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Dedicated to Teachers

On the Podcast: Infusing Our Days with Creativity with Heinemann Fellow Brian Melton

tim-arterbury-VkwRmha1_tI-unsplashToday on the podcast, we're handing the podcast over to Heinemann Fellow Brian Melton.

Brian currently teaches English and creative writing in Illinois, and oversees a slam poetry team. He believes in the power of conversation and self-reflection, and infuses these values into his practice as an educator and leader. Here's Brian with more on his project...


Below is a full transcript of this episode!

Brian: Hello, Heinemann Podcast listeners. My name is Brian Melton, part of the third cohort of Heinemann Fellows, and before we get this podcast going, I thought I would give you a little context into the conversations we're about to have.

As I prepared for my upcoming year this past summer, I took a look at some of the schedules of my students and began to notice an alarming pattern. Student after student of mine were missing something that I always believed to be an essential to the life of a well-rounded academic. I saw dozens of kids taking AP classes, various history, math classes and, of course, English, but what was missing from far too many of my students' schedules was a fine arts class of any kind.

Now, the schedule, what I've deemed to be the creative desert, is what nearly 70% of my student schedules look like, eight-hour days stripped of creativity, devoid of any place where a young man or woman can share his or her voice and spirit with the world around them. I noticed that seniors in my creative writing classes would always write reflections at the end of the year, a few sub-statements thanking me for helping remind them that they love the act of writing, and then I'd go along and pat myself on the back for a job well done, but I started thinking, "Man, if I'm only teaching creativity in my senior level writing class, I'm robbing the rest of my students of three years of their high school career as creative individuals and, for those 70% without another outlet, I'm just another class in a grueling day," and I wanted to be an oasis and not another sand dune, so I decided to pose a question.

In what ways might a shift away from the whole class novel to a focus on music, art, poetry and storytelling in the ELA classroom, how would that enable students' self-expression and help them develop critical inquiry into the work of others and, ultimately, the work that we're trying to do in the English class?

Now, I think I know a couple of people that can help me find that solution here today. We're going to be speaking with Daniel Wallace, senior program manager of Lincoln Center Education in New York, who was instrumental in changing the way that I think about art and creativity in the classroom, and a young woman named Ishita Patel. She's one of my sophomore honors students who has been part of my research group this year.

In this podcast, we're going to explore the role creativity plays in the classroom and how we as educators can hopefully shift our curriculum to become more of an oasis in this creative desert.

Brian: I'm on the phone with Dan Wallace, and he is the senior program manager at Lincoln Center Education, all the way from New York.

Dan, thank you so much for taking the time to do this with us today.

Dan: Absolutely. My pleasure.

Brian: I thought we would start again just with a general introduction. Let us know your role at Lincoln Center, the work that you do and maybe a little bit of your background just so we can get familiar.

Dan: Absolutely, so, as you said, I'm senior program manager at Lincoln Center Education. What I do is manage a portfolio of schools. If you've ever heard the term teaching artists, that came from Lincoln Center Education. Our work is based on the philosophy of Maxine Greene, who for several decades was the philosopher and resident here, and what we try to do is basically start with the work of art at the center of a unit of study, and we've trained a number of teaching artists to partner with classroom teachers across ages and disciplines to prepare students to see a work of art live and then to reflect on those experiences.

Really where this came from was the idea that a school field trip to a place like Lincoln Center to see a piece of dance, music, theater or visual art was not sufficiently robust and that, if professional artists could be trained to partner with teachers to really help students through art making reflection, exploration of context and series of questioning and choice-making to prepare them to see live works of art and then reflect on that experience, that could yield a much more enriching and robust program for students.

LCE has been around for about 40, 45 years doing that work, and what I do is oversee what's called the Focus Schools, which is some of our more intensive partnerships here, so we try to do whole-school partnerships where we're doing multiple units of study across multiple grades and multiple content areas with students throughout the year.

