Posted by: waikatogifted | October 26, 2010

Creativity

We will be discussing creativity and gifted children at WAGC tonight. Here are my notes because I am likely to run out of voice.

Creativity forms a part of many definitions of giftedness, and as such will always be important to gifted children and their parents. However, it is probably going to be even more important for the next few years as standards-based assessment takes a greater role in our education system. Teaching for creative thinking can enhance performance in the foundation skills which are measured in standards-based assessment, but where schools or teachers are not confident, or are overwhelmed by the numbers of students they teach who are struggling with foundation skills, creativity tends to be put to one side to enable a clearer focus on certain target skills.

Creativity is actually very dear to the hearts of most teachers and most educational thinkers in New Zealand, and I don’t think that will be eroded easily. However, I imagine it is going to be somewhat contained within technology and the arts rather than spreading through cross-curricular units so freely.

What does this mean for parents?

  • Encourage creative thinking and activities at home, particularly if you see evidence of fewer being available at school.
  • If you have any voluntary input at your school, and share your children’s passion for creativity, this could be a time when schools would particularly value your input into creative tasks. You may have a response along the lines of, “Yes, please do what I’d love to, while I do what I have to”.
  • On the other hand, if your child has a wonderfully creative teacher, this is a time to be particularly appreciative that he or she has found a way to continue with this.

Creative children may be different from other children, just as gifted children usually have several identifiable points of difference from their age mates. These differences will impact on parenting and teaching approaches. In particular it seems that many creative children exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Distractability, which seems to contribute to the surprising ways in which these children combine ideas. They can’t keep those interesting little extra details out if they try, so why not add them in?
  • Divergent thinking about everything, from colour schemes to the real meaning of bedtime. These children don’t necessarily believe that life experience has lent authority to parents and teachers. Except maybe for really riveting life experiences with dragons and trebuchets and three tons of purple celery. Mundane stuff will not grab their attention or respect. When energetic, trade-offs of entering into their world in return for their indulgence in yours can be a successful tactic. However, parents are not always bundles of energy, and teamwork with family and friends about maintaining adherence to certain fundamental rules is a wise strategy that ensures you don’t always need to wheedle and cajole.
  • Risk taking. Trying what has been done before has measurable risks. Trying what is original essentially goes hand in hand with taking less measured risks. Creative people with unpublished novels under the bed are not taking risks, but nor are they being recognised. Some of the risks your creative children take will be original, and therefore you won’t have installed an ambulance at the foot of the relevant cliff, nor a safety rail at the top. When things go wrong, feel the care but not the guilt, and get your daily dose of Nigel Latta.
  • Little sense of time passing. Apparently few or none of us sense time passing when in Csikszentmihalyi’s states of creative “flow”. This is a good excuse for lots of things, I feel, and your kids may well need curbing in similar ways!
  • Daydreaming. If you’ve got a head full of ideas that are just overwhelmingly cool, how can reality compete? Daydreaming is sometimes seen as a form of distractibility, but many children can daydream in a very sustained and focussed way.

One of the issues with creativity as a field, is that creative people are defining it. It follows then, that original definitions will be preferred. Some definitions are arts based, and are about the desire to express oneself artistically as much as they are about accomplishment or originality. Some are thinking based or stem from business needs, and value originality and refinement in solutions to problems but never mention art at all. There are some uber-definitions, much admired, such as those of Csikszentmihalyi, Torrance and others, but they are not seen as final – more definitions will pop up around the next corner any day now. What does this mean for the parent of a potentially creative child? I’d say that it means your definition counts too. If you feel that your child is creative, value and nurture that creativity. If you feel that you are creative, enjoy that too – it’s called role modelling, and it often works.

The jury is out on whether creativity can truly be taught. We know that environments in which learning by making mistakes is accepted encourage creative innovation. For example, children will write more adventurously when their spelling won’t be under scrutiny, and even more so when attempting an experimental style will be valued as a worthwhile endeavour whether it goes wonderfully well or horribly wrong. We also know that situations in which children bounce ideas off one another without worrying whether they are “copying” bring out the creative potential of those children, particularly when they have repeated opportunities to exchange ideas as a group. However we don’t know to what extent we can change someone’s underlying level of creativity. So should we try?

Notwithstanding the international trend towards more standards-based testing in education, there is also a drive towards fostering creative problem-solving in many fields. Global climate change, fuel shortages, population growth, and economic recession are among the many drivers of creative problem solving today. I see the standards-based and creative approaches to educating children as powerful complimentary strategies, and value both. There are children to whom it is hard to teach “the basics” and there are children to whom it is unproven that we can teach some aspects of creativity. In my mind, the attempt to teach creativity should be made for every child, just as the attempt to teach foundation literacy and numeracy should. Some children are not particularly imaginative but work with dedication and success to follow the methods of others or the traditions of the past. In such cases our attempts to promote creativity must not diminish our appreciation of the child’s strengths, which are the core of who that child is as a person and must be respected. In my experience children like this can learn to synthesize two or more ideas and techniques together creating something novel, but they like to work from a known foundation, and seldom have ideas that arrive “out of nowhere”.

The other key reason to encourage creativity in the classroom and at home is that it is fun, and so connects to resilience, self-esteem and many of the other things all parents want for their children. So whatever creativity means to you, enjoy it with your children.

Thanks to people at Twitter #gtchat for refreshing some of my own ideas on creativity recently.

Mary St George, for WAGC.

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