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Weaving Imagination Into An Academic Framework: Attitudes, Assignments, And Assessments
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I believe that imagination is alive in the high school classroom, but it is pale and sickly, suffering from a long decline in which we have confined it to its most decorous forms of expressionâ€”inference and interpretationâ€”and become ambiguous about whether or not it is truly welcome. What do we really want from students: cognitive leaps or compliance, passion or five-paragraph essays, innovation or MLA format, wit or rigor? Imagination can be unruly and, worst of all, difficult to assess.
Although the standards movement is often maligned, it grew, at least in part, out of a genuine desire to help students succeed in school by sharing information with them. At the high school where I teach, we wrote analytical rubrics to provide students with specific information about how to meet our graduation requirements. Many hours of committee work went into these rubrics. We learned Designer Shoes that it is hard to write an analytical rubric that doesn't descend into meaningless increments of "few, some, many." As we met and met again, there was a sense of excitement and satisfaction that we were moving toward consensus as a faculty on interdisciplinary standards for student work. This rubric was one of four that define our standards for graduation in the areas of Information Literacy, Problem Solving, Written Performance, and Spoken Communication. We saw these rubrics as a way to communicate clearly and consistently to students what we, as a school community, value. It did not occur to us at the time that we had slighted an essential aspect of learning, but I don't believe this is because any of us would have said that imagination is not important. Our focus was on finding a balance between reasonable expectations and academic rigor. If asked about imagination, we could have pointed out that imagination is implicit in standards such as "makes inferences" and "promotes a new perspective or interpretation."
The problem, of course, is that students will tend to focus on what is explicit in a rubric, such as the number of sources required. While I worry about the monster we might create in writing standards and rubrics that make the importance of imagination explicit, I think we owe it to students to set this record straight. However, adding an "Imagination" row to a rubric is not enough. To rouse imagination Discount Shoes in the high school classroom, we need to convince students that they have the time and energy to engage imaginatively in the work they do for us. My experience suggests that this will not be easy.
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