Creativity in Student Work

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This post originally appeared on May 18, 2015.

This was the year that I embraced creative projects in my literature courses.  My department chair has been doing them for ages, and he’s been very encouraging.  His only stipulation is that English majors must write a long seminar-style paper at some point in an upper-division course- but we leave the choice of when to write that paper to the students.  Additionally we’ve got lots of non-majors taking our courses, and we want them to see connections across disciplines, so working on something other than pure literary criticism is useful to them. So this year in addition to the traditional term paper, I’ve given students the option to put together creative projects or write papers based on their own majors, using the literature. For example, several psychology majors have described the pathology of characters.

In the fall, I had the students put together an exhibition of their work. This spring, I coordinated with my department chair, who taught the other upper-division literature course, to have the students put on a mini conference where students gave brief presentations about their work.

Students who take the creative option must still write a researched introduction, but they’re otherwise given free rein to do what they want.  Letting them explore literature in this way not only gives them the opportunity to make connections between the material and their own interests, but also gives them the opportunity to really shine.

And shine they did.

One student used social media to explore Katherine Mansfield’s stories, another created a board game based on Northanger Abbey; someone created a commonplace book of tips for how to get by in Bath (also based on research about Jane Austen), while another wrote and performed songs based on Wide Sargasso Sea.  Students in both semesters developed thoughtful lesson plans using the works that we read; both semesters, students reworked pieces of literature as film scripts. And the students who opted for traditional papers wrote some incredibly thoughtful and thorough scholarship.

Sometimes I bemoan the fact that I don’t know how to teach students to be creative.  This semester in particular, I was reminded that they already are — and that I just need to give them room to be so.

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About the Author
Emily Isaacson received her BA from Augustana College (Illinois) and her MA and PhD from the University of Missouri. Previously at Chowan University, where she was the coordinator of the Chowan Critical Thinking Program, Emily is now working as an assistant professor of English at Heidelberg University. She has presented her work on early modern literature and on teaching literature at meetings of the Shakespeare Association of America, the Renaissance Society of America, South Atlantic Modern Language Association, and the College English Association. She also frequently reviews books about teaching literature in the classroom.