My personal background, I was a high school English teacher here in New York for a number of years, including at one of our Focus Schools, and that's how I became aware of the philosophy of Maxine Greene and how I became aware of LCE's practice of aesthetic education and then, eventually, how I transitioned over into managing a range of these school programs rather than shepherding my own.

Brian: You dropped a term in there, the aesthetic education. As an English teacher, can you provide a little context to maybe that term?

Dan: Absolutely, so that was coined by Maxine Greene, who I mentioned a minute ago. Basically, she discusses aesthetics as the opposite of anesthesia, so she thinks about aesthetics as those elements that can serve as the opposite of that, which is to say those things that can wake us up, so aesthetic education is a teaching practice based on really the cycle that I described a minute ago where we're interested in helping students do activities before receiving information, explore areas of curiosity and wonder in ways that wake them up and engage them in exploring works of art that prepares them to see the work live and then to move into a period of reflection.

That philosophy is straight out of Maxine Greene, which builds heavily on John Dewey, the ideas being that an interaction with or a transaction between a person and a work of art is a profoundly meaningful experience akin to an interaction with another person, so we try to encourage students to bring their whole selves to that experience, so, rather than something like giving a bunch of context about artists or a particular work of art and showing the work of art and then have students replicate the piece, we like to have students pursue choices along some key ideas from the work of art before they ever see it such that, by the time they're viewing the work of art, they've made choices of their own and they're prepared to have a fuller conversation about the choices that the artist made, and that leads them toward the realm of making meaning.

Brian: Right, and I think that that's something that, as you know, being an English teacher, that making meaning from art, whether it's the text or a piece of art or a piece of poetry, that often seems to be the most difficult aspect of literary analysis.

Dan: Absolutely. I think our students are a lot more comfortable repeating to us things that we said to them, and the idea that I can't know what experiences you've had in your lifetime that you're making connections between the work of art that you're encountering, I can't possibly control or tell you how to respond to something as complex as that viewing, but that I might be able to help you work through a process that allows you to make meaning out of that encounter and that your meaning would be different from the meaning that I brought to the same piece. I think, in that conversation, perhaps the process can be replicated, but it's a difficult one for students to do.

Brian: How might art help us maybe find more entry points into a piece of literature? I know that's a big question, but it's one that I've grappled with as an educator for a number of years now.

Dan: Sure. Sure. Certainly, literature itself is an art form, so it's typically a lower bar to clear to make connections between works of other disciplines, dance, music, theater, visual art or otherwise with literature just because we're dealing with different art forms themselves, and English teachers tend to be fairly comfortable teaching to works of art, but, certainly, the end game, the big goal of liberal arts education or, certainly, the ELA portion of standards is that students would be able to articulate and support claims and that they would be able to anticipate counterclaims, and that is very much meaning-making.

I think, when we're talking about works of art, there are an incredible number of parallels between the making and the viewing, the listening and the speaking, the reading and the writing, and I think that, if we're asking students particularly in the English classroom to respond to works of art as we do when we ask them to respond to pieces of literature, we do them a disservice if they have no idea what it's like to make creative choices themselves. You're being asked to analyze and think deeply about another person's choices and the effects that those choices have on meaning when you haven't made your own, when you haven't thought about how might my choices lead a viewer or a reader through an experience themselves, so I think that the place of art is all throughout the English classroom, and I think that the depth of thinking when it comes to both producing and responding to works of art can be a bit complicated to try to disentangle just because the process of making and the process of viewing are so connected, and I think that's really where our work lies is that part of viewing and making is that they're in conversation one with the other.

Brian: Amazing. Yeah. Part of the work that I'm doing with Heinemann Fellows has to do with that specific connection between the creating of art and then the interpretation, and I find that, often, my students, as they're sitting in the classroom, have not had a ton of experience making art that also maybe contains meaning for them, and part of the process of coming to my conclusion of... or my question with the Heinemann fellowship is that 69% of my students in my fourth period class this year do not have a fine arts class on their schedule, so they're going through an eight-hour day, an eight-hour day that I have turned to a creative desert in which they're going from class to class to class.

