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Lead from the Start: Creativity: Four Apples = ?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Creativity: Four Apples = ?

Sometimes I think of the teaching I do as training creative Jedi. Just think of me as Yoda for the pre-k set. From 3- 5 years old children experience a burst of creativity. Children are able to move from their imaginations to the real world seamlessly. It is the last outpost for the imagination. When kids get in kindergarten they start to hear adults first, and then their friends say, "I can't draw." "I'm not creative." "I can't sing." Then they doubt, "Can I sing? Am I creative? I want to fit in with my freinds, and none of them are creative, I should probably not be creative either. Piaget may have accidentally set this up by describing the preoperational stage of development as hierarchically lower than the concrete operational stage. It is as if a child who sees the world for what it is, (4 apples is 4 apples no matter what shape they are in) should not see the world for what it could be, (4 apples cut in to is 8 pieces and boiled can be applesauce).

Why isn't creativity important in our schools? The easy answer... it is hard to test. Concrete understanding of the world is easy to test. If you don't know that 4 apples is 4 apples then you don't get it.

There are some rubrics that attempt to judge creativity but in general, much of our appreciation for creativity, like her sister beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. In a recent discussion about creativity with someone on the decision making side of the education game I asked why creativity isn't considered a school readiness indicator. The response was, "It is the only indicator of school readiness that was deemed unreliable in several states." It was also said that many teachers are not creative enough to recognize creativity even if it bit them in the patootie. Well that isn't what was said but it is close enough. Why don't we expect teachers to be creative? Why don't we epect children to be creative?

On the dinner table of school, creativity is often considered the frosting on the cake. However, in life outside of school, it is often the difference between a home cooked meal and fast food. In "real" life, ie. life outside of the socially constructed definition of school, creativity is what makes things happen from finding cures for diseases to selling everything we know. We can't test the future ability to find a cure for cancer. To borrow a metaphor from my wife, in schools we only test if kids know the recipe not if they can cook.

Here is my question... Why?

Why aren't some teachers able to recognize creativity when they see it? Why isn't creatvity taught as a skill?
Any art teacher can tell you that much of making art has more to do with experimentation with and mastery of materials than with innate talent. We expect this in language arts, why not life? If we can teach kids the creative writing process, why can't we teach them the creative living process? If we are going to survive the "unknown" future we are going to need new ways of looking at problems to meet those challenges. If everybody knows the recipe but nobody knows how to cook, how are we going to live much less live well?

Image from:*nzcmE9zAIwGK4m4S6eUef8gY1KvKemdqqzhzkcxpQ0DsshcmVDrhwXw*xDLTwu/fingerpaint.jpg

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At 8:29 AM, Blogger Jane said...

You are so right on John!
I was just thinking this last week in class. It was state testing for all 2nd - 5th grade. "Do your best on the test!" was drilled into the minds of our students. One of my kindergarten parents asked if we would be taking the test. I told her not yet and she seemed somewhat disappointed. Her daughter is an exceptionally bright student, but she lacks self confidence socially, yet her mom valued her test score more than she worried about the fact that she had difficulty adjusting to school. What happened to a well rounded child? We spent all day Wednesday engaged in an art activity and free choice, all day. Who is going to "check" up on a kindergarten teacher during testing week? It was an amazing day for students who got to use their creativity in not only painting, drawing, but imagining, dramatizing, problem solving, and constructing. It was an amazing day for me who had a chance to child watch 19 amazing young children explore and interact with the world around them.

Play is child's work and if were to ask my students what they learned that day, they would all be able to share something. I want all my students to be able to cook! Just as I want them all to love learning and reading, not just know the math facts or how to make a rhyme.

At 10:54 AM, Blogger Munford 101 said...

