While laying here the past week, I have had a lot of time to think. I saw a tweet the other day about student creativity and teaching students to be creative. I started to wonder, what is “creativity?” Are teachers teaching it? How are they teaching it? So often teachers think if their students make an “art” product the students are being creative. That is so basic. My 6 yr old daughter last week drew a cubism Picasso-like face. Pretty good picture considering she was just sitting at the kitchen table with notebook paper and a bunch of broken crayons and nothing to look at. But is this picture creative? No, it is artistic. It is not an original idea. Well I will admit that the happy side of the face is on the phone is pretty creative, but that is it. (and I don’t know why it keeps inserting it sideways, even though it is not saved that way, just tilt your head to the left)
There is this line between creativity and something that looks good. Creativity does not always look good, sometimes it is down right ugly. That is OK! Dictionary.com defines creativity as
“the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, and create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.”
When I read that I automatically just think “education.” Holy cow, this is what we are supposed to be doing everyday, cultivating this mindset. I think that is hard in a traditional education setting though. I think mostly because it is missing the last 3 items mentioned here: originality, progressiveness, and imagination. When our main focus is on “finding the right answer” we miss originality. When schools function the exact same way they functioned in the 1950s, except maybe we are doing the same things we did before online, we miss progressiveness. And when the only problems we teach our students to solve are the ones on math worksheets, we miss imagination.
Teaching creativity is different from teaching content. It is not taking facts and putting them into a Wordle or making a pretty poster. It is teaching students to transcend “all the above” and create new ideas. Yeah I get it students need to learn facts but that will not lead to successful lives for them or even for our country as a whole. We need to start with modeling new ideas. Walk students through the creative process. The whole “thinking outside the box” needs to be part of your everyday life. We need to give them questions. Not a lot of thinking happens with answers, give them questions. Let them be wrong. Remember how I said creativity can be ugly. Failure is not too pretty, but it is ok because that failure usually leads to something beautiful. This takes time, more time for some than others, allow that time. Lastly the product is not always a finished product. It may be something on going, that needs to be OK. The finished product may not be what you expected or what you wanted, when this happens you need to stop and ask “but is it wrong?” Again, be OK with this. Celebrate that product, think of the hard work being put into something, it shouldn’t be “here is your grade,” celebrate it!
A lot of discussion lately has focused on testing and teachers being judged by the scores of the testing. As long as this is the mindset and this is happening, I am not sure creativity is our number one goal. I have had a few convos about Arne Duncan and his obsession with testing. So as schools the test often is our goals. There is nothing creative about the tests. Students are graduating from our schools everyday and no one has cultivated a creative mindset in them. Problems cannot be solved. Businesses suffere everyday because employees do not have new ideas. They don’t know how to come up with these ideas. They are used to be told what to do and what to think. Our country, our futures, are going to suffer because of this. Take a stand. Be original. Be progressive. Be imaginative. Our kids deserve this.