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Over the last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed experimenting with illustrated videos.  Here are three of my examples:


One of the questions people ask is, “How did you make these?”  This is often followed up by a second question, “How long did it take?”

That second question is tough. Embarrassing, even. When I did the Life is Epic video, it took me five hours. The other two videos took closer to two hours each. What I want to be able to say is, “Yeah, I can knock one of those out in half an hour.”

I’m dealing with a similar experience in planning out my college classes. I’m used to planning quickly. Suddenly, I’m trying to wrap my brain around what it means to give homework (something I haven’t done in seven years) and how to plan out an entire semester into eight different four-hour blocks. I’m working with new standards and new expectations and a new age group. The end result is that I’m slow.

I contrast this to the act of writing a blog post, which usually takes me ten or fifteen minutes. I don’t agonize over word choice. I don’t plan out an outline. I’m not methodical. I’m quick. And here’s the thing: when I force myself to slow down, the quality actually suffers. I blog best when I blog quickly.

So, this has me thinking about what it means to encourage creativity in the classroom. We use terms like “maker mindset,” but we miss the fact that creative work often starts out as slow, messy, and inherently frustrating. There’s so much fear and reticence when you are starting out. You’re constantly monitoring and adjusting. You have no sense of workflow. You stumble around. You take too many breaks. You give up too easily only to turn around and stubbornly stick with something that will never work out.

Over time, though, you get faster. You don’t need to monitor and adjust quite so often. You reflect while working rather than waiting until afterward. You learn those tiny skills and mental habits that initially trip you up in the creative journey. Then, one day you realize, “I’m actually pretty fast at this.”

The same thing happens with students. There’s a certain creative fluency that simply takes time to master. For all the talk of “life hacks” and “productivity hacks” and “growth hacks,” this isn’t something you can hack. You just have to walk through this phase. It’s messy and it’s slow and sometimes it’s frustrating. But it’s vital for growth. Things are slow at first.

I’m not suggesting that speed is a bad thing (unless by “speed,” you refer to the drug — which is most certainly a bad thing). Sometimes people glorify working slowly and miss the fact that some of the best creative types work quickly. After all, watch a five-star chef and you’ll see that speed matters. Watch a master teacher and you might realize that she knows how to plan an entire unit quickly, making split-second decisions that seem to come out of nowhere. See a muralist and work and it might look frantic (even if it is calm and mindful). But what you miss in the process are the hours a chef spent awkwardly chopping carrots or the half day a new teacher spent scribbling notes of project ideas or the slow and clunky brush strokes a muralist used before ever getting the permission to paint an entire wall.

So, back to the classroom. If we want students to hit a place of creative flow in life, we need to give them time to experience this phase of being excruciatingly slow. There’s no shortcut. There’s no scaffolding that will let them bypass it. They simply need more time. And given the breakneck pace of school, this notion of deliberately embracing huge, inefficient blocks of time is a foreign idea. Maybe it’s time we slowed down a little.

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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me

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