We need parents to part of this discussion. Students are the consumers and unless parents demand creativity and the arts, we will continue to have schools that are driven by test scores. Unfortunately, test scores are safe. As you said, it is easy to measure a student's understanding of math facts (factual recall) but difficult to measure students' actual mathematical thinking. There are those teachers who aren't creative and who don't recognize creativity in there students, but there are also teachers who are afraid to be creative in the current environment. It is almost as if they have forgotten how to be. Often people talk about merit pay for teachers. The questions you raise about creativity being an indicator for school readiness is a related to this query. How do you measure a good teacher? How do you measure creativity... teachers are given varied raw materials each year (the students), so is if fair to base teacher performance on test scores? We all agree that it is not, but how do you measure the genius of a teacher who allows children to discover that 4 apples make applesauce or apple crisps or just a really cool mushy mess after two week of sitting on the table? There is no test for that. And should there be? Why are we so consumed with measurement?

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Nancy Flanagan said...

I agree with Munford that when parents start demanding a more open and creative kind of learning, we might have a hope of getting it. Right now the debate is framed around accountability for teachers and schools, not improving learning or teaching.

As a fellow arts teacher, I also have to say that we haven't done ourselves any favors as the academic representatives of "creativity." Most secondary music teachers do precisely zero work in the classrooms around musical creativity, focusing instead on perfect performances and (sigh) competitions. They do so, because kids have absorbed the idea that life is one giant contest, and teachers believe they will keep kids interested in the arts if they are part of a winning team.

Visual arts teachers do a better job of nurturing the idea of play with materials--but product is still valued much more than thoughtful process, in my experience. And the whole "math wars" battle has been around the question of whether there are creative ways to approach problem-solving in math (or whether we should just memorize the algorithms deemed most efficient). There are smart people on both sides of the question--but this is a conceptual shift for American education. Read any of the anti-21st century learning blogs lately?

At 5:38 PM, Blogger loonyhiker said...

It seems like we want to take all creativity out of the education equation. With NCLB, we want all children to learn the same way and end up all the same way like using a cookie cutter. Unfortunately, real life is not like that and until the legislators get with the program, creativity in our students suffer.

At 6:37 PM, Blogger Rachie-Babe said...

What a great post! Keep up the great work!

At 2:27 PM, Anonymous Tammy said...

I am currently teaching The More At Four program and I have 18 students and one assistant. I agree that we need to let our students and children be creative. Some of the best work I have seen from my students is when I let them be creative and create their own work. How boring would the world be if we let all 18 students color the dog brown just because we do not see purple dogs with pink stripes does not mean children don't. Children have very vivid and creative imaginations. When they are little is when they can be free, creative and can create their very own master pieces. As a fun learning experience we put several plates of paint on the table and let the students mix the colors to see what they could create. From this lesson I had several students tell me that mixing yellow and blue makes green and so forth. They had a blast and their pictures looked amazing. We also let them finger paint and create pictures of their choice. We then hung them up all around the classroom for their enjoyment and ours. Most of our learning is through exploring, imagining, and playing. This is the perfect age to start this learning process so that as they grow older they can learn, construct, and stay creative in all that they want to accomplish. As a teacher and parent I understand that is would be almost impossible to measure a student's achievement through creativity, but sometimes a student's creativity is all they have. Taking tests are not for everyone and I do not feel that means they are not successful. I also think that sometimes we forget how to be creative and that is why I love teaching the little people because they keep you feeling young, vibrant and full of energy.

At 7:42 AM, Blogger Bright Ring said...

JM, you are the voice of reason and knowledge. I have tremendous admiration for so many things you have said. Perhaps you know the books i write about art for in fact writing the intro for one today where I want to speak to the entire issue of art in the schools and individual creativity. Your blog has inspired me. Thank you!!!!!! I signed up for a feed from your blog, by the way. :o)
~ MaryAnn F. Kohl
author, publisher, educator, and forever teacher

At 7:43 AM, Blogger Bright Ring said...

Oh, and please send your readers to my website for lots of free art ideas that are process more than product oriented.
My email, for you or any of your readers who would like to talk about art or my art books, is


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