They're just ingesting, ingesting content, ingesting content, and then regurgitating it on a test or for their teacher in some sort of form one way or the other, and then they just move on the next day, and some of the students I've been working with have said that this is... the schedules... They call their class days grueling and boring, and I think that that's the antithesis of what we would want as teachers. I know that a lot of the schools that you probably work with are embracing the arts, but how can we possibly make a shift to where we embrace art as a means towards what we want our students to do after they get out of high school?

Dan: It's a difficult question. I almost think about, I wonder, if we teach in wrongheaded ways because we were taught in wrongheaded ways in some ways. You know what I mean? It's like the group whose members were hazed in order to be part of the group believe that they need to haze the next generation to be part of the group, and I wonder if it continues to ramp up one cycle after another.

Yeah, school is boring. I think that in some ways what that's really about is control. I think that a lot of mandates and a lot of very set curricula is really about teaching compliance. For whatever reason, I think adults really like to control what teenagers are thinking about or pretend like we can control what teenagers are thinking about.

Creative expression is so much to do with the formation of an identity, personal engagement and investment in your own learning. What a student learns as they go through adolescence is more complex than we can possibly assess for, but I think one thing that our data probably tells us is that they learn to not be very creative, and they learn to protect themselves and not be too curious or ask too strange of questions, and I think that's the opposite, like you said, of what we want to be really teaching our students.

I think the control element comes from a lot of factors, one of which I've experienced personally. I'm sure you know this as a teacher, but it's a complicated thing to ask a question to which you don't know the answer, and a student has to fill in that space and meet you there and they can respond in a surprising way. I think that viewing works of art and creating works of art allow people to bring themselves into their learning process in a way that can be exactly the opposite of boring, but we don't know what directions that will lead in some ways. So, I think it ends up just being easier and more convenient for districts, schools, teachers, whoever, to really try to set forth on a very regimented, structured path from one grade to the next and in the process really teach our students that the range of human experiences and the aesthetic appreciation of music, or theater, or visual art is something that they can enjoy and get curious about on their own time. And you know, they do, they do, but it's not as deeply connected with their formal learning as I think it really should be.

Brian: Yeah. I have a young lady I've been working with this year and we sat down at the beginning of the year when I started this whole Heinemann Fellowship research, and I talked with her about it and she couldn't see the connection between creativity and what she was doing in school. She wrote poetry and things of that nature outside of school and she was always really... She considered herself to be an artistic person and she said, "What am I going to use this creativity for in school?", and here's a young lady who writes beautiful poetry and I have talked her into joining my slam team and we'd been working together a lot, but that initial conversation just opened my eyes so much. She said, "If I want to be a doctor, why do I need to be creative?"-

Dan: Oh my goodness.

Brian: ... and we've broken something there, you know?

Dan:  Absolutely.

Brian: I said, "Rita, how do you think that we're going to move beyond and cure the incurable thing? How are we going to make the next progression if we aren't creative?"-

Dan: Right. [crosstalk 00:02:00].

Dan: Who's more creative than doctors, right?

Brian: Exactly. We've strained that out of some of our students and it is disappointing. So, I was going to say, what would you say then, to a teacher that does feel this outside pressure through growth and through evaluations to teach towards it or to a district standard, to teach towards a district test when maybe in their heart they know that they should be allowing their students more creative choice, but don't find the time for it?

Dan: Yeah, it's a difficult question in some ways. I think every teacher in some ways has to make their own choices depending on who their students are. I've been in a situation myself where I have second year seniors who are kind of on their last shot and trying to pass a test to get the opportunity to go to college. I think in some rare circumstances like that, students have had such an unfair education for such a long time that it can be a teacher's best option to try to help them get through some gate, some formal gates-

Brian: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dan: ... but I think overwhelmingly, the majority of classrooms aren't in that situation. I really believe that many teachers don't feel like they have the time when the truth is, I don't think they have the time to not get involved in creativity and exploration of works of art. What I mean by that is, I think increasingly, even in the strictest standards, teacher evaluation, student assessment practices, students have to be incredibly creative and be able to think out of the box on demand. I think that teachers feel like they can control what students are learning when they teach to a test, but increasingly, the tests themselves are asking for students to be creative and to think critically on the spot. I think you said you teach it an AP class. Is that AP language or AP Lit?

