Want to Keep Students Engaged? Help Them Get Creative

Shawn_BenderBy Shawn Bender, Fisher Fellow, KIPP Dallas-Fort Worth

I have three little children, so I watch a lot of cartoons. One of my kids’ favorites is a show called Caillou. One episode really resonated with me: the main character had a fever, but didn’t want to stay home from school because he had a part in a school play.

I understand that feeling. When I was in school, academics alone weren’t enough to keep me engaged in the classroom. What made me excited about learning was doing creative things like writing a poem, acting out a scene from a book, drawing a picture, or expressing a mathematical equation through language. On days we did those things, I looked forward to school.

Some students do well with traditional academic activities, like memorizing multiplication tables or diagramming sentences. But some learn much better when asked to be creative. A great school has to nurture all different kinds of learning styles—and that includes plenty of opportunities to tackle academic subjects in a creative way.

This is something that our team has kept in mind as we prepare to open KIPP Pleasant Grove Primary in Dallas. We want to help students own their creativity and ingenuity through an arts-infused curriculum. We will start out by offering dedicated arts classes in a variety of disciplines. In addition to a traditional school music program, we’re also planning opportunities for students to explore visual arts, creative writing, music, theater, and dance throughout the school day. For example, as part of our Physical Education program, we’ll offer a dance class where students can learn to express themselves through movement.

As our school grows beyond the first year, we will broaden our creative offerings. We’re planning partnerships with local arts organizations, including the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, to have artists working alongside teachers right in the school. We will also have arts teachers collaborating with core subject teachers to infuse creative learning opportunities into literacy and math classes.

This isn’t just about letting students have fun. It’s also about academic rigor. We want our students to have a strong foundation of literacy and critical thinking, so that they have the power to teach themselves new things throughout their lives. A well-crafted creative exercise can help students flex those critical thinking muscles. It engages those who might otherwise feel lost, while providing students with an “in” to the material—whether it’s writing a script based on themes from a novel, performing a piece of music that relates to the book, or drawing a picture based on their textual interpretation.

As a principal, a school founder, and a father, I know how important it is for KIPP Pleasant Grove Academy’s students to be excited about learning. If they are anything like I was, that excitement comes along with chances to be creative. Keep that in mind, and you’ll have kids excited about coming to school!


Shawn Bender is founding and leading KIPP Pleasant Grove Academy through the KIPP Fisher Fellowship. Interested in exploring a career with KIPP? View all open positions here. >> 


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