/ Feature Story

No Cut, No Color, No Creativity.

Your child need not worry about coloring in the lines. The rigmarole that the Learning Services Department at WCSD6 went through to ensure that these procedures are met is ridiculous and unnecessary.

“The schools rock!” sign seen at the Greeley Arts Picnic, image from Greeley-Evans School District 6 Facebook.

Students attending school in Weld County School District Six, or WCSD6, are having a more difficult time being creative. As the need for improving test scores increases, school districts are taking away opportunities for children to be creative. Many schools in Greeley and Evans have currently implemented strict regulation that prohibits children from “cutting and coloring,” or more commonly heard, “no cut, no color schools.” The rigmarole that the Learning Services Department at WCSD6 went through to ensure that these procedures are met is ridiculous and unnecessary.

When Michael Conchar of the New York Times asked if schools provided students with enough opportunity to be creative, Lilana S., an elementary aged student, answered “no,” and that, “a lot of schools are not giving the opportunity for children to show how creative they are.” She argues that students need to do something different and “show [their] creativity” instead of copy someone else’s work.

Lilana’s comment is spot on; schools in Greeley are trying to produce ticky-tacky children who, from the start, are taught incorrectly. Children in Weld County School District 6’s schooling system are taught using direct instruction, meaning that they are simply made to stay in their seats and listen, very similar to a college level lecture. Direct instruction may work among some students with a very limited number of topics, such as mathematics, but as all students have experienced growing up, not all learning methods are effective, and thereby appropriate, for them. Early childhood education and development expert Lilian Katz suggests that “children should have sustained involvement with worthwhile topics,” these being projects that take days or weeks to complete and are often referenced to later in lessons. These projects tend to allow students to be more creative as they are more self-directed and require significant amounts of self-learning and self-guided instruction in order to be completed.

For most elementary aged students, sitting in a chair at a desk, learning content the same way each day can be frustrating for both students and teachers. In WCSD6 schools, students are made to sit in a seat and listen. My fifth grade homeroom teacher was forced to show my class and me word templates on the overhead projector, referred to as word-decoding practice. This practice consisted of a grid of words spread across many pages that the school district deemed necessary for my class to know. After shown the word, my teacher, or “sage on the stage,” would have us break the word into different groups based on the number of syllables. For example, the word ‘settle’ would be broken into two parts, “set” and “tle”. After we identified the syllables, we needed to group them together as “set-tle” and finally combine the word to “settle.” There was much repetition of the word, and if anyone in the class were to incorrectly pronounce the word, we were to start over and try again. I do not remember a single person in my class struggling with any of the words we were learning, except for the few that jokingly mispronounced words.

This program was first introduced when I was in fifth grade and was not being adopted well among staff. First, this style of teaching required many more hours of time for teachers in preparation and consumed many more resources. The process involved every word needing to be printed out as flash cards, laminated for durability, and finally cut individually. This method was a monotonous technique of repetition among students. The process did not involve students moving around the classroom, between stations of their choosing to gather supplies to foster creative work at a table. I strongly remember my teacher being upset because this new program prevented her from reading aloud to her class — something she highly enjoyed doing and something her class genuinely enjoyed and benefitted from. She taught in fear of someone walking through the door and discovering she was not teaching up to their standards.

I cannot imagine what it must feel like to teach, not in fear of a dangerous intruder, but in fear of an administrator.

Similar modular buildings built for Louisa County High School, image from M Space Modular Buildings.

My fifth grade class was outdoors in a portable building, and our classroom was the first one up the ramp. My teacher would ask for someone to open the window, so she could see if someone were walking by, and if so, she would immediately quit reading aloud. If an administrator were to walk through that door while she was reading aloud, she would have a very difficult time keeping her job. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to teach, not in fear of a dangerous intruder, but in fear of an administrator.

Schools in district six were not always this way. Years ago, when teachers could be more independent with their teaching, children were encouraged to have creative play. Today, WCSD6 is focused on adult centered learning where information comes from above rather than child centered learning. This new style of teaching enforced by the school district comes from the assumption that all students are learning at the same pace and all benefit from the same learning technique. In an article on Scholastic in The Creative Classroom, Hannah Trierweiler Hudson explains how classrooms in Evergreen Mill Elementary School have gone above and beyond just offering its students independent reading to allow their thoughts and creativity to run in their minds. “At Evergreen Mill Elementary School in Leesburg, Virginia, classes are put on pause for “Stop, Drop, and Create.” During these sessions, everyone from students to teachers to support staff tackles the same creative challenge, such as illustrating an imaginary bug or making an underwater creature out of clay.” One teacher describes the energy that flows through the school as incredible.

While the Learning Services Department might see prohibiting “cutting and coloring” and using a more directed approach to instruction as an opportunity to increase test scores, many teachers strongly disagree. Families living in Weld County have very little choice in which school their child can attend. Many times, a child is bound to their home school, or school that is in relation to the location of the main household. An open enrollment period allows families to pick and choose the school they would like their family attending, but only if enrollment at other schools does not restrict doing so. Other than attending a school in another county, most families do not have a choice. Even other schools in the district have the same programs in place or they are on schedule to roll them out soon. Charter schools might have lengthy waiting lists also. The Weld County School District Six Learning Services Department should encourage students to be more creative by restructuring the teaching technique that educators must follow because allowing students to express themselves will allow them to be more comfortable and will improve learning.