Brian: Well I teach... I don't teach an AP class. I do teach sophomore honors-

Dan: Oh, okay.

Brian: ... which is AP track.

Dan: Right. That makes sense. That makes sense. The only reason I ask is the AP Literature test puts a poem in front of students-

Brian: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dan: ... and asks them with almost no further instruction to do a close reading and construct an essay in less than an hour in which they make meaning and support their claims with evidence in fairly sophisticated ways. The drill and kill method or a PowerPoint presentation is just never going to prepare a student for that kind of a test. So, thankfully in some ways, even these tests themselves are asking for more creative and critical thought, but more importantly I think, is that we don't even know what the world or the workforce will look like when students graduate. Our society changes around us at such a rate that we need people who are wide awake. I think I would be concerned that district mandates and fairly constricting curricula have a tendency to teach students to be compliant rather than to question, and I think that teachers really truly don't have time to allow their students to fall asleep. We need people who are curious, who question, who can look around, make meaning, who are literate in media, who can tell the difference between fact and opinion, and don't just take things as they're presented to them.

Brian: That argument would have convinced me if I wasn't already convinced. So, let's say that someone just heard that and they're like, "Okay. So, how can I make tiny changes maybe once or twice a week? What can I utilize to be more creative and allow my students that freedom in the classroom?". Are there any strategies that maybe you would pass along to a fellow English teacher?

Dan: I think one of the biggest things that I would say that a teacher can try is to model curiosity and co-learning. So, ask a question and don't tell them what to think and then see what happens. Right? That's a risky thing. Right? Your lesson can't depend on needing to get a particular answer, but leaving the space, really asking a question, and then following up with a, "What makes you say that?", and then they start to support it with evidence. I think the modeling of a genuine interest in what they have to say, that doesn't even require differentiating the content. You could be looking at the same paragraph that you would otherwise be looking at and instead of giving them too strict of a frame, you know, "Find five symbols in this paragraph", or something like that, you could pull out symbols and then ask them to make meaning of it and see what comes up. That would just require a different approach to the same material. I think those kind of little steps could be really helpful.

What about changing the order of the way a lesson might go? Right? So, rather than giving away all of the context first in a front loading approach, what if you withhold some context? Students make choices about key elements that are in a piece before seeing the piece themselves and then hopefully building up the curiosity to wonder and explore context on their own. I would also say.... Summarize that piece of advice by what if they do something before you tell them something? So, if they're doing activities before they're given information and they arrive at some conclusions, even perhaps shabby conclusions that they later change their mind about before you get to the formal teacher telling you things moment of the lesson. There's a great book called, Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? Do you know that book?

Brian: I do not know that book. No.

Dan: Yeah. So, there was this poet, Kenneth Koch, who in the 60s and 70s, roughly the same time as our education was being touted actually, and in a similar approach would go around the city teaching poetry to kids. Oftentimes, what he would do is he would take what he called poetry ideas out of great poems and have students play with poetry ideas before they saw what the big formal poet did with those same ideas. So, for example, do you know that E. E. Cummings's poem where he's apologizing for eating plums out of his friend's refrigerator?

Brian: Yeah, I do know that poem.

Dan:  What Koch would do is he would have students write an the apology for something they're not sorry about. So, he kind of gives away like an idea and people play around with it in very much of a playful way, but they're bringing themselves to that activity. Then they see how Cummings plays with it and it becomes this kind of interaction where by the time they're actually reading the poem, they're ready to engage with it in a way that can lead them into a deeper sense of connectedness and that they can notice the piece more deeply themselves.

