On creativity, law & order

I often hear that a good teacher should be, apart from other things, creative. Without intention to sound conceited, I’ve always considered myself to be a creative person, i.e. someone having an ability to make new things and think of new ideas. However, the question I often catch myself pondering is to what extent it is good to be creative in the classroom. The thing is NOT that being a creative person also means being someone characterized by sophisticated bending of the rules or conventions – in other words, someone who manages to get around legal or conventional limits. The thing is that I can’t help associating creativity with frequent change and chaos.

I can proudly announce that, despite (or because of) being a creative teacher, over time I’ve developed some very effective, systematic teaching strategies. I must confess, though, that some of them are results of my inclination to sophistically bend the teaching rules and conventions. I’ve discovered this cool method of peer correction, for example, something none of my colleagues ever dares to apply. To cut a long story short, after finishing a five-minute vocabulary test (always at the same time, of the same format: 12 random L1 words from the previous lessons which the students are required to translate into L2), I ask the students to swap their tests and correct them. I’m aware of the fact that this is a dangerous method – for one simple reason: students can cheat. That’s why my colleagues never use it for official purposes (at least they claim so). Also, it’s a delicate subject to talk about publicly; if somebody wanted to discredit this method of correction, they easily could. If a student was unhappy with the final mark, for example, they might blame me and the method and I’m not sure whether the administrators would stand by me in such a case. It may be cold comfort that students can actually come up with all sorts of accusations if they wish to. 
Nevertheless, I’m convinced there are more pros than cons regarding this method. As I’ve practised it for quite some time, it’s ceased to be a mere experiment; it’s proved to be useful, time-saving and highly efficient. To give one example, I have plenty of grades – one of the prerequisites of being deemed a good teacher here where I teach. I remember just two cases of cheating, which I managed to nip in the bud anyway. Basically, two friends sitting next to each other agreed beforehand to correct the partner’s potential mistakes pretending the original author had written them correctly. Unfortunately, they used a different pencil so the cheat was evident at first sight. To eradicate (or at least eliminate) this type of swindle, the students never know in advance who is going to correct their tests – it can be either their neighbour or anybody in the class. Moreover, I always have a clear view of all the students, all the time (due to the horseshoe arrangement and my brilliant eyesight). 
The good thing is that practice makes perfect so my students know exactly what to do; they know what counts as a major mistake and what is just a minor mistake. They know exactly how many points to subtract and what mark eventually comes out of the score. I randomly look at some of the corrected tests to make sure everybody understands what to do. Obviously, there are types of tests that can’t be corrected and assessed this way but there are many that can. I described another method of peer correction for longer written assignments on the BELTA blog
Back to my point: the method I described in this post was born out of creativity. But over time it’s developed into a systematic procedure – and it’s the opposite of what one could call creative. I’m implying that being creative is a great thing, even if it encompasses a drift towards some kind of revolt against the rules, but developing dubious experiments into systematic, well-established routines is vital and useful because the classroom should primarily be a safe place where everybody knows what to do. 
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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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3 Responses to On creativity, law & order

  1. Chewie6577 says:

    Many of my K-12 teachers in America used peer correction for similar kinds of tests. Like you said, it's efficient. Interestingly, the teachers always said that this method of peer correction would reduce cheating because the students aren't correcting their own papers and therefore have no incentive to cheat. Also, this method puts more responsibility on the students. They have to act ethically. It's a good thing for them to do.

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  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Yes, that's exactly what I believe. However, as I said in the post, there were a couple of attempts at cheating before. But as the method has become really efficient and thus quick over time, the students have practically no time to cheat – it's usually a question of a couple of minutes. You make a good point when you mention responsibility. Also, they actually practise the matter twice; the opportunity to correct somebody else's work is a kind of revision. One thing that I noticed is that once the students get their partners’ tests, they immediately spot the mistakes and realize what mistakes they have made themselves without actually looking at the correct answers I’ve meanwhile provided. I believe that this helps them remember a problematic word much better than if I just corrected the tests and handed them out the next day, for example.
    Many thanks for your comment.
    Hana

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  3. Pingback: #200 | How I see it now

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