What is Creative Reading?
“If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one’s chances of survival increase with each book one reads.”
— Sherman Alexie
Creative Reading is the process in which a student can read beyond the text; Meaning they can infer and react to what they are reading and make meaningful connections to the material. This method is sometimes known as Critical Reading. When teaching students to read creatively, they develop the ability to create fresh and unique interpretations of the material that are not regurgitations of what is explicitly stated.
When thinking about how creative reading is used in schools, the processes used come from the top of the pyramid of Bloom’s Taxonomy- Evaluation, or sometimes known as Creating.
Creating and evaluating lies at the very tippy-top of the pyramid for a reason: It is not easy. Creating something new out of concepts that have been around long before our students, and even ourselves, were alive takes time and considerable brainpower. Same with evaluating and making sense out of our evaluations. It is easy to make a statement about a topic. It is a whole other ballgame to back up our statement. Creative Reading is not a new concept, either. There are studies of creative reading dating back to the mid-twentieth century and more focused studies in fields such as film study, drama, and media.
What’s Creative Writing Got to Do with It?
Writing is a very active activity for anyone who has ever had to write an extensive report for a class. It moves and breathes as we work with it. In talking specifically about creative writing, characters and worlds come to life or die on the page as words flow from our fingers. Short creative writing exercises can help strengthen class discussions, the relationships between students, because it helps with the process of critical thinking and allows students to express. These exercises can help expand problem-solving skills, suggest alternatives, and improve their logical skills. Not only that, the sequential movements of handwriting can help develop the grey matter of the brain responsible for thinking, healing, and working memory. All of which is important for developing minds.
Read Often, Write Often
"Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window."
Like most skills, reading and writing will not improve if we do not practice. While most students who have trouble with either process will procrastinate or outright refuse to do the work, it is essential to get them to practice every day. With more practice and more time spent developing skills that may be behind their peers, confidence and ability will grow. As mentioned above in the “Make a Safe Environment” section, the teacher needs to help guide struggling students to a headspace where they believe in their abilities. The goal is to make them want to do better.
Make a Safe Environment
In an ideal educational world, as students get older, they develop the skills to tackle such issues with eloquence and show the evaluative skills they have been taught since kindergarten. However, let’s be honest; that is not how it goes in the classroom. Students flounder, scoff, laugh at their classmates or crack jokes about a serious topic. Most educators have been in these situations where students do not know how to respond to the questions their teachers propose. It is frustrating for everyone involved.
While in university classes, aspiring educators learn that there are five stages that students move through as they develop their reading skills:
Emerging pre-reader (6 months-5 years)
Novice reader (6-7 years)
Decoding reader (7-9 years)
Comprehending reader (9-15 years)
Expert reader (16 years and up)
(Exploring the Factors that Affect How Students Learn to Read 2019)
The last three stages are crucial while children are in school. Decoding gives the child the ability to sound out the words or piece them together. These skills allow the child to connect the sounds of the letters and draw meaning to the word. Reading comprehension is the student’s ability to process what is on the page, understand the meaning, and connect the information to what they already know. The final stage, Expert, has all of these previous skills and can utilize them to create meaning before, during, and after reading. When a student reaches this stage, they can continue reading independently both for academic purposes and for their enjoyment with ease.
Students who struggle with these stages might lack the confidence to participate in classroom discussions. It is important to remember that students start to notice differences in academic performance by the time they reach middle school (6th – 9th grade). Once they start taking notice of their peers’ skills, they also take notice of their own, or lack thereof, and their self-confidence can take a major hit. As a result, students can often act out with attention-seeking behaviors that most educators loath in their classrooms. These behaviors can make working with a particularly troublesome student difficult, but even Stubborn Sophie will be willing to put in the work with the right classroom environment.
It is important that as educators, our students, no matter their skill level, feel their input and opinions are heard and treated fairly.
Creating a safe space
When creating a safe environment that encourages growth for all students involved, it is important to set the tone at the beginning of the year and keep it up throughout the entire school year. It does not hurt to get the entire school involved in setting this tone, but sometimes that is not feasible; Do not let this stop you from being a positive role model in your classroom.
Setting a positive environment while co-teaching or student teaching may sound daunting for aspiring educators. No one ever said that our job would be easy. Being a teacher is emotionally and mentally taxing, so considering how long we stand on our feet and move around. However, we have the ability and responsibility to make sure each of our students feels welcome when they walk in the door. We have no control over what happens to them outside of our door, but our classroom may be the one place where they experience a moment of reprieve and can relax.
Some simple ways to set the tone of your classroom are as follows:
Greet your students at the door. That seems simple enough, right? It may not seem like much, but to a student who had a rotten night, followed by a rough morning, followed by whatever happened between home and your classroom, your smile and a cheerful voice saying, “Hello X, it’s so good to see you today!” may be what they needed to change their mood. Do this consistently every day. Address when they’ve been gone, give them a high-five or fist-bump, whatever fits that student, so they feel personally welcomed and noticed by you.
Avoid using rewards to control. Many educators and students know this technique and swear by it or curse it. Test rewards in your classroom and see what works. However, when using rewards, be consistent. Do not take away the rewards because of bad behavior. We all have off days, and it is not fair when we have done the one thing that gets us something special, only to lose it because of something we had no control over. Or a lost temper. Bad days happen to even the best of us. Have some grace for people still learning how to be people.