Brian: I mean, that's outstanding. I wish that a lots of my fellow English teachers could even just hear that so they can make those quick changes because I know that those sorts of types of changes in my own practice has been profound for me this year, and having students become more curious about the content and allowing them a little room to play.

Dan: I really think this is related to why so many students hate Shakespeare. They hate it. I think a lot of teachers hate Shakespeare. I think a lot of teacher's teachers hated Shakespeare.

Brian: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dan: I think it's difficult. Teachers feel like they're supposed to understand it better than they do, and they go in there hoping to really get across what Shakespeare means from passage to passage. If they could just play around with the language and some staging choices and really co-learn with their students, they would really see things in the text that they couldn't possibly have seen there because the students coming in with a different perspective and it could really lead to some much more engaging non hate-filled exhausting Shakespeare lessons.

Brian: Well, it kind of goes back to what you were saying about the modeling of creativity, of modeling the curiosity as being as interested in the work as you want your students to be.

Dan: That's right. So, a post-colonial reading of the Tempest is something no English teacher could have thought about a hundred years ago, but at a certain point, someone who was enormously creative, started applying a different lens to a very old text in a fruitful way.

Brian: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dan: Now, perhaps we've turned a corner where now that's almost the only way the play is read. You know? So, maybe it'll swing back in some other directions, but students have to be able to make meaning and bring what they know about the world to the text in some interesting ways and I think that can lead to the essay that's surprising.

Brian: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dan: Right? To the piece that's not just telling us back the thing we told them, that learning by wrote really doesn't make as much sense when we're talking about works of art.

Brian: Right. I told my students at the beginning of the year, I said, "My goal at the end of the year is a prompt-less essay, that we just read a book and you write an essay on whatever it is that interests you", and the look on their faces day one was complete and utter horror. We've been working hard this year to kind of break out of that mold and that's what I'm hoping. We just finished Wuthering Heights. I just threw a whole bunch of creationism versus evolution at them and-

Dan: Oh, wow.

Brian: ... we were playing a lot in that space. I said, "Look, this is just because this is what I'm curious about, but I do not want you to write an essay on creationism and evolution if you do not have an understanding of creationism. You're going to have to attack this in your own way". It's taken us a long time to get there to where the horror is a little more just trepidation now-

Dan: Right.

Brian: ... but they're coming along with me. So, it's all right. I mean, everything that you've said is so wonderful. Are there ways that teachers can... that you could suggest teachers who maybe, like me, only visit New York every once in a while and have only access very limited... What should the rest of the country do to maybe help see your vision a little bit? Then we can end with that.

Dan: Sure. Well, I have to say I've taken on a related challenge to the one you were just talking about. One thing I found incredibly helpful on that was what we call the capacities for imaginative thinking-

Brian: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dan: ... which is something of a learning framework that's come out of Lincoln Center Education. Three of those capacities are: notice deeply, question, and make connections. Another one of them is, make meaning, but helping students define ways into pieces of literature, or works of art, or really any kind of challenging content, it's an enormously difficult and sophisticated thing to ask a student to do, particularly with a developing brain, but some of the scaffolds that I've seen work that are related to our study of works of art through aesthetic education is can we begin with just the facts? Right? What do you notice? That's a question that doesn't have one answer. So, it's fairly open, but it also levels the playing field. For everyone who's asked that question. It's just a sense-based question, "What are you noticing?", and from there, can we start to build some of the raw materials that we can eventually get toward meaning with? So, we're generating things that we can notice. Right? If a student starts to look at a painting or a difficult poem, I think in many ways they feel like they need to understand it, quote unquote, understand it immediately and take it all in, in all of its complexities, and our view is very much that a work of art is inexhaustible in its possibility as a learning tool, but a student can start to say what they notice, and from there they can start to ask questions and notice more deeply as they ask questions, and they can start to make connections. And as they start to cycle through noticing, questioning and connecting, they can really get towards some meaning making. I think as they go through that process, they can become more comfortable knowing what to do when they don't know what to do. Right?

