How can we bank Creativity?

Originally Posted on April 13, 2012 by C Sousa

I was once told that time is the currency of education. I believe this to be true. We need time to teach our students, to allow them to reach goals, and be creative in their approaches to learning; and this time must be fluid and flexible in order to support the varied learners in our schools. Recently, it occurred to me that if time is the currency, experience is the bank, and what we bank matters. There have been recent conversations about our education system and how we are experiencing a lack of innovation and creativity, and that we must teach students to think creatively. I agree, and the standardized, over scheduled, lock step programs we have our schools’ operating by does not serve this goal. If we want to increase innovation and creativity in our students, and if time is the currency and experience the bank, then it is just as important to bank creativity, to experience it, as it is to find the time to practice it.

Let me explain. During a recent lesson I asked students to take historically significant speeches and transcribe them using a different vernacular, and perform them. We looked at vernaculars, both past and present, and yes, humor, props, and costumes were absolutely encouraged. In the end we had some great performances of famous speeches done in “valley girl”, “hip-hop”, and “1960’s hippie” lingo. It was fun and it allowed the students to use concrete tools and analyze, evaluate, and create, and while the level of difficulty was not high, I was hoping that the creativity would be.

Overall it was a nice lesson, but what was interesting to me was not the students who excelled, but rather the students who struggled creatively with the assignment. As I thought more on it, and discussed it with my colleagues, it became evident (at least in a totally nonscientific way) that those students who struggled with creativity may not have had much of a bank of creative experiences to draw from. We saw a common thread in those who struggled with the lesson; their educational independence, along with their creativity, had been limited due to a variety of suspected reasons (a hyper-focus on test achievement, parenting styles, school/class rankings, peer pressure, etc).

I recalled what I had learned at the Learning and Brain conference this past fall; that everyone can be creative and that creativity is built on prior learning. Robert W. Weisberg, PhD references this in his recent work; Out-of-the-box thinking in creativity (2009). Dr. Weisberg uses many examples that cite creativity is most often based on prior learning. “Creative” people adapt what they have learned to a new scenario, twist what they have experienced to fit into a new reality, and borrow from past achievements to create the building blocks of new ideas. This makes sense, and following this line of thinking means that we must fill our children with meaningful “out of the box” experiences so that they can draw from them in order to be creative in life and learning.

Now there are certainly some people among us who have a propensity for outstanding creativity, giving way to the Picasso’s in life. And while everyone cannot be a Picasso, everyone to some degree can exhibit Picasso-like creativity. However, it is not enough to only have the prior knowledge in which to build on. The propensity for creativity is also tied to the manner in which that knowledge is acquired. Students who are risk takers, who are not afraid to think independently, who are more willing to “think outside the box” have had that skill fostered. Risk taking has become part of their learning. Our current educational environment is not always conducive to this, and with outside influences that tend to put our children in boxes and label them, teaching students to push their boundaries and take educational risks is more important than ever. To foster creativity we must allow and create opportunities for children to take risks, acquire knowledge, and be available to build, creatively, on their learning.

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