Can We Really Teach Creativity? Should It Be on the Curriculum?
I found this article on an education news feed that I follow for my other blog, PragmaticMom: Education Matters. It poses the question of whether or not creativity can actually be taught. I used to do consulting for a private art school in Los Angeles and in exchange for my advice, the owners of the school swapped me for art lessons. I was in heaven. Figure drawing, oil painting, drawing, watercolor and more. I used to ask the owner who taught me figure drawing about all the students in our class. Were they always this good? How long had they been studying? The school used to be located in Brentwood, California and has since moved to Marina Del Rey but the adult students ranged from “Ladies Who Lunch” (but with serious artistic chops) to Cher, Winona Ryder, and Annette Benning. This is L.A., of course!
There were some older ladies who had been taking classes for a really long time and were putting out some really great stuff (there is always a peer critique which was a very positive experience) and my teacher told me that, indeed, NO, some of these ladies did not have “natural ability.” He was convinced that he could teach anyone to draw and paint … without natural ability it just takes more time and, of course, persistence. Is creativity the same as artistic ability — in this case, the ability to render images accurately? I would hazard to guess, yes. But like developing an artist, it’s a process of encouraging risk taking, persistence, and developing a sensitivity to notice MORE. I don’t actually know for sure; I’m just guessing here.
What do you think? How did you nurture your creativity? Was it encouraged at home or at school? Please leave a comment.
And here’s the article from ASCD Edge: A Professional Networking Community for Educators.
Can we really teach creativity? That’s a challenging question for educators under increasing pressure from society to produce a new generation of problem solvers and innovators.
Why is it a challenge? Because teaching creativity—or even its close cousin, critical thinking—is not remotely similar to teaching the photosynthesis cycle or the causes of World War I. The skills of innovation and creativity can be lumped into a mysterious set of processes used by human beings to make sense of their world, enter a dark tunnel of confusion, and reemerge with a solution in hand. How this occurs, no one knows. How we teach the process, we’re not quite sure. Assessing the journey though this dark tunnel or evaluating the end product are even more difficult. Think of judging a piece of modern art. It’s that subjective.
This is where the rub begins for educators. Teaching creativity requires that we ‘go deep’ with children rather than providing them with more information. And, given that human performance is not directly teachable, it means setting the conditions under which creativity flourishes. It also means, as in the case of the modern art example, that we may not know creativity until we see it. None of these methods fits well with a data-driven, standards-based accountability system.
In fact, the evolution in the mission of schools places the current system at direct odds with the future. Teaching people instead of stuff requires educators to draw upon the fields of psychology and human performance, which consider the industrial structure and mindset as barriers to peak performance and creativity. But the good news is that thoughtful educators can apply important lessons from the human performance field to the classroom, including the following:
- Speak the language of creativity. A teacher’s attitude can spur creativity or squelch it. Research confirms that IQ is malleable, and that performance is affected by self-fulfilling belief systems. Students who move from a ‘fixed mindset’ to a ‘growth mindset’ will believe in themselves, and in their creative potential. Yet in every school I visit, I hear teachers talking about who is ‘smart’ or ‘gifted’ or a ‘slow’ learner. Aside from the placebo effect this conversation induces, it violates what we know about the brain: The brain is a plastic organ capable of change over a lifetime—and is particularly shifting between ages 5 and 18. Sorting students by assuming who has potential and who doesn’t kills the creative urge, not to mention the damage it does to Algebra I scores (“I can’t do math—I didn’t get the math gene.”)
- Emphasize questions and inquiry. CharlesLeadbeater, the British futurist and educational innovator, has good insights into creativity. In Learning from the Extremes, a recent report for Cisco Systems, he recommends that schools start, “learning from challenges that people face rather than from a formal curriculum.” Teachers can either ‘cover’ standards, or turn them into concepts and problems to be solved. Inquiry works towards supporting the kind of ‘out of the box’ thinking we need for the future.
- Project Based Learning. Let’s put in a plug for PBL. The best way I know to start with questions in a classroom is to do inventive activities that pose a challenge, or extended projects that begin with a rich, authentic, and interesting question. The primary reason that PBL has exploded is that teachers recognize that students need to creatively address important questions. If you want a tested method for doing this, use PBL. It works.
- Use breakthrough assessments. I recommend rubrics with a ‘breakthrough’ category—a blank column that invites students to deliver a product that cannot be anticipated or easily defined in words. It’s not the ‘A’ category—that’s Mastery or Commended or a similar high-ranking indicator. The breakthrough column goes beyond the A, rewarding innovation, creativity, and something new outside the formal curriculum. It’s a ‘show me’ category. Students like it, and so do teachers. It particularly appeals to high-end students who feel current offerings are drab, or to the middling student who will not work just for a grade, but who seeks the psychic reward of creating something cool. For samples of these rubrics, please go towww.thommarkham.com and click on ‘PBL Resources.’
- Teach to the iceberg. It’s last on the list, but first in importance. An unfortunate legacy of the cognitive model that dominates education is the belief that everything important in life takes place from the neck up. But creativity originates in the deeper self and is not immediately accessible or public. In workshops, I share the iceberg model of skills developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which shows skills as the tip of the iceberg—the demonstrable, visible part. Below the tip of the iceberg is 90% of the human being. Teaching creativity requires shifting our attention to the process of inner discovery, allowing students time to reflect, discuss, and brainstorm, as well as using proven methods for getting the creative juices flowing, such as mindfulness, meditation, silence, or structured interactive exercises.