Beyond that, I think the Lincoln Center Education website, there's some good information on there, including about the learning framework. We also host a summer forum in July where artists, teaching artists, teachers, administrators from around the country and around the world, come to Lincoln Center every year to learn about aesthetic education and how to take it back to their own practice, but more in the conceptual realm, I would say the writing of Maxine Green on aesthetic education could really spark some very interesting reflection on what we're trying to accomplish as teachers. So, I think some of those philosophical works could really be a helpful sort of touchstone.

Brian: I would love to thank Daniel for such an enlightening and inspiring conversation. For more details on the work that Daniel is doing, you can visit Lincoln Center education lincolncentereducation.org and check out all of the opportunities, it's a fantastic, fantastic organization in the pursuit of artistic endeavors in our public schools. Just amazing.

Next up, my interview with Ishita Patel.

Ishita: So my name is Ishita Patel and I'm a sophomore at Glenbard North High School.

Brian: Can you talk to me a little bit? I know that you had a meeting yesterday with your guidance counselor and you're getting ready for your junior and senior years. What was that meeting about, and can you just talk to me about the situation?

Ishita: So, I like to consider myself an academically driven student, but also creative, and I don't have a lot of slots in my schedule for anything really creative. I have a lot more academically based AP honors classes, and so the one class that I take is a band class, and that's probably one of my favorite classes out of the day, because it's the part of the day that I can like kind of explore more of my creative aspect of things. And so I went into this meeting to try and figure out, because I'm also a sports player, and so I have a waiver for marching band that allows me to skip out of gym so I can put a class in, because in our school, the way the system works is there are two elective slots, and I have a language and a band class. So that means I can't get my graduation requirements in, which is pretty restricting, because I have to get those in order to graduate.

So for this, I went in to see if I could ... because I don't think I'll be able to balance a sport with all the clubs and activities that I do, so I might not play in the spring. So I was going in to see if I can let go of that waiver and somehow fit in a gym class and fit in all my classes, and since I don't have any semester courses, they're all full year courses, it's either like an all or none situation, where either take it and I have to play the sport or I don't, and I don't take the class either and I kind of have like a ... So it depends, that's the only class that I can take, and I can't take one semester of that class either. So the one part of my day that I get to be a little bit more creative kind of falls through the cracks a little bit, and so I don't know if I'm willing to give that up or not, and so that's what we were talking about.

Brian: Do you think that you should have to choose. I mean you're, you're an exceptionally high performing academic student, which I never did that kind of work in high school, but I was involved in band, I was involved in sports and things of that nature, but I never felt that pull to have to choose either my artistic pursuits or my academic pursuits. Can you talk to me a bit about that frustration?

Ishita: Yeah, so I don't think I should have to choose between that, because another program that I applied for was the AP capstone program in the fall, and that's more of a research based program, and the career field that I want to go into is more medicine and the research part of that. So, if I dropped that class, I can also fit in band, but I don't think I should have to choose between being creative and being academically driven, because I consider myself an academically driven student as well, and I don't think it should be a choice of you're either smart or you're creative and I don't think that's the way that it should go.

Brian: Well, especially because I find that oftentimes the kids that are the highest performing academics are the ones that are in band, that are in art, that are in those kind of creative pursuits.

Ishita: Well yeah, that's kind of like the balance of the day. I know that there are students that take all academically driven classes across the board, but I feel like this is the one part of my day where I kind of get to be a little bit more me and I get to do what I want to do and that kind of gives me like a little mental break, and so when I get back to those academic classes, I kind of feel refreshed and have the energy to continue to be able to study as hard as I do or do all the things that I want to do as well.

Brian: Speaking of those kinds of creative pursuits, can you talk to me just about how you utilize maybe your creative ... you talked about it being sort of a break, but do you see that there's places where that creativity allows you to be more successful in your academic classes?

