Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The creative process

The creative process is a metaphor for life -easier to understand after the event. Then it all seems so simple - a child could do it!

I was asked the other day if I could think of a book on the creative process,off hand I couldn't, but I have been thinking about the issue since.

I am one of those who believe we are entering what some call 'A Second Renaissance', or 'An Age Of Creativity', so understanding the conditions that set the imagination free is an important one. For those involved in teaching it is a real challenge as there is much about our current system that is contrary to the spirit of creativity.

Today too many teachers still work individually limiting exposure to others' ideas in the process. In secondary schools specialist teaching limits important cross fertilisation of ideas ( all new idea originate between the borders of disciplines). The current obsession with planning, predetermined intentions, criteria, exemplars and outcomes limit creative possibilities; all too often creativity is sacrificed for mediocrity.

Equally an obsession with traditional 'three Rs' in primary schools ensures there is little real awareness of the powerful learning power that true creativity provides for students who might otherwise fail at their teachers' predetermined activities. At the secondary level creativity is to be found in the art room and to the artistic performances schools put on to impress their parents. As Tom Peters, the American business 'guru' says, 'You couldn't have designed High Schools better to destroy student creativity than if you had tried!'

So there is a real need to develop an understanding of the creative process, whether in science, art, or any area of human endeavour. Creativity requires students who are happy to explore areas that they only have partial ideas about rather than meekly follow the 'thinking trails' laid down by others. Creativity requires students who are curious - who seek out questions rather than accepting, or proving others, answers; students who retain a healthy skepticism about what they are expected to learn.

The metaphor of an 'original' artist is a good model.

The 'conventional' artist paints a canvas knowing what she ( or her teacher) wants to paint and keeps this intention ( and teacher's criteria) firmly in mind. In the worst case it is 'paint by numbers'.

The 'original' artist commences with a deeply felt but undefined goal in mind and keeps modifying the picture in response to unexpected colours and shapes emerging on the canvas and ends up with a finished work that probably will not resemble anything she started our with ( Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow)'.

Mihaly continues that, 'if the artist is responsive to her inner feelings, knows what she likes and does not like, and pays attention to what is happening on the canvas, a good painting is bound to emerge. On the other hand if she holds on to a preconceived notion of what painting should look like, without responding to possibilities suggested by the forms developing before her, the painting will be trite.'

Trite sums up a lots of the learning one sees in schools where student are not exploring topics of interest in depth and therefore not gaining real understanding in the process.

We all have preconceived notions of what we want but all too often we never become aware of other possibilities and thus limit our creativity. We need to be like the creative artist and be on the alert for possibilities to develop new ideas in any area of learning. We need to encourage students to be open minded prepared to discover as they go along, to keep what works, using feedback and their own criteria of excellence, and aways to consider 'next time'.

Living a creative life is to continually forge new understandings that work better than past practices

The teacher's role is to value student creativity and to establish the conditions to encourage students to take the learning risks required to try out new things. Such a teacher has to walk a fine line, providing assistance and feedback with care, because all too often students will end up only developing ideas that the teacher thinks are appropriate.

All students need to be helped to take responsibility for 'creating' themselves to develop whatever gifts, talents and passions they have within them.

schools full of such creative teachers and students.

The first country to develop such schools will lead the exciting journey into the 21st Century.

We have a long way to go!


Anonymous said...

You are right - mediocre quality is the thing these days in schools as result of all those 'best practices' -creativity is not to be found!

Anonymous said...

We have too many conventional teachers!