axis. A kind of graphic organizer for tracking where innovation is and isn’t happening in my classroom.

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 7.35.12 PM

For example, I could look at the Civic Mirror simulation that I run in my class in which students become citizens and the classroom becomes a country. The simulation accomplishes all four purposes of education and also provides lots of opportunity for exploration of all eight competencies. But when I look at English Language class activities, focused mainly on reading and writing essays, there’s very little that I could tick off on either axis!

Thinking about all this grid plotting reminded me of that scene in the film Dead Poet’s Society when the Robin Williams character scoffs at the very notion that poetry could be plotted on a grid and tells the boys to rip out all the textbook pages where it was suggested. So perhaps the whole idea that we could plot innovation in classrooms on a grid is ludicrous. But how else can we classroom teachers turn your ideas into action?

Maybe the grid would be useful only as a map as long as we remember that it cannot actually cover the territory of all that we do in our classrooms. The grid may be just enough of a guide to help us to work our way out from where we are in our teaching practice toward a place we want to be, teaching creatively.

I think I’ll try it out in the fall when the new school year begins. I’ll look at my lesson plans through a C scan and let you know what I discover!



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