Ishita: Well yeah, in this class too, a lot of the way we learned through analyzing plays and analyzing literature is through creative aspects, and that opens your eyes to new possibilities, because there are things that you can see with straight eye analysis, but if you think about what else is going on at the time and you explore it from different angles, there's different things that you pick up on. I kind of feel like that's kind of applicable to every field. I want to go into medicine, but I feel like medicine is also pretty creative as well. You have to think about different things and think of it from different perspectives, because one way might not cure everything that needs to be cured, and so I feel like creativity is applicable in any field really, it just has to be brought out a little bit more, and I feel like my day lets me do that a little bit.

Brian: So we've done a lot of things in this class. If you think back over the past year, is there anything that stood out to you that has helped you see literature in a new light?

Ishita: So, I don't know if you remember ... You probably do. The one project that we did with the political cartoons, and then it was like a political cartoon and then you got an essay, or like a article, and then you've cut out pieces of the article that you felt fit in with the political cartoon, I feel like that was really interesting. What were you reading at the time?

Brian: We were reading We Should All Be Feminists, and then that was paired with getting us ready for Taming of the Shrew.

Ishita: Yeah. So that was four different things all put together, it was Taming of the Shrew, it was the article, it was the political cartoon, or so three different things, but it was a way to bring it all together in a new light. I wouldn't have related that political cartoon to Taming of the Shrew and this other article without having to do it all together at one time. And so by the time we got to reading Taming of the Shrew, we had this outside knowledge of this is what the world thinks and this is what Taming of the Shrew shows us and how that relates, and then you can also connect that to today's society and how it just opens up a lot more perspective to this novel.

Instead of going in with a one line, I'm going to read it and I'm going to write an essay, but it lets you open it up and bring it back to the real world and now, and I think that interests me and a lot of other students too. Instead of just saying this is a novel that we're going to read, and we're going to write an essay on, I'm going to forget about it, it helps us learn about the world today too.

Brian: Yeah, that applicable skill that that'll hopefully transfer, not only from this class, but to like your AP Euro class or an AP history class or whatever it is that you might be taking next, and then getting you ready for those AP lit and rhetorical skills that you'll need next year. Where do you think your passion for creativity or the arts, what do you think sparked that for you?

Ishita: Honestly, I'm not really sure, because in my family, we're the traditional Asian family, that academics, go all the way studying, go to college, get a good job that's really well paying and that's kind of like what your life should be, and so when I was younger, I never thought that creativity would really be my pursuit, but my grandma actually, she really liked to draw, she loves drawing, and so after I got home from kindergarten, I'd be like, "Can you draw me a picture? I want to color it." And so that's kind of how it started, and then in my culture we celebrate a holiday called (foreign language), which .... it's to celebrate God and stuff like that, but my favorite part of that whole holiday was the dancing.

So, there's a whole religious aspect to it, but I kind of just like to dance, and so by the time we got into high school, we have a club called ISA, which is the Indian Student Association, and every year we put on a whole show, it's based on dancing. And so I didn't really do much creative things in middle school, it was art club and kind of like a traditional thing, but when I got here, I was given the opportunity by Mr. [Ere 00:36:48] who runs the show, to captain a dance, and that pushed me into everything else.

So I played band, and that was all against my parents will, they were like, "Nope, don't do that," and I pushed past their buttons a little bit and I was like, "I'm still going to keep doing it," and so I still play now, but that that band and that together let me open up to a lot more different creative things as my high school experience went on, and I'm only a sophomore so there's probably still a lot more that I don't know yet.

Brian: Speaking of that have, I mean you're two years in, you've had this high school experience for long enough to kind of inform your own views as to how you might want to see a school day approached. If you could, and I know that we have talked about this in the past, but if you could and you could rebuild your school day, what would your school day look like?

Ishita: So, 'cause considering for my specific school day, I know I want to go into medicine, so that's math and science based, and I get that, but then there's history and English courses, and English is really important to me too. It's a way that you kind of get to see the world, it's through articles and literature that you kind of get to see how the rest of the world is doing outside of the little bubble, but I think I would forgo a traditional history class, because I get that's important for political aspects and stuff, but that's not the career field I would want to go into. I think people should be able to structure their day depending on what they feel like they need and what they want to do.

