I have students who insist, repeatedly, that they are not creative or innovative. Many of them are the “phone book” students.
But often, both students and adults confuse the word “innovation” with “something that descended straight from Mt. Olympus into my brain, and I’m sharing something with you that has never been thought in the history of humankind.”
Innovation is not quite that. Innovation is taking what already exists--ideas, structures, bursts of light--and retwisting, repurposing, re-puzzling, or maybe even disentangling them. That’s a complicated way of saying that I can’t take full (or even partial) credit for the innovative things that happen in my room. They exist as a kind of alchemy between people I talk to, books and blogs I read, and videos I watch, which are then poured out into the volatile mixture that is a high school classroom.
If you get it right (or get lucky), the students become the real innovators, taking what you’ve given them and making something extraordinary.
But the innovations I see in school often are the innovations kids come up with to avoid/subvert the assigned tasks, or maybe just to make them more efficient. There’s real innovation happening in a student trying to stretch a two-page essay to a third and fourth page. There’s real innovation in trying to do Calculus homework for next period in English class while still keeping your head above water in both disciplines. There’s real innovation in trying to create a compelling presentation the night before it’s due, and equal innovation in trying to give a compelling presentation when you haven’t rehearsed.
Traditional school doesn’t see a place for those innovations; frankly, it downright discourages some of them. But all innovation is rejected at first. And slowly, paradigms shift and what was once maligned is now mainstream.
I get to be an early adopter of that kind of innovation.