At this point, it’s almost a cliché: creation over consumption, as many educators say. We want our students to be doing much more creating than they are consuming, and it makes perfect sense. In many educators’ eyes, creating requires making something out of nothing; it requires creativity, imagination, and innovation. But what we often forget is that it’s virtually impossible to create something out of nothing. We all must start somewhere, and that somewhere is with consumption.
Should we really value creation over consumption?
I know, this sounds a bit counterintuitive, a little like the pendulum swinging back to the other end of the of spectrum, but I might argue that by valuing creation over consumption, we’ve neglected the idea that our lives are filled with consumables — consumables that are valuable, consumables that spark our creativity, and consumables that lay the foundation for imagining new things. After all, the idea of “innovation,” isn’t necessarily creating something brand new; it’s taking what already exists, mixing it together, and doing something new with it.
Take for instance, my humanities lesson yesterday. It’s all a part of a scope and sequence around studying poetry. It’s different, though, in the sense that I’ve laid it in the context of American history, and I’ve coupled many of these poetic provocations with multimedia, including video, image, and song. To begin our study of Westward Expansion yesterday, I placed four provocations around the room:
(1) A picture of “American Progress;”
(2) A quote from “Manifest Destiny” by John L. O’Sullivan;
(3) The lyrics to “This Land is Your Land,” accompanied by a map of the Louisiana Purchase;
(4) and the lyrics to the Peter, Paul, and Mary song, “One Tin Soldier.
Students bustled around the room, writing down questions like “Why would anyone kill someone for gold?” and making inferences like “I think the woman in the picture is showing the settlers how to go West!”, all the while creating their own concept maps that showed what they discovered from the four provocations. It wasn’t long before my walls and boards were covered with a barrage of post-it notes, colors, and images, showing that my students had, in fact, consumed a great deal of the content. But this kind of consumption was different. It wasn’t simple intake and regurgitation; it was a nuanced version of consumption, and this is called prosumption.
What is prosumption?
Prosumption, by definition, is an economic concept that focuses on both consumption and creation, emphasizing neither one more than the other. Instead, a prosumer’s attitude on the classroom focuses on helping students strike a balance between consuming and creating material, so that they are not only learning how to take in the world around them, but so that they are also learning how to interpret it.
As a result of these four simple provocations, a clear process, and some time to work on their own, each of my students personalized their own experience beautifully. They all ended up with different numbers of post-it notes, a variety of artifacts for documentation, and the concept maps that mapped their own, unique, individual thinking.
Lessons of Student-Driven Curriculum
I’ve been doing lessons like this for the longest time, but it wasn’t until recently that I could actually pinpoint why they were working so well. While provocation, student-driven curriculum, and multiple paths to learning are underpinnings to the success of lessons like these, I’ve realized that the true power lies in the reciprocal nature of prosumption — of both creating and consuming material — because at the center of this synchronous spiral lies innovation, unique thought, and connection.
And in order for our kids to synthesize, problem-solve, and learn to interpret the world around them, they can’t always create their own rules, and they can’t always simply do whatever inspires them. Sometimes, it’s necessary for them to start with what’s already there — to start by consuming — and to allow the provocation to pave the way for innovation and inspiration.