So I know someone's going to pursue the arts really, probably doesn't think they need to take a science class and learn about the human body, you know? So I feel like that's kind of where I'm going with that is I wouldn't want to take a history class, and I'd probably put another science class or maybe something more creative, just let my day flow a little bit differently than it does now with all the restrictions that society and the school system's placed.

Brian: What about the length of the school day?

Ishita: I don't really enjoy waking up early because I do do a lot of clubs and stuff, so sometimes I get home around like six, seven o'clock. There were days where I went from my sport to a band concerts, so I got home at like 10 o'clock, and I still had all my honors and AP homework and yeah, I use my lunch and I try to sneak it in another classes or passing periods or whatever, but there's still so much homework left and so sometimes I'll do it during this class, and gets in the way of that class, and me getting my homework done. So, maybe I feel like a lot of students would benefit from not shorter school day per say, but maybe it later start to a school day, because I know a lot of us have to stay up really late.

Right now, there's a theater production going on. So all those kids are getting home at 10 o'clock, and they're in the production, so they can't get their homework done while the show is going on, and then they go and do their homework and it's one or two o'clock, and then they get up at six o'clock and you have to be at school by seven. So I feel like a later school day would kind of help with that, and not exactly a shorter school day, but I mean a later school. It would be nice.

Brian: How's your writing journey been this year? What sort of things have you learned or taken away from the different elements of the creative writing as well as the formal writing that we've done?

Ishita: So last year, writing was pretty structured for us, it was a system and I only got into this class, forgo that system and kind of just do what you want as long as it makes, and a lot of us flipped. We were like, "What are you talking about?" Cause we're so used to a guided structure, you set it up, you put a quote in and then you have three seconds to explain it, and then you set it up and you put a quote in and by the time we got to this essay now, you're just like, "Just do whatever you want." And that was ... it was a little scary, because there's nothing to guide you, it's just you and your ... it's like how the real world goes.

Scholars don't have like, "Oh you have to write a three paragraph essay ... because you read this," but they write to write and to explore their ideas and put their opinion out into the world, and that doesn't have to be in a set format, that doesn't have to be an a three paragraph essay with two pieces of evidence in between, and that's what I learned is that you can write a really academically strong essay without it having to be specifically formatted, and that was pretty interesting. I never saw it from that perspective.

Brian: I truly believe that you do not need a prompt to get good work out of kids. You guys need the time to process, you need the support to be able to explore and to find your way through the dark. Because in college, that was the first time that I was ever allowed to do that kind of work, and it opened my eyes to what actual literary research was, and what my writing could possibly be in the academic world. And it was groundbreaking for me, and I don't want you all to go through four years of high school without experiencing what it really means to explore your own interests and your own inquiry through research and literature. So, thank you. I know that you are a busy young lady, she had to get out of a class to come do this with me, but this is Ishita Patel and she is going to do a remarkable things, so thank you.

Ishita: Thank you.

Brian: And that will wrap it up for this first podcast about the creative desert. Thank you so much to my guests, Ishita Patel and Daniel Wallace of Lincoln Center Education, and thank you so much for listening.

Learn more about the Heinemann Fellows and their work at Heinemann.com

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brianmeltonBrian J. Melton started his career in radio, journalism, and public relations. He integrates the experiences from his first career into his current role as an English and Creative Writing teacher at Glenbard North High School in Carol Stream, IL. He also advises a slam poetry team, who in 2017 performed at the Louder Than A Bomb youth competition. Brian believes in the power of conversation and self-reflection and infuses these values into his practice as an educator and leader. You can follow him on Twitter @Beezy_Melt

Topics: Heinemann Fellows, Podcast, Creative Writing, Heinemann Podcast, Student Agency, Brian Melton

Date Published: 09/15/19

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