If you are involved in educating children in any capacity--as a teacher, administrator, librarian, parent, grandparent, nanny--and you have 20 minutes, grab a cup of coffee and watch the following TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson. I promise he'll make you laugh--and think. I'll share my thoughts on it below.
I've been in the education biz long enough to see the pendulum of pedagogy swing from one end to the other and back again.
Whole language to phonics, back to whole language, back to picking apart text.
Math facts to math problem solving, back to math facts.
Whole child to standardized test score expectations, back to....well, maybe it's starting to swing back. Pushback against standardized testing and rigid curriculum is making the news. There's been a few articles in my Facebook feed lately about creativity and the importance of play. An article from 2011 popped up just this morning, citing information from studies at MIT and UC-Berkeley that seem to show that direct teaching can inhibit student exploration and problem-solving, while allowing children to explore learning situations on their own terms can often lead to creative solutions.
I've just begun reading a book on the subject called Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan. I'm only one chapter in, and the author has already cited evidence that engineers "who had played with their hands were adept at the kinds of problem solving that management sought. Those who hadn't, generally were not." (p.11).
Play was originally published in 2009. The TED Talk above? 2006. And while I see evidence in my surrounding schools of creativity and exploration making their way back into the classroom, I am bombarded with news reports regarding bubble-in assessments and lock-step curriculum. Why?
And what does this have to do with book choice? Everything, because books can be a great catalyst for creative thinking. Books allow children to experience other lives both real and fantastic. They allow them to explore alternate ways to problem-solve through realistic fiction, and travel through time to make connections between past and present. Books can provide the data they need to solve problems on their own terms. Choosing the books that speak to them helps them hone their identity by revealing what feels true to them, and discarding what doesn't through informed decision-making.
A colleague and I were just discussing the trend of makerspaces in the library. This is evidence that librarians, the very definition of book-pushers, are aware that we need to provide opportunities to respond to learning in creative ways, to take those ideas and information from the texts we hawk to communal creation and sharing.
The best part of all of these studies and trends? It's F-U-N. We shouldn't have to feel guilty about having fun in our schools and libraries. As the evidence is bearing out, play may be just the ticket for solving our biggest problems.