Friday, April 29, 2011

A Case for Creativity

I was recently reading a post in the blog, This Creative Moment, by my friend, Eric Ode, a local children’s singer, songwriter, poet and writer who has visited Seabury as an artist in residence and periodically as a substitute teacher. Eric is one of the most creative people I know, and his blog explores the idea of creativity and where it comes from.

Eric refers to a recent article in Newsweek magazine about a study indicating that creativity is in decline among America’s youth. The article refers to a longitudinal study by Dr. E. Paul Torrance, that found a high correlation between a child’s creative thinking ability as measured by the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking and the child’s success in college and adult careers. The article states that, “the accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful… To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).” Highly creative children more often grow up to be CEOs, entrepreneurs, college presidents, inventors, and diplomats based on Torrance’s research.

Eric talks about his observation of how two different teachers handled a moment in which a five year old tried to take a creative step in a classroom project. One allowed the child to take a creative step, and another shut the child down with a “we’re not doing that now” comment.

As an educator, I am concerned about the ways in which education is being more narrowly defined as a series of discreet skills rather than a broader focus on learning to observe, think, analyze and create. I talk often with parents inquiring about Seabury, and am heartbroken when I hear stories about how their child’s vivid imagination and insatiable curiosity seem to be shut down in programs that focus on the one “right” answer.

As I read Eric’s blog post, I was reminded that what we sometimes describe as the “magic of Seabury” lies partly in the big things like the fact that we are committed to process as much as to product in our students’ work and learning. Our thematic curriculum and creative projects immerse students in both convergent and divergent thinking every day. But the “magic of Seabury” also lies in the little things our teachers do, almost unconsciously, every day.

Just this morning, a third grade student walked in and announced to her teacher she had brought three encyclopedias to school today because she had gotten interested in a particular topic and just wanted to do some research on it. The teacher, rather than telling her that wasn’t part of the plan for the day, celebrated her passion for learning and made time for her to explore her interest.

As a teacher of gifted children, I found that one of the most difficult things facing me daily was deciding what was negotiable in each lesson. “Take out a pencil for this lesson,” was always followed by, “How about a pen? Colored pencil? Chalk?” Lessons that were intended to go one direction could easily end up heading an entirely different way as students began to ask their own questions and as their interests guided discussions. Sometimes I had to do more steering to get us where we needed to be. But the magical times were those when we could follow the interests and inclinations of students and see where they took us. It was always an adventure.

At Seabury, one of the gifts we give our children is the room to wonder, to ask questions, think about possibilities, and to recognize that problems in real life don’t always have neat A, B, C or None of the Above answers. Our curriculum is designed to develop that kind of creative and analytical thinking. But our teachers also encourage creative thinking in a hundred little ways every day. By letting another way of doing something be a possibility. By taking time to say, “I don’t know either – let’s figure it out.” By valuing the process of learning as much as the product.

The next time you watch your child’s teacher work with your child, pay attention to the many ways, large and small, the teacher is encouraging your child’s creativity. You will be amazed – and grateful – as I am!

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