Apr 02

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Creativity involves marshalling 100 billion neurons to arrive at a new way of doing things.  This exercise is not always encouraged by a society that traditionally values a top-down model of management, where creativity is limited to those with reserved car-parking spaces, a suit and a six-figure salary.  But things are changing.  The hierarchical model is being replaced by a more collaborative model.

“The internet paradigm is transforming all social systems from a top-down management model to a collaborative model where creativity is expected and valued.” [1]

In short, we are all now expected to be creative.  Joan Dalton, in her book Adventures in Thinking,[2] writes that children must learn to think for themselves, to innovate, to create, to imagine alternative ways to get to the same goal, to seek and solve problems for themselves.

Can a child be taught to think?  Certainly Bryce Courtenay, author of The Power of One, thinks so.  The book is an entrancing tale which includes this marvellous description of the impact of two devoted teachers on a young boy’s life:

“But above all things, I had been taught to read for pleasure and for meaning, as both Doc and Mrs Boxall demanded that I exercise my critical faculties in everything I did.  At 12, I had already known how to think for at least four years.  In teaching me independence of thought, they had given me the greatest gift an adult can give to a child besides love, and they had given me that also.” [3]

Quite what the dimensions are to thinking are not always agreed upon.  Robert Sylwester suggests that there are five dimensions which need to be explored to facilitate effective thinking and learning.[4] These are:

  1. Being positive and recognising the task as valuable.
  2. Being good at bringing thoughts together in a constructive and helpful way.
  3. Being able to analyse a problem well and understand the relevant facts.
  4. Being able to see a purpose in the task.
  5. Being productive and creative.

Some students are addicted to ‘tuning out’, and hiding behind lazy phrases like ‘I don’t know’.  It may well be that the student genuinely does not know.  However, there are many occasions when the child is really saying, ‘I don’t want to spend the effort in articulating a reasoned response to this question.  Far better for me to act vacant and stupid’. And they do! Really well!

The thinking skills that need to be taught include:

  1. The ability to solve problems.
  2. The ability to make decisions.
  3. The ability to see relationships.
  4. The ability to reason.
  5. The ability to judge wisely.
  6. The ability to be creative.

Implicit in the ability to be creative is the ability to deal with something in an entirely new way.  All too often students are hidebound in their thinking.  Edward de Bono has done some pioneering work on this with his Six Thinking Hats strategy for working through an issue.[5]  A lack of creativity is often a product of over-schooling.  By over-schooling, what is meant is the incessant presentation of facts.  Too much is presented to students as fact when it should be presented as theory.  Students can become ‘fact-fixed’; see things as black and white, as fact or as fiction, as right or wrong.  Thinking requires the exploration of shades of grey, and the testing of other approaches.  Thinking must not be limited to being convergent, of being restricted to one right answer.  To be creative, divergent thinking is needed where multiple ideas and answers are generated.

“Most people are other people.  Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” – Oscar Wilde

Students are often tempted to limit themselves to copying behaviours, in other words merely replicating what a teacher thinks.  For creativity to happen, deeper thinking skills are needed.
One of the ways to stimulate deeper thinking skills is to use questions such as:

  • What would you have done?
  • Can we trust the source of this material?
  • What do you think caused this?
  • What other ways can this be done?

We need creativity in our schools, in our staff and in our students. However, it is worth noting that for something to be creative, there needs to be a generative element to it. As one unknown commentator once said:

Too many people think they are being creative when they are just being different.

[1]  Treadwell, M (2011)  DVD “Whatever!” Were we Thinking?,  www.MarkTreadwell.com, p. 234.
[2]  Dalton, J (1985)  Adventures in Thinking, Nelson ITP, Melbourne.
[3]  Courtenay, B (1998)  The Power of One, Penguin Books, Melbourne, p. 389.
[4]  Brandt, R (2000)  ‘On teaching brains to think: A conversation with Robert Sylwester’, Educational Leadership, April 2000, p. 73
[5]  de Bono, E (1992)  Six Thinking Hats, Hawker Brownlow Education, Australia.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.timhawkes.com/creativity/