To Be a Creator, Or Not to Be?


Photo by D.Richert

I am a die-hard literacy teacher.  I’m talking the type where the house is on fire and I walk out holding my writer’s notebook and a stack of mentor texts, forget everything else.  My classroom experience is all in 6-12 literacy classrooms, and I am most happy when talking with a fellow reader and writer about what they are working on and where to go next.  My husband has adjusted to the constant barrage of book talks I tend to give him, and has come around to seeing how important mentor models are in life.   Being a reader and a writer has been a core piece of my identity my entire life, the two things I have always been the most sure of even during the times when I’m unsure of everything else.

Now, you may be saying to yourself,  “That’s great, Danielle.  Weird that you are talking about here, but great.  You do you.”  

But as I was reading this week’s material, I couldn’t help but notice how the creation process of copy, transform, combine beautifully mirrors the process I encourage with writers: imitate, create variations, combine what you have learned.  It was a process I not only recognized, but practice in my teaching, learning, and living.  Both the creation process and the writing process are spurred on, are electric with possibility and (dare I say) a little bit of magic when we ask, “This is great, but what if I just…?”  It was a connection point for me that framed the rest of the text and ideas of the week in a way that I could relate and understand.  

Let’s take the issue of respecting and honoring the intellectual property of others while we embark on innovation and creation.  Throughout all of our school careers (as students and teachers) we have had the fear of plagiarism placed in our hearts.  Academic integrity contracts are signed and consequences for plagiarizing can have lasting impacts; it is a topic of discussion in the majority of classes from upper primary to university.  We know about and utilize the tools such as TurnItIn, Grammerly, and UniCheck that help us avoid plagiarism.  As I kept making the connection between plagiarism and intellectual property, I couldn’t help but ask, “Why isn’t the same focus, priority, and importance placed on plagiarism mirrored in the honoring and respecting intellectual property?  I don’t mean the fear of course, but the recognition that this is other’s work, much like text is others’ words.  Just as we teach how to be inspired by, and learn from the words of others, couldn’t we explicitly teach how to be inspired by and learn from the creation of others?  

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Again, I turn to the process I use as a writer.  If I want to learn how to use the power of allusion and juxtaposition in poetry, I am going to turn to the well-known and well-loved poem by George Ella Lyon, “Where I’m From.”  I want to study her poem to learn how she plays with specific moments in her life, how she sets up the opposites of her experiences to create an emotional impact, and then try it myself.  My poem is going to mirror her’s in several aspects: the phrasing, the techniques, the rhythms.  It is a variation of her original work, and I am going to honor that by giving credit to the original creator.  My poem is not her poem, but my poem would not exist without her’s.  Imitating her style is the training wheels of writing; the goal is to use what I have learned to take those training wheels off and fly on my own.  Can’t it be the same with digital use as well?     

George Couros, in his book The Innovator’s Mindset, states, ““With access to a plethora of digital resources and information, it’s important to foster a culture of creation versus consumption.”  When it comes to intellectual property we encounter through digital media, are we teaching learners to consume or create?  Are we, as educators, modeling consumption or creation?  Are the images and audio we use in our slidedeck presentations ones we hurriedly grabbed from google without checking the fair use policy?  Or, are they ones we copied, transformed, combined, and created ourselves?  Couros goes on to state, “Consider how much deeper learning could be if “creation” was a non-negotiable in the learning for both us and our students” (emphasis my own). 

Mind. Blown.

If we modeled creation over consumption for our learners, even if that meant our presentations lacked the bells and whistles to grab attention at first (“Hey, learners!  How would you visualize this information?  Let’s create that image/audio/gif right now!”), how would that shift our mindset and understanding of intellectual property?  Would our growing identities as creators, strengthen our respect for other creators?  Would having to ask ourselves the question of how and when we would like our creations to be used by others, encourage us to discover and honor that same desire from others? 

Is the key to teaching, learning, and honoring creations, and by extension copyright measures, of others as simple as becoming creators ourselves?

2 comments to “To Be a Creator, Or Not to Be?”
2 comments to “To Be a Creator, Or Not to Be?”
  1. Hi Danielle,

    Thanks for sharing! I found your post very interesting in a number of ways.

    Firstly, I can really relate to what you say about mentor texts and how “imitating style is the training wheels of writing.” For my course 1 final project, I created a narrative nonfiction writing unit called social justice heroes
    that relies heavily on the use of mentor texts as models. When working with EAL students especially, I find that having the mentor texts is necessary in order for students to understand what the final product is supposed to look like. Looking through mentor texts for elements of craft also helps us to create assessment criteria and checklists for what we should include in our own writing. I especially love using picture books as mentor texts because they are easily accessible to learners at varying levels of English proficiency.

    Another part of your post that made me think was when you said we need to”recognize that text is others’ words.” When reading to my son, I am very intentional about sharing the title, author, and illustrator of the book. I don’t want him to think that “Goodnight Moon” is just by Margaret Wise Brown because the illustrations are by Clement Hurd, and they are just as important (if not more) to the story as the text. However, when people talk about that book, they never mention him. I use the same principle when talking about books with my students. We always note the author and do a little research on them before diving into a story. Looking at creative work without paying any attention to the creator and their context seems like a denial of the origin and roots of the piece.

    Lastly, I love when you say that we should “model creation over consumption for our learners.” I agree with you 100%. But, in my haste to create slide decks at the last minute, I hardly ever create my own resources. I usually just search online and then copy/paste an exemplar that I find (and attach the URL link below it). It would be so much more powerful if I co-created the exemplar with my students. I’m always in such a rush to get to the end of a unit that I stress the product over the process. But you are right in saying that there is value in co-creation and in working with students to produce content that is meaningful for them and that they take ownership of.

    Thank you for all this food for thought! I am hoping it leads to some changes in my daily teaching practice.


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