Beyond the classroom window the snow fell. Excited voices remarked on the enormity of the flakes and the quickly disappearing playing field. Meteorological spring and we should see frog spawn and early hazel flowering. A cruel twist of fate in nature’s calendar or an opportunity to spark inquisitive and creative minds?
Looking across the sea of expectant faces, I presented a picture of the north face of the Eiger. Fitting, I thought, as the wintry weather tightened its grip around the world outside. It was a ‘thinking on your feet’ cover lesson to a top set year 7, and I wanted a vocabulary warm-up – five words identifying what they could see. Listening to their ideas, a plethora of rocks, clouds, snow and sun hung awkwardly in the creative climate. Did students really read? Was the up and coming World Book Day going to be a game changer? Who knows, the snow smothered this year’s and rendered my Cat in the Hat costume useless (maybe it was before?) But what I can be sure of are the four words I shared with the students. They were simple, honest and driven by my passion for reading and writing. “I see a monster.” Silence. I continued, “Its face scowls as snow interrupts his view of his world below.” I’d got them. Language technique discussion ensued and the once simple words erupted to stage two vocabulary. They were on a mission to climb the north face, with crampons, ropes and ice axes. As a token gesture to World Book Day, I threw in Steve Backshall’s name and asked if anyone had read his adventure books. I knew he was currently waiting to climb the Eiger – half of the students recognised him as the ‘Deadly 60 man.’ Another golden carrot to keep them hooked – or was it? In their heads, they were already looking at the mountain from a distance, describing the air as ‘a reckless wind’ and the mountain ‘a sleeping ogre.’ With challenges to begin sentences with prepositions, vary sentence types and no first person, they had pulled themselves into their own imaginations and were riding the waves of their creativity.
Still the snow was falling. Paragraph two, the climb began and they were informed that the weather outside was just like they were experiencing on the mountain. They couldn’t go back as it was dangerous. Pressing on, a ledge had to be reached, fifty feet above them where they could anchor themselves to the mountain face and hunker down. Not one word was uttered.
Albert Einstein famously said “to stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play.” I was in my creative element and the students were most definitely self-controlled in theirs. They were practising pretending – coming up with alternative ways of being and of seeing an issue. Creativity was crashing through the once vocabulary awkward climate. Now, I love the outdoor adventure and can often be found in the great outdoors, so I threw in some facts about the Eiger. It seemed a critical element in the creative process. It sharpened their expressive use of vocabulary, coloured their imagery and channelled solutions to how they could reach that ledge.
It was a joy to read and hear their descriptive writing as it unfolded. I also teach year 9 and I know that they seem to think differently. Some of that student creativity seems lost to logic, reason and facts in school. Brain power in reality takes over and the creative imagination seems to take a step back. This is where reading can play its part – keeping the creativity alive and lifting the barriers faced by children with difficulty reading. Reading difficulty should not outweigh reading desire. Vocabulary should flow with new reading skills being built on mastery. Maybe there wouldn’t have been that uncomfortable grey pallet of words at the start of the lesson if this were the case. Still, the wintry weather had played its part as a stimulating backdrop for the cover lesson – imagine what twenty chapters of fiction could do to turn that picture of the Eiger into an art gallery.