Creativity in an assessment-based world, my thoughts on yesterday’s #gtchat

Hey guys! Happy Saturday. Last night’s #gtchat was a lively conversation about creativity  and whether or not it can be taught. (Read the transcript here)

To start this post off, I want to thank Deborah Mersino for moderating the chat. According to her stats, there were 1319 comments and 92 contributors from all over the world (counting both chats) – fantastic. I think #gtchat is really catching on!

Trust me, after participating last night – it was a whirlwind of comments. So exhilarating!

THroughout the hour, ideas were shared regarding the ability to teach creativity, what gets in the way of that, and specific strategies to foster creativity.  As the convo wore on, I noticed a theme –

Creative people need to allowed the freedom to think out of the box, without significant pressure of time and structure.

Stop the presses. Hold on. Wait a minute…

While  agree that open-ended questions, freedom in form of expression and time can foster a growth in creative thought, we can not teach our children to expect that regularly in our world – especially in a Western culture. In my opinion, we need to teach that creative thought can and needs to happen within the framework of a typical school assignment, for example – within the structure given, within the time limits, within the “rules”. We need to further coach that the “rules” do not have to limit creative expression at all.

Let me give an example.

Picasso was exceptionally well-trained in the “rule” of painting, studying at a leading school of art. It was not until he could create according to the rules that he smashed them all.

Likewise with the founder of modern dance, Isadora Duncan. She was a classically trained dancer BEFORE shattering all of that and creating a new school of dance.

Now, I DO agree that typical educational settings have managed to crush creative expression and freedom of thought right out of many of our kids. But I think is not necessarily related to form and structure of the classroom, as much as it is related to content.

Our educational system, at least in the US, is so heavily dependent on standardized assessments that teachers tend to fill student’s heads with the WHAT – telling them exactly what to think/know for a specific test. Very rarely are kids taught HOW to think or problem solve through novel situations.

Now, initially, some of this is important. We need a rote foundation from which to launch our creative expression. But as we continue to push the WHAT and not the HOW, we lose some of our ability to create – to problem solve.

The problem is not only in schools. Many parenting styles also focus on the WHAT instead of the HOW, as we problem solve FOR our children instead of walking them through the crisis and insisting that they problem solve for themselves. We rescue our children from themselves and the decisions they’ve made instead of insisting that they problem solve through it.

Now, it may seem that doing that does not correlate to the development of their creativity – but I would disagree. Every time we focus on process – whether it’s when we problem solve, or when we learn something in school, or when we are playing around at home – we are setting a foundation for creative thought.

Okay – so we all know the problem…how do we solve it? Do we have to sacrifice one for the other?

I don’t think so. I think we nurture creativity in a variety of ways – through creative play that has no limits or rules or time frames, and through the structure of day in day out life.

In my household, we believe in giving the children tons of opportunities to creatively express themselves. This has been true since they were preschoolers and decided to wear their princess clothes to preschool – just cause. Or during their elementary years when they would entertain themselves for hours playing with the “art”bin full of scraps of whatever, creating masterpieces.

Creative expression is extended into their academic world, as they have been coached to look for creative solutions to every problem, and still work within the rules given. They know “you need to learn to do it ‘right’ before you can successfully do it ‘wrong'”.  We never asked for timelines to be extended, despite our children taking HOURS to complete something because their creative solution was extreme. This was particularly true with projects, as our kids LOVE doing the most extreme version of any project.

In short, we have used every teachable moment to nurture their creativity – both in terms of creative expression, and in terms of critical thinking. All while emphasising that performance is valued in our culture, therefore you must find the balance between creative thought and performance. If our children want to create a to scale model of a coral reef for their science project, that is fine – as long as the work is completed in the time alloted, etc.

 Wow – I really rambled on this morning. Guess you can tell it’s 4am and I am trying to get a kid out the door for a cross-country meet….

The bottom line is this:

Creativity is nurtured through the approach to everyday things – by coaching a way of thinking and looking at the world. And even though our educational system currently values WHAT a child think instead of HOW they think, I can still teach te HOW at home, and coach my kids how to incorporate that into a performance-based world.

Whew! Those are my rambling thoughts this am…what are yours? Can creativity be taught without the expense of performance?

4 thoughts on “Creativity in an assessment-based world, my thoughts on yesterday’s #gtchat

  1. It certainly was an exhilarating #gtchat on creativity yesterday! I love your post, a very nice take on the issues and points raised. I absolutely agree that we have to encourage creative thinking and expression in all aspects of our children’s development. Helping them to consider issues from many different angles will help them use their thinking skills to produce creative solutions and ideas.

    I also found your point about knowing “the rules” first very interesting. I would have thought of creative people as “outside the box” rule-benders, but your point is well made that many successful creators and inventors use the structure of their expertise as a launching pad to other solutions or products. You have given me yet another way to look at creativity and its importance in our education systems, thank you!

  2. Benoit

    What a post !

    I love the What/How stuff
    I’m not sure that I catch the meaning of “creativity”. Is it “to think out of the box”, “not by the rules” or creating something new (music for ex.) ?

    1. Christine Fonseca

      Umm….yes! Creativity is all of those things. As defined by Dictionary.com, creativity means: “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.” I like this definition!

  3. Absolutely bang on!

    As a ballet teacher I teach all ages of children as well as train student teachers to teach preschool dance. Over the past ten+ years I’ve noticed a trend towards focusing more on the performance in order to further motivate children, rather than focusing on ways to challenge them cognitively to motivate. When we give them opportunities to use the skills they have/are learning to problem solve/think critically not only are they more focused, they become more confident and creative! Fortunately I’ve been teaching long enough to see the results of this in teen students – still engaged in the discipline and the skill of dance, but also are willing to take risks with their creativity both in the studio and in life.
    I agree that we must teach both the what and the how — the trick is to find a way to balance both!

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