A caveat to this point: Some researchers feel that rewards such as gold stars, extra recess time, or candy may take away from the student’s motivation. Rewards should be something you and the student/classroom work out together. If a particular student has an IEP that states the student gets certain things when performing well (academically/behaviorally), talk with the Special Education teacher about handling reward systems for that student.
Celebrate success, big and small. In place of material rewards, teachers could reward their students with well-earned praise instead. Unlike the system above, this cannot be hinted at or taken away. When a student does well in something, i.e., on a paper/project, paying attention in class, raising their hand, or providing good discussion, they have earned praise. This can be used with the whole class, as well. Teachers can create charts that track progress on a specific class project (without listing individuals) and keep track of what the students did that helped them do well.
Reasons to avoid listing individuals: Listing individual progress can create competition between students. Competition can be healthy in some cases, but for students who struggle, watching their progress fall behind can have the opposite effect and negatively impact their growth mindset.
Avoid judging. Another point that sounds easy, but this one tends to trip even the most seasoned educators. We will all hear rumors about certain students, or entire families, that will make us go “Oh no.” when they make an appearance on our roster. How unfortunate it is for a student who has never met you to feel already judged on the first day of class. Try to avoid any gossip from the student’s previous teachers or those who know the family. A student who feels like they may start over with a clean slate may perform better in the classroom.
Activities for Home and School
The majority of us have written at least one essay in our lifetime. An assignment many students can find not only painfully boring but, at times, incredibly daunting and frustrating. For some students, an essay is not an appropriate measure for what they have learned. It is important for teachers and parents to add variety in activity. This will help keep students motivated and interested in a subject they may otherwise find frustrating.
Below is a small list of activities for Parents and Teachers to help their students:
Song Fiction. One of the most popular forms of fanfiction, Song Fiction, often pairs a piece of literature with a song that drives the story’s shape. When people create these stories, they are generally not telling the story as written. Many times, writers tell a story of what happens after the events, maybe a moment between two characters’ off-screen’, or what is going on within a particular character’s mind after an event has taken place. Song Fiction allows writers to go further and delve deeper into events, speculations, and characters.
- Example: This is a parody song for Katniss in The Hunger Games, parodying Katniss’ indecision between Gale and Peeta and ridiculing the fact that she thinks about that at all in a time of war.
General Fanfiction. Sometimes when reading a story, we fall in love with certain aspects of the plot or characters and want to go beyond what we see in the story. We want them to be fleshed out and see what happens beyond the written words. Students who become invested in the stories they read in class may even go to great lengths on their ideas on how a specific character behaved in the book’s crucial point. Fanfiction gives them the ability to do just that.
- Students can rewrite scenes of a story changing how they believe a character should have handled the situation.
- Explore a different character’s perspective.
- Explore the plot of a story from a different angle.
Narrative Pyramid (Waldo, 1991). The Narrative Pyramid acts as a retelling or summary for books and texts that breaks down the key details into smaller pieces. Each layer requires specific information and a specific number of words per line. The information would be labeled for narrative elements such as character, setting, problem, events, and solution for this particular organizer.
Paired Summarizing (Vaughn & Estes, 1986). Tried and true, this creative/critical reading format allows students to work in pairs to discuss their understanding of the reading. After presenting the students with a selected text, the students read sections of the text together then write a summary of what they read. Then they read each other’s summaries, break them down, compare and contrast those summaries, and share their ideas with the rest of the class or small group.
Podcasts and Vlogs. Podcasting and Vlogging are relatively new mediums for reporting and critical essays. Students can write a script for their assigned subject, or one of their own choosing, and create a video or podcast recording. Both add elements of visuals or audio that can add to a student's report and help engage their audience.
Poetry as Practice. Consider using poetry to help stir the creative juices in your student's brain. Introducing small poetry activities from a young age can also help reduce stress and give students an outlet for their emotions in a creative way.
Narrative Telephone. A spin on the classic game of telephone, this is a lot of fun for students of any age. The game is simple: The teacher writes out a simple story that relates to the current story or lesson, records themselves telling the story, and passes the video on to a student. The student then has one (1) chance to watch the video, memorize the story to the best of their ability, then record their retelling and pass it to another student. This continues until all students have viewed and recorded their retellings. At the end everyone can watch the progression of the retellings from start to finish. It's great for a laugh and a quick working memory exercise that can help students develop their speaking and listening skills. There are examples of this exercise available on YouTube. My favorite is performed by the cast of Critical Role (content warning: language, sexual themes, scary scenes, fantasy violence).
Bruyère, C. (2012). Creative Reading, or the New Life of Literary Works: American Instances. Mémoires du livre / Studies in Book Culture, 3 (2). https://doi.org/10.7202/1009345ar
Critical Teaching. (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2020, from http://criticalthinkingineducation.weebly.com/critical-teaching.html
Exploring the Factors that Affect How Students Learn to Read. (2019, February 05). Retrieved July 17, 2020, from https://www.waterford.org/education/factors-that-affect-how-students-learn-to-read/
McLaughlin, M. (2015). Content area reading: Teaching and learning for college and career readiness. Boston, MA: Pearson.