Saturday, April 8, 2017

Teaching Creativity in a Standards-Based World

The title of this keynote at NESA by Douglas B Reeves intrigued me as on the surface it seems hard to encourage creativity when you then have to assess students according to rigid content standards.  Douglas started off asking us what we thought creativity is, and he gave us a definition - creativity is the process of experimentation, evaluation and follow through, which leads to a significant discovery, insight or contribution. He pointed out that this definition doesn’t say original or novel, however we do need to honour innovation as well.  Creativity is the result of hard work, many failures, lots of feedback, criticism and disciplinary mastery and the entire brain is involved in creative effort.

People may disagree on what is beautiful, original and useful. However, Douglas said that perhaps we can agree on certain teaching and leadership practices that either support or underline creativity, because for sure students need mentors and wise guides.  He also pointed out that constraints can lead to creativity, or as Howard Gardner said "You can't think outside the box until you first understand the box."

Assessing the creative environment in the classroom
Douglas talked about a study where K-12 schools and college evaluated themselves on an 8 dimension scale, with 4 levels on each scale.  The dimensions were research, multidisciplinary perspective, source material, clarity, product, process, collaboration, practice and error.  He elaborated on some of these:
  • Research - we want our colleagues to use latest and best research and to avoid anything unsupported by research 
  • Multidisciplinary perspective - we want students to expand the scope of their work to include different perspectives and disciplines, instead of work being narrowly focused on a single standard.
  • Collaboration - the scale distinguishes between those working together and alone as working together leads to more creativity
  • Practice and error - allowing multiple attempts - the evidence is that students learn from their mistakes so it's not ideal to try to get it right first time.
Practices that undermine creativity
  • Punishing mistakes and risk taking by using the ‘average”
  • Practice as perfection - when students get 20/20 is usually a waste of time - it shows students have already mastered something and have not moved on
  • The ‘good girl’ effect - elevating compliance over performance (girls don’t necessarily perform better but they get better grades). We need to encourage risk taking over compliance.
Teachers need to create the environment and opportunities that will foster creativity.
  • Evaluate students on their final performance, not their average
  • Feedback needs to be part of the process of learning and creativity.  Feedback is one of the most powerful things that teachers do. It needs to be fair, accurate, specific and timeless. It leads to immediate changes in student performance. Feedback needed in the class itself rather than afterwards.
  • We need time and space to explore something deeply. Students need to explore and have their passions fed.
  • Collaboration works best when it’s differentiated. It needs to be practiced so students get better at it. The result of a group effort should be better than doing it alone. However you need to ensure individual accountability together with group responsibility.
And here's an interesting (and sad) finding: the most creative students are often the least popular. How are we as teaching supporting these students?

Photo Credit: JD Hancock Flickr via Compfight cc

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