Meaning: By the time children hit high school and are exposed to a broader diversity of students and opinions, plus they are exposed typically to a larger array of co-curricular programming, like debate, journalism, literary magazine, photography, and any number of art clubs, students are returning to a world where creative pursuits are part of the formal array of choices. But creativity and the imagination should not be relegated to formal offerings—teachers will have success with their students in any of the standard curricular courses when they incorporate creative elements to their assignments and lessons. Classroom participation takes on a heightened level of sophistication in high school, as students are more adept at critical thinking, more confident with sharing perspectives, and the topics are typically more contemporary or more readily associated with relevance—even when dealing with ancient history, mythology, or great literature from previous centuries. Creativity comes into play when high school teachers aim to go deeper into the issues contained in literature, or attempt to unravel the complexity of key characters, or investigate causes or “what if” scenarios in world history, or discuss ethical choices in science, and this academic list can go on. Teachers must tap into the imagination in order to elicit possibilities and to inspire further engagement with topics. I remember a high school class I taught on Hamlet when I generated an entire period of amazing dialogue among my students, simply by asking them to consider the opening line of the play “Who’s there?” and guess at what Shakespeare was after with these initial two words. Of course, the theme of identity was predominant, and my students grappled with how Shakespeare may have wanted his audience to see Hamlet and his dilemma. Starting with an open-ended question, and giving students the time to mull it over, is just one important way students can exercise their imagination in the high school setting. We all know that curricular content and course coverage and accumulating credits are what drive both teacher and student experience in high schools, but to anchor the education in relevance and purpose depends on whether students’ voices are cultivated, their imagination is summoned, and knowledge is allowed to be student-constructed. Otherwise, the high school learning experience can easily dissipate into a dry exercise of rote learning and just “doing school,” as Denise Clark Pope so ominously points out in her book, Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Mis-Educated Students. Because high school students are the most keenly aware of inauthenticity and can easily slip into cynicism and depression as a result, the appeals to their imagination is one of the best and lasting ways that students can be genuinely immersed in their learning. Creativity is not a little kid’s game anymore during high school, the way Middle School students often see it. Developing identity at this age is so intertwined with cultivation inquiry and imagination, the three I’s necessary to enliven the minds of these teenagers as they launch into the more consequential phase of their lives in college and beyond.
Actions: There is so much on the teenager’s plate—emotionally, socially, spiritually, academically, cognitively, physically—that any attempts to influence their perspective or lead them toward different habits will seem futile; however, valuing their voice, listening to their opinions and reflections, building on their own journey—and validating and confirming their ownership of their own journeys—will help establish the conditions for genuine forays into the creative world. Whether we’re talking about their own projects, or exposing them to the cultural arts offerings in your city or in the larger metropolitan population centers nearest to them, or angling conversations where they can respond to open-ended questions and imagine strategies to solve problems—the teenager will have a much better chance at connecting with their learning or developing a passion that can catapult their motivation for higher education when their imaginations are triggered. Teachers can certainly be instrumental—there are so many ways to appeal to their creative needs, no matter what the subject is. I recall teaching a 12th grade English class that I could tell was turning dull for the students—that typically happens when I’m talking too much and don’t check in with them. I decided to ask for volunteers to write the next lesson plan for the week on the literature we were studying, and nearly all hands went up. So I selected a group of three students to take the lead to drive the teaching over the next week, and the results were incredibly positive, and that’s why for this class I decided to turn its direction entirely over to the students. They wrote up detailed lesson plans, posed amazing questions, and came up with creative classroom projects that made this class of seniors the main antidote to senioritis on the entire campus, and this actually occurred during the second half of the year when most seniors have checked out. No question that with creativity at this age comes responsibility—and that’s often the combo that will allow students to regain a sense of purpose amid the chaos of the teenage years. Einstein had several quotes about the imagination, but the one I like is, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Indeed, it is the imagination that can be that life-saving additive in the life of a teenager; it is what their souls are thirsting for, and it will fuel their brains with the best nourishment. The teenage years are times for the adults in their lives to consider bold applications, bold experiences involving creativity. Making the 21st century a time of continuing progress will depend on how willing our future leaders are to seize on the imagination to better our world.
Learning: For the creative writing classroom, a load of ideas to stoke the imagination is located on the practicalcreativewriting.com site, where Grace Jolliffe blogs her heart away from the heaven-on-earth locale of Galway Bay in Western Ireland. She has fantastic and helpful ideas about such things as procrastination, time management, building a website, how to make a to-do list. To learn more about how art can be the elixir for the teenager’s emotional woes, just check out this article: “Depression of Teenagers: Can Art Help?” found on the depressionteenshelp.com site. Here’s an article about how an architectural design team partners with teenagers in order to learn how to make their environments more conducive to creativity—it’s called “Empowering Teens with Environments that Cultivate Creativity,” by Margaret Sullivan, who is a principal in a New York design firm specializing in innovative cultural centers and libraries. The article and more about her firm can be found on the demcointeriors.com site. Regarding parenting the creatively gifted child, check out “Understanding the Creatively Gifted Child,” by blogger Colleen Kessler, who is a gifted specialist and educational consultant. Her blogging can be found on the lifelonglearners.com site.