The Weld County School District Six Learning Services Department argues that children who pass through their schools must learn sight words and phonics, and letter sounds and how they fit together in reading, but they also believe that this is the most important aspect of learning. I agree that learning phonics and the like are necessary, but when a child can learn by experience and creating on their own, they will have a more meaningful learning experience. An article in the journal Higher Education Quarterly from 1965 found that “Capacities for creativity need fostering in education today. How can this be done? One can only be speculative; education is not an exact technology.” Almost fifty years later, this remains true. As previously mentioned, WCSD6 is assuming that all students are learning at the same rate and learn best using the same uncreative technique.

There are three domains of creativity: humor, discovery, and art, “which,” according to Lars Geer Hammershøj in “Creativity in Education as a Question of Cultivating Sensuous Forces,” “are characterized by different kinds of creative products and creative processes.” When learning is not done creatively, learning is not authentic. Students are unable to relate to meaningful connections between what they are learning and the outside world when they are missing out on the activities that build brain connections such as music, art, and hand-eye-coordination that comes from cutting. District 6 feels that creativity does not build skills required later in life, but rather the common core standards implemented by the State of Colorado do. Moreover, this technique also shows no new trends in test scores that support growth in learning. Using data provided from the Colorado Department of Education, I was able to collect reading proficiency rates from 2004 to 2014 among three school districts.

Rate of increase for reading proficiency between Greeley 6, Cherry Creek, and Denver Public Schools constructed with data provided by the Colorado Department of Education.

This figure represents the rate of increase from year to year. Over eleven years, WCSD6 has not seen a dramatic increase in the amount of students scoring proficient or advanced in the reading content area. In fact, between 2007 when the new program was implemented and 2014, WCSD6 saw a greater loss in proficiency between 2010 and 2011, more than any other year or school district displayed, at a loss of four percent. A 2005 article in the Journal of English in Education by Gabrielle Cliff Hodges discusses the interest for creativity after fifteen years of “highly prescriptive legislation and demanding government initiatives” caused a change in most sensible school districts across the nation and found that this might “be due to the fact that government targets for raising standards have not been reached but there is also growing concern about what can happen when test scores are emphasized at the expense of learning, motivation and enjoyment.”

Creativity helps children succeed in life, but District 6 sees it as a hindrance to learning by implementing a ban on using scissors and coloring utilities in lessons.

Erika Sánchez, an opinionist for The Guardian, asks the question regarding why ineffective teaching methods in the United States continue to be used. She compares the US to Finland, “a country with no standardized tests and whose teachers assign less homework and encourage creativity,” and has students “turning in some of the highest test scores in the world in the last few years.” She argues that test scores do not make a student well rounded or well educated. Linda Garcia, a retired schoolteacher from Weld County School District 6 agrees with Erika, but the school district in Greeley does not seem to realize that. Garcia claims that one must work slowly to go fast, explaining that students need to develop an understanding for topics before continuing. She argues: “If the children can develop at their own speed and developmental ability, then they can build meaning around what they are learning.”

Garcia explains to me how District 6 wants to stuff children’s heads full of information so the district can claim that students learned a broad amount of information and how they are doing this on a very fast rate, or as Garcia puts it, “instead of working slowly to go fast, they go fast and get nowhere or move behind.” Garcia also informed me on how the district is trying to improve their overall appearance over performance to the public.

Prairie Heights Middle School groundbreaking invitation, image from Greeley-Evans School District 6 Facebook.

John Evans Middle School was on academic probation for many years and was due to be taken over by the State of Colorado for poor performance. Rather than correct the issues regarding the school’s performance, District 6 decided that the school lived its end-of-life at only fifty-years and they closed it down. In its place, the district is building a new school, Prairie Heights Middle School, essentially starting over completely on the grounds that the school was “old,” instead of “performing poorly.” Doing so erases all previous performance data for the school.

Creativity helps children succeed in life, but District 6 sees it as a hindrance to learning by implementing a ban on using scissors and coloring utilities in lessons. Nicolas Malleson, Director for Research Unit for Student Problems at the University of London says in an article in Higher Education Quarterly that there “is some innate antipathy between learning to master work obligations and learning creativity,” as well as, “good primary education should involve a challenge to master work as well as the challenge to create.” District 6 is focusing only on the former, disregarding the need to be creative among students. Although there may be a strong negative feeling towards learning and being creative, students were able to express creativity before the direct instruction approach of teaching was implemented.

The Weld County School District Six Learning Services Department is not encouraging students to be creative because they are restructuring the teaching technique that educators must follow which does not allow students to express themselves and be more comfortable with their learning. Not allowing students to be creative is due, in part, to the direct instruction style of teaching. This style of teaching is only effective in certain scenarios and is not appropriate for all children. Furthermore, like any teaching method, direct instruction does not guarantee that students will develop learning connections, especially when a teacher is forced to use this method above any other method he or she feels more comfortable and educated using. The current teaching style implemented by District 6 has not been shown to cause an increase in proficiency rates over the almost eight years it has been in use and has proven itself ineffective.