06 December 2008

A creative mess is better than idle neatness

My dad had this saying hanging in his workshop in the basement of our small home in Minneapolis. It was neatly framed and written in a Gothic script. There was a great contrast between it and the "creative mess" that surrounded it. On two walls of the workshop there were peg boards with lots of hooks and brackets. Everything had its place, but nothing was in its place.

As the saying goes, like father, like son.

This sign now hangs above my desk in my "workshop." It accurately describes the past, present, and probably future state of my small desk area in the corner of my classroom. I have places for everything - stacking trays, baskets, drawers, a filing cabinet - but nothing is in its place. When I do actually get around to cleaning up (usually when my chair won't wheel around due to the stacks on the floor or when the stacks are so large that they are sliding off my desk), the feeling of being able to see the faux wood grain on my desk is indescribable. Maybe a favorite author of my mom says it best: "Order calms."

Yet, the other day as I was talking to my teaching partner, I began to explain that I think "a creative mess" describes more than just the physical environment of my desk area. It also describes the teaching and learning that we have come to call inquiry/constructivist/the workshop approach. It is messy, I don't always know where the day or week will take my students and I. Each weekend I sit down and fill out what I have come to call "The Big Picture." I look at where my students are at, where we need to go, and how we can get there. But once the week begins my plans will change depending upon how quickly my students grasp a concept, what questions arise, and how long investigations and our discussions take. While this form of learning and teaching can be "messy," it is also quite "creative." My students and I learn so much each day. It is fun to see how far they have come in the past three months and how willing they are to try new things.

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