Monday, May 11, 2009

Fostering creativity and how to squash it!

Creativity is all about having the freedom to explore ideas without judgement until whatever is being thought about crystallizes into something that satisfies the artist or scientist - or a student at school. All too often this vital 'messing around' is ignored as teachers apply their 'intentions', success criteria, WALTS or 'best practices' and in the process demean unplanned imagination. Sameness is a word that describes much of the work seen in schools. The illustration are visual ideas about birds Braque was exploring before beginning his painting.

We seem , with the future introduction of National Standards, to be heading back to imposing greater standardisation on our schools. Ironic, as we are entering what some are calling an 'Age of Creativity' or even the 'Second Renaissance.'

Our Government seems determined to ignore the advice of such people as Sir Ken Robinson, an international expert in creativity, who says that creativity is just as important as literacy or numeracy ( the two areas National Standards will make teachers focus on). 'Google' him to watch his short but powerful video clip. Another educationalist being ignored is Guy Claxton who believes we should focus on ensuring all students gain 'learning power', what our NZC calls the 'key competencies'. Claxton's quote is that 'learnacy is more important than literacy and numeracy.' By 'learnacy' he means keeping alive the desire to learn and make meaning innate in all children until schooling gets in the way.

Creative NZ teachers, past and present, get little recognition by those who make the decisions.

I have recently read that there are three sorts of creativity - three ways of generating new ideas.

They are combinational, exploratory and transformational.

In combinational creativity new ideas are formed by combining two or more familiar ideas in unfamiliar ways - I guess Gutenberg combining the wine press with printing would a combinational creativity. Integrated learning would obviously encourage such innovative connections.

In exploratory creativity ideas are tweaked, pushed towards their limits but overall what results recognisable - think of impressionistic paintings. Or , if a creative classroom, various interpretations of a tree.

Transformational creativity is the most surprising of the three because its ideas appear not only to be expected but impossible. Perhaps the first abstract paintings would fit into this category?

None of these three ways of creativity is random.And none of them based on ignorance. These facts can help teachers who want to foster creativity.

The first type requires a rich source of diverse ideas plus a readiness to play around with them. Besides introducing a wide range of themes, topics, and environmental experiences students need to be encouraged to interpret their ideas in personal ways. This is in conflict with the deterministic approaches so common in our schools today.

Teachers with a creative mindset, and an appreciation of the importance of students idiosyncratic ideas, encourage creativity. Such teachers should ever be on the alert to recognise connections students have made and point out area students may have missed. One example that comes to mind is noting that Maori art patterns are also mathematical symbols and also have metaphorical or story connections. Teaching subjects in isolated compartments runs against such thinking and impossible if taught be different subject teachers.

To develop exploratory creativity require that students are aware of what styles or rules they are breaking. Such thinking required discipline and knowledge. Students can't be creative by being left to do their own thing without any guidance . Creativity is about playing around with a style, practicing ideas, rather than having no constraints at all.

To achieve mastery of ones chosen area of creativity takes time and application. Once an understanding of current ideas have been gained then students can be encouraged to experiment and break the rules. Maybe this is what is required in our present classrooms with their current emphasis on overdoing consistency?

Assessing transformational creativity, in particular, requires an acceptance by teachers of differences and the putting aside of criteria they normally use to assess student's work. Perhaps adding an extra criteria such as, 'Does my work show my individuality or voice?' or 'have I explored new or unusual ideas?' will help. Simply by valuing student creativity the teacher will create an environment that will ensure students become more creative - more willing to take the risks involved. Accepting 'mistakes' as valuable ways to try out ideas is obviously important.

It is obviously easy to squash creativity. Punishing divergent idea, or even simply ignoring them with crush creativity.Even by overpraising what teachers think is acceptable (as assessed by 'success criteria' will do it. Assessing work before it is finished is another successful way to kill creativity. This does not mean there ought to be no form of criticism - but any criticism or feedback ought to be given sensitively and positive as creative individuals are often fragile.

Last word to Sir Ken Robinson who writes that creativity does not have to be introduced to students, it is a part of their birthright, we just have to ensure we do not kill it off.


Anonymous said...

You are so right - helping children retain their creativity is the only way to ensure all students remain engaged with learning. Creativity is not something I would associate with many schools right now. Are there any creative schools out there?

Bruce Hammonds said...

I am sure there are schools who would lke to think they are creative but all too often what is seen is more about consistency and quality - creativity is beyond such ideas. It has been hard to be really creative these past decades.

Lara Jane | Ultimate Lifestyle Project said...

Brilliant article, and so true!

It's a shame we live in a society that mutes our natural born creative gifts by way of institutionalization and linear structures.

Many thanks for a great article.
Peace and much love

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Lara

We seem intent, in education ,on disconnecting children from their own creative capacity.