Boston Scores is a team-based program that blends organized soccer with creative writing and service learning. The year of writing is split into two themes, the Power of Poetry which ends with a poetry slam starring the students, and Writing for the Community which helps students write and address the needs of their own community. At the end of the year, student work is published by Scores.The program is well established in Boston and within the poetry community in the city. Scores has served students at the Hennigan K-8 School, for example, for fifteen years.
How do you think creativity influences student success outside the program whether that’s school or just their personal lives?
We try to make sure the kids know that it’s okay to think outside the box. There is a teamwork, problem solving, and critical thinking piece to it. For an adult, there’s always one way. We’re trying to instill for our students that whichever way you get to the end goal is okay. Our coaches know our students the best so they can choose lessons and pieces of the curriculum that work well or adjust if it doesn’t go well. Either way, the students will meet their learning objective. It’s okay to make mistakes through trial and error, and that’s in both writing and soccer. Whatever way you get to score a goal or get to defend is good. You can defend with your foot, you can defend with your head, you can defend with your face. The end goal is to be part of a team, and it’s not about being the winning team. The goal could be to make three passes during the game, or the goal for writing could be to write freely for five whole minutes.
What can you do to create an environment where students feel comfortable making mistakes?
Two very important things to incorporate as a coach are consistency and excitement. Consistency means you’re showing up for the students so they know to expect you, and that also means you work through a routine with them. Part of that is the strength of the curriculum we draw from. Because it’s very structured, we’re able to fall back on that structure. It creates a sense of security for students so they’re going to do x, y and z within this context. Then they feel more comfortable. When students are comfortable, they’re able to make mistakes. It is also important to address how you frame mistakes. We were making posters last week and a student messed up while writing, and we gave an example of a mom who was an illustrator who would always say “Oh, just because you did something wrong, it doesn’t mean it’s a mistake because you can turn it into something new.” We reframe that idea with students because they have that set idea of what they think mistakes are, but if you bring them into a structure, you’re able to address it. Excitement is important as it relates to the subject material, because the students can feed off the excitement of their writing coaches during the poetry section, which they may not have experience with yet. If students become excited about the process, you see students who think they made a mistake, but their teammates are saying, “No that’s really cool. You might think it’s wrong, but actually it’s really cool this way.” If students can see that there’s buy-in to the work even though they may be struggling, in pretty much any context, you want to fail well so you can learn and do better. Showing excitement about those mistakes gets students to reconsider them a bit.
How do you make room for creativity in activities that might not typically prioritize being creative?
Routines and rituals are so important. The expectation is that when students come into a writing block or a soccer practice, they’ll have an opening circle. Then they’ll have a teacher-led lesson combined with a student practice so they get freedom to try and make mistakes. They have a reflection piece and a closing circle as well. Grows and Glows is one example of a reflection activity we like to use. It is important to be intentional about the way that your practice is being run. Kids say they don’t like rules and they say they don’t like routines, but they really fall back on it. Then when we do something different, they’ll say, “Wait a minute, that’s not what we usually do! What’s up with that?” They call you out. The Hennigan girls do a free write and it doesn’t matter how long. It could be a minute, two minutes, or five minutes. They know the expectation is that they’re going to have a free write. During that time, the expectation is that I can write whatever I want in my journal. If I want to I can share it. I don’t have to share it, but I’m going to be writing whatever it is that I want to write about. Sometimes the coaches give them a theme. Sometimes they can write about their day. Routines are important and they can be flexible. If one student can write for thirty seconds, go ahead and write for thirty seconds and build on that. Scaffold it so that each time they add time so by the end potentially they could be writing for five minutes straight and say, “Wait! I have so much more to write and you only gave me five minutes.” We also have dedicated journals for each student. It’s a small thing. It’s in the classroom. They know exactly where it is and at the end of the program, they take it home. They can continue writing. We’ve had kids that bring their journals from previous years and they want to continue writing on that same journal. Installing these small consistencies within the program really helps.
Let’s go for another specific practice example with the most effective project or activity to foster creativity that you all use. Could be something from the curriculum or anything.
What is your most effective practice to foster creativity?
The free write just is so important. Even at professional workshops we’ve attended, it is always based around a free write. Often people are scared or nervous, or they have hesitation when they’re going to write. We break down any expectations, rules or structure, by simply writing anything you can for five minutes… We’ll tell students, “You’re going to write for five minutes, and your goal is to not stop. Write whatever comes into your mind. Write as much down as you can.” It becomes very fluid to see a page fill up and to see your pen or pencil keep moving. It also allows you to say, “Okay, this is what happens when I don’t censor myself, when I don’t stop to question myself. Is that the right word to use? Is that exactly what I mean?” They think about it less and then it becomes “I’m writing what I’m feeling.” The more they can write the true feelings they have inside of them, the more willing they are to accept writing. When you open with a free write, all other writing is easier to begin. Now you might not know the exact words to use for an assignment, but you know you can fill up a line. It’s a huge way to establish confidence.