Creativity is recognised as the essential quality our students should have when they graduate from all of our tertiary institutions. So, it follows that schools should be ‘teaching’ this characteristic. This is not lost on our masters and the development of creativity is mandated in our National Curriculum and reiterated in almost every vision statement associated with schooling. Even the Gonski Report emphasised the importance of this in our schools and so we should provide lessons that lead to the acquisition of an education that produces creative thinkers.
This importance placed on creativity is because it is identified as the driver for change in a world where the rate of environmental transformation is increasing at an almost exponential rate. It is generally accepted that unless we change our industrialised approach to providing for our populations we will face the inevitable collapse of our planet.
Before we address the provision of ‘curriculum for creativity’, let’s investigate what we mean by ‘creativity’. Like most concepts, when you look for a definition you are faced with a multitude of explanations and creativity is no different. To simplify each definition emphasises that to be creative in any new development should provide a unique way of interpreting our environment (I have loaded a Chapter, ‘Teaching Creativity’ from my book ‘Insights into the Modern Classroom – The Getting of Wisdom for Teachers’ in the resource section of our Web Page).
We also need to define what type of creativity we are discussing. James C Kaufman of the University of Connecticut described four forms of creativity, ‘Mini C, Little C, Pro C and Big C. The first three describe a continuum from critical thinking to people who work in the creative fields, comedians, musicians, those who are vocationally creative but not necessarily eminent. However, it is the Big C definition that is generally accepted as being the goal of creativity that changes the world and this is at the heart of this work.
However, there is a lot of misunderstanding about what is ‘creativity’ and what is just ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’. The mix-up is best observed in the latest emphasis on the STEM approach to learning (project based learning focusing on science, technology, engineering and maths), this is where schools consider they address the issue of creativity. The combined approach encourages the use of ideas from a mix of precepts to synthesise a ‘better’ outcome for a design brief. This critical problem solving, in the main is just a more sophisticated organisation of existing knowledge and is not technically creative. This is not to depreciate this work but it is not really creativity and if we continue to use this approach to the world’s problems we will end up with a much more effective, streamlined, wrong answer to our problems, the inevitable failure will just be ‘more efficient’.
This confusion is seen throughout much of the literature around this subject. The first of the educational reformers was Ken Robinson whose TED talk on creative education is one of the most watched in that series. The most recent pundit is Davis Eagleman who, along with his musical friend Anthony Brand wrote the best-selling book ‘The Runaway Species – How Human Creativity Remakes the World’. The central premise is that we must take existing practices to solve problems and ‘bend them, break them or blend them’ to achieve new solutions. The bending or blending holds for critical thinking but what does breaking them achieve? Probably no more than putting us back to square one, we still have a problem.
So, how do we achieve new creative ideas that by definition are different from existing knowledge when all we have at our disposal is that existing knowledge? In the essay I have provided, you will find a detailed description of the neuroscience involved in creative thought but for this work it is best explained as some phenomena that takes place when implicit memories, those unintentional, emotional and unconscious memories are combined with those explicit memories, conscious recollections.
Graham Wallis, the founder of the London School of Economics described this subtle difference between critical thinking and creativity back in 1926 with his five-step model. Without going into detail, he described the process as first immersing yourself in the problem, looking at all the details and possible solutions. Then, and this is the movement into the creative approach you ‘incubate’ all you have found. Now you leave the solution to your unconscious mind to make unique and often exceptional connections between all memories, implicit or explicit without the interference of our taught-thinking processes. Finally, that creative solution will emerge in some ‘aha’ moment, those ‘moments’ that have been celebrated since Archimedes cried out eureka when he solved a problem about fluid dynamics while sitting in his bath. History is full of such moments (again I refer you to the essay in our resource page.
This use of our memories has continued on and the Explicit – Implicit Interaction (EII) is a current popular model. To summarise what you need is a challenge, then a long period of time to really personally examine all aspects of this problem. This gathering of data will underpin the emergent answer and importantly this data must be stored in your memory not in a smart phone or computer (there is another whole argument about artificial intelligence and creativity but that’s for another time). Then you must ‘let go’ of the control of the search for a solution and your mind may provide you with that creative ‘aha moment’.
Now, how do we teach creativity in our schools? There is no surprise regarding the clash between what our political masters desire, creative graduates and what they demand from our schools. The current educational model is dominated by outcomes based learning. Our syllabuses are highly prescriptive leaving little room for divergence. It is so crowded there is no time for deep consideration. Teachers can’t wait for the incubation of a creative idea.
Coupled with this is the current obsession with standardised testing both of students and teachers. The former have their regular numeracy and literacy inspections while the teachers are ‘performance analysed’, based on their students’ results forcing them to ‘teach to the test’; to ensure they are just like everyone else. This emphasis on reaching ‘milestones’ is a barrier to creativity.
The answer is not easy, creativity is an emergent quality that comes from individuals who see a problem. What we can do is provide all our students with the abundant learning environment that includes exposure to as diverse a curriculum as possible making sure those ‘implicit’ subjects from the arts are given equal billing.
Along with this ignite their curiosity and encourage their uniqueness and give them time to ponder. The hardest thing to do when seeking creativity is to let go of control. That applies to the individual seeking that break-through or the bureaucrats who want their people to be creative.