Lee never feels like she has any good ideas. She wishes she only had to take math and science classes. It’s not that she hates English and history, but too often she needs to come up with ideas for projects. She would much rather have her teachers lecture and tell her what she needs to know for the test.
Lee has a great memory for facts. She is in eleventh grade and while she scored well on her SAT’s, she is struggling with what to write for her college application essay. She is supposed to write about a personal experience and Lee has no idea what to write about.
Lee has always had a hard time coming up with topics for papers. She hated class projects where she needed to come up with the most creative new uses for junk or brainstorming ideas for how to design the new school courtyard. She was relieved when she started taking higher level math and science classes where the emphasis was more on problem solving and using what she had learned, and less on novel problems.
Lee is beginning to panic about her English project due at the end of the semester. The class had to choose a book from the teacher’s list, describe the character’s development through the book, and compare the characters choices in life to their own lives. Lee chose the book “Siddhartha” and submitted a timeline of his life for the first draft. While the timeline was accurate, her teacher told Lee the assignment was about description and comparing the character’s life to her own. Lee started to write down some quotes from the book, but she is struggling to put them in her own words. Lee asked her teacher for help and her teacher said, “Just be creative.” Lee tried, but she couldn’t think of anything.
Lee doesn’t like questions that start, “What do you think….” She would much rather tell the teacher what she knows. On a recent open book essay test, Lee became more and more frustrated because the teacher asked open-ended questions with more than one possible answer. Rather than try to think about the critical ideas to compare, she kept trying to find the answer in her textbook.
Lee wants to go to medical school right after college and wants to only apply to pre-med programs. Lee’s mother wants her to go to a Liberal Arts College to get a broader education than just science and math classes. Lee doesn’t want to take any other classes. She tried to explain that she doesn’t get as anxious when she’s in a class where she just needs to learn the information and not explain it.
- Remembering facts
- Attention to details
- Time management
- Possibly Medicine
- Generating original ideas
- Relating new knowledge to personal experiences
Lee would benefit greatly from gaining a better understanding of her own profile of strengths and weaknesses. By becoming more metacognitive, or thinking about her own thinking, Lee will increase her understanding of why she prefers and does better with certain subjects and assignments over others, and she will be better able to consider her future academic and career options, for example, to find a medical program that is the best match for her.
Within the classroom, Lee’s teachers should make an effort to create an environment in which she feels safe and supported in taking risks, using her imagination and thinking in innovative ways. This may require providing Lee with more structure at first, as she becomes more accomplished at generating ideas independently.
- Encourage Lee to pursue her interests in math and science. She may have a particular affinity area, or area of focused interest, within these fields. Pursuing an affinity area in the context of classroom assignments may not only benefit Lee’s acquisition of skills, but may help her to move into areas of thinking she had not yet explored.
- Set aside a space in the classroom where students can go to strengthen their strengths and gain expertise in their affinity areas. Allow these activities to be grade-free to eliminate the anxiety that Lee feels about being graded on activities that require creativity.
- Provide Lee with the initial support, or scaffolding, she needs in order to be successful with an assignment. For example, provide prompting for selecting a topic, help getting started in a brainstorm, guidance deriving the inferences needed to comprehend a passage or problem, etc.
- Help Lee link new material to what she already knows. For example, encourage her to recognize patterns in science, such as laws of nature, and in math, such as patterns in word problems.
- Provide opportunities for Lee to be an active processor and producer of information. For example, have her restate learned information in another modality, e.g., verbally summarize what was read, or draw a semantic map of what was heard, in order to help Lee think about, or represent, information in different ways in her mind.
- Develop activities that promote Lee’s ability to think ahead, or predict possible outcomes. For example:
- Implement collaborative activities in which she and a partner start with the same beginning and work together to predict outcomes, or start with the same outcome and work together to determine what led to the outcome.
- In writing use story starter activities, collaborative writings where each student contributes a certain portion.
- Provide Lee with a strategy sheet to use during problem solving activities in which estimation, prediction, and outcome comparison are necessary steps.
- Provide options during assignments and projects. For example, a project about an historical event may result in a written report, an oral presentation, the building of a model, or a demonstration. Allow Lee to choose how she will present her knowledge.
- Establish a strong alliance for Lee with a “cognitive mentor” who will model the use of higher order cognitive processes that aid problem solving, brainstorming, etc. This mentor may be a person from the community, such as a physician or health professional. A key teaching function for this mentor will be to allow Lee to practice using brainstorming and creative processes under his/her guidance.