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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Let’s Be Creative – How to Teach for Creative Growth

by Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy

Whether or not one is born with creativity or whether one has been taught to be creative is akin to the debate of intelligence being fostered by nature or nurture. Indeed, behavioral scientists have studied both intelligence and creativity in parallel tracks, often combining the two via cognitive processes.  Terms such as “creative genius” underscore the correlation between creativity and intelligence. “In a surprisingly faithful way, the history of behavioral scientists’ attempts to study creativity parallels their attempts to investigate human intelligence,” according to Howard Gardner, most well-known for his models of multiple intelligences and the author of Creating Minds.

Just as Mindset author Carol Dweck and others have researched and proven that intelligence can change over time by internalizing what she calls a growth mindset (the absolute belief that one’s reasoning can always improve as a result of effortful learning), there is ample evidence that creativity, too, can be heightened. “It is true that everyone’s creative ability, creative productivity, and creative living can be elevated,” according to Gary A. Davis, author of several books and research studies on the topic of creativity and giftedness.

In a chapter on creativity in The Handbook of Gifted Education, Davis outlines a five-part approach to creativity training. They are as follows:

1.       Fostering creativity consciousness and creative attitudes
2.       Improving students’ understanding of creativity and creative people
3.       Exercising creative abilities
4.       Teaching creative thinking techniques
5.       Involving students in creative activities

Creativity Consciousness and Creative Attitudes: Davis maintains that creativity consciousness is the “easiest to teach.” Teachers should be encouraged to allow for multiple opportunities for creative activities, best encouraged by a teacher’s exclamation “Now, let’s be creative!” At our school, Quest Academy, for example, we have opened a technology-rich Innovation/Tinkering Lab, in which teachers are often overheard saying “We are looking for creativity!” Once the creativity consciousness has been introduced in the classroom, creative attitudes can be fostered. These attitudes will enable students to value innovation. “Students will become receptive to the unusual, perhaps the far-fetched ideas of others…play with ideas,” according to Davis. An important aspect to consider is to teach students about the blocks to creative thinking such as “mental sets, perceptual sets, rules, traditions, and especially conformity pressures.” Students who understand that “innovation never stops” may exemplify those who have developed creative attitudes. Davis advises teachers to increase creativity consciousness and creative attitudes by a) recognizing and rewarding each child’s creativity; b) encouraging fantasy and imagination; c) helping students to resist peer pressure to conform; d) encouraging questions, different responses, humor, and risk-taking; and e) being aware that a student’s ‘difficult’ behavior may be a manifestation of creativity. Brazilian creativity scholar Denisede Souza Fleith describes the opposite – a classroom that stifles creativity in the following way: “Students cannot share ideas, ideas are ignored, mistakes are not allowed, one right answer is required, competition is extreme, fear may exist, and the class has a ‘controlling’ teacher.”

Improving Students’ Understanding of Creativity and Creative People:  It is important to present information on creativity to students in an age-appropriate manner. Davis suggests that students should understand that creative ideas are often “modifications of existing ideas” (black/white TV becomes Color TV becomes flat-panel TV becomes 3-D TV); “new combinations of ideas” (e.g. the TV and the PC become one machine); or “analogical thinking” (the idea that T.S. Eliot’s poetry about cats resulted in the musical CATS). Another critical component to increase students’ understanding of creativity is to introduce students to creative problem solving steps such as “fact finding, problem finding, idea finding, solution finding (idea evaluation), and acceptance finding (idea implementation). At our school, students who have been involved with creative problem solving teams put together to compete in DestinationImagination events are most familiar with this process.

Exercising Creative Abilities: Creative classrooms are likely to practice a) “idea fluency” by asking students to “think of all the ideas you can;” b) “flexibility” by asking “how else can we do this;” c) “originality by challenging students to “think of a new approach” or “combine some ideas;” d) "elaboration" by asking students to “embellish and extend initial ideas and solutions.” There are other classroom techniques to foster “problem sensitivity” (What don’t I know about a specific topic e.g. the Civil War); “analogical thinking” (How are you like a cat?) that is often fostered in drama classes; or “predicting outcomes” (What will happen if we combine these two elements?).

Teaching Creative Thinking Techniques: Alex Osborn, author of Applied Imagination , (1953) may very well have the most exhaustive list of idea spurring questions (about 100 such questions): Put to other uses: “New ways to use as is? Other uses if modified?” Adapt: “What else is like this? What other ideas does this suggest? Does the past offer a parallel? What could I copy? Whom could I emulate?” Modify: “New twist? Change meaning, color, motion, sound, odor, form, shape.” Magnify: “What to add? More time? Greater frequency? Stronger? Higher? Longer? Thicker? Extra value? Plus ingredient? Duplicate? Multiply? Exaggerate?” Rearrange: “Interchange components? Other pattern? Other layout? Other sequence? Transpose cause and effect? Change pace? Change schedule?” Reverse: “Transpose positive and negative? How about opposites? Turn it backward? Turn it upside down? Reverse roles? Change shoes? Turn tables? Turn other cheek?"

Involving Students in Creative Activities: Schools should ask themselves if students have creativity-stimulating activities such as music, drama, art, science, or technology?