EDUC 573: Week 4–Creativity and Critical Thinking?

This past week we read the article Why Creativity Now: A Conversation with Sir Ken Robinson (Azzam, 2009).  Several points from the article stuck out to me as I considered the answer to the question raised: Are creativity and critical thinking opposed to each other?  Can they exist together?

I guess I’ve always considered myself a creative person.  Until recently, though, I’m not sure I’d have been able to define what that meant.  I could tell you what it didn’t mean, though–my creativity did not involve being able to draw or dance.   In many ways I have always thought of my creative side coming out in relation to making things out of other things–scrapbooking, cards, sewing, etc.  I believe I have a knack for writing in a creative way, as well, but that was pretty much it.  Like I said, don’t ask me to create a song, do improv, draw (anything), or create a sculpture out of clay.  And so just like a misconception mentioned in the article, I equated my creativity with just artistic things.

So what does that have to do with my teaching life?  Or my students for that matter?  Well once I became a teacher, I like to think that that creative side merged with my “thinking” side as I began to work to create situations for my students where they could figure out how they best create new things.  Partly through learning I’ve done just this semester already, I have begun to do even more to allow my students choice in their learning.  Being able to decide upon the topic,  who they will work with and what type of product (if any) they will end up with is highly motivating to students–boys especially.   As we just completed our student-led conferences, I can’t tell you how many students (from both genders) mentioned that they really enjoy the projects we do because they get to make choices about their learning and because they don’ have to “just sit and listen.”  The way these projects are laid out also encourages the “forever and always” type of learning I’m hoping to give my students; I want these concepts to be useful forever, not just for now.

This part of the article was also especially important, in my opinion:

Also, we’re living in times of massive unpredictability. The kids who are starting school this September
will be retiring—if they ever do—around 2070. Nobody has a clue what the world’s going to look like in
five years, or even next year actually, and yet it’s the job of education to help kids make sense of the
world they’re going to live in.

I work a lot with Fortune 500 companies, and they’re always saying, “We need people who can be
innovative, who can think differently.” If you look at the mortality rate among companies, it’s massive.
America is now facing the biggest challenge it’s ever faced—to maintain it’s position in the world
economies. All these things demand high levels of innovation, creativity, and ingenuity. At the moment,
instead of promoting creativity, I think we’re systematically educating it out of our kids.

Now more than ever, it would be utterly futile for me to try to educate my students for the world I live in.  The world of now.  These kiddos are growing up in a time of massive change, where they will have to be able to be ready for jobs that don’t even exist right now.  The possibilities are endless, really.  And I think that one way that I can do my part to help prepare them for that unknown future is to encourage them to think today.  I want them to be able to make rational, logical decisions and then act upon them.  Even if right now those decisions are about who to work with and what to create, it’s a start.

But even still, this point is made regarding teaching creativity:

I make a distinction between teaching creatively and teaching for creativity. Teaching creatively means
that teachers use their own creative skills to make ideas and content more interesting. Some of the
great teachers we know are the most creative teachers because they find a way of connecting what
they’re teaching to student interests.

I hope that I respond to this well when I tell my kiddos I want them to know that they can create knowledge, that they are responsible for their learning.  I am not going to just give them all the answers– say “Here, do it this way.”  I love how often times the way I imagined doing it isn’t at all the best way; my students many times suggest much better ideas for how lessons will go than what I originally planned.  But I have to be willing to let that happen.  I have to be ok with not knowing all the answers or risking looking dumb in front of a class of 5th graders because I don’t know what to do next.  I have to be willing to take risks and let them take the reins.  My job is that of facilitator, not dictator.  It is our classroom, not mine.  We are all students and we are all teachers in Rm. 202.

And so yes, I do agree that creativity and critical thinking can coexist.  I have seen with my own eyes the way a kiddo will dig deep into a subject because I’ve given them just enough guidance and structure to get them going and then I let them go.  And where they ended up was beyond even where we envisioned at the beginning.  Not because I told them to, but because they made the choice, the plan and then made it happen.

Azzam, A. M. (2009). Why creativity now? A conversation with Sir Ken Robinson. Educational Leadership, 67(1), 22-26.

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