Upon admission, I ask every parent the same questions:
“What is your goal in bringing your son/daughter to our school?”
”What do you hope for your child?”
When parents’ responses are already aligned with the mission & values of our school, I know we have some sparkling years of learning ahead! Such answers include, “To enjoy learning; to think for themselves; to learn without too much stress; to learn a new language; to make friends with people from around the word; to understand different perspectives”.
And, even when the answers are not well-matched to our school’s philosophy, it’s exciting to see eyes light up when an inquiry-based, student-centred curriculum is explained. (In any case, I know that we have several years of communication and collaboration to come, before home & school will truly understand and appreciate each other).
The parents I most admire are those who look completely perplexed by the questions. Every so often, parents simply respond with, “To be happy in life. What else would we want?” (This always stops me in my tracks and puts that day’s to-do list to shame.)
Interestingly, the hottest trend of 2015 is this parental response: “I want my child to be creative.”
We, too, are endeavouring to make each child’s education an inspiring experience where creativity flourishes.
With their finger on the pulse of parent priorities, Beijing City Weekend magazine prepared an article on this very topic. They sought the opinions of several educators. My responses are below:
How would you define creative thinking and why is it important?
Creative thinking is simply the pursuit of possibilities. It is the cognitive process of identifying opportunities, questioning facts, considering connections, testing theories and examining perspectives. Creative thinking exists in every child from birth, as they construct meaning from experiences, and integrate these into an ever-growing understanding of the world. Creativity is not a product, nor a measurable result. It is not the ability to generate an original idea (indeed, there may be no such thing!). Instead, creativity is the daily habit of thinking about facts, concepts and situations in a flexible, playful manner. It is crucial for academic success, because it is at the very heart of problem solving, decision-making and personal expression.
How can we help children to think outside the box?
In education, we believe that open-ended learning supports creative thinking. Whether at home or school, we suggest giving your child access to toys, resources, tasks and problems, where there is no single answer or no correct method of engagement. Then, step back and allow ample thinking time. The experience of feeling unsure, perplexed and purposeless is very important. In these moments, creativity emerges! Blocks, paint, sand and fabric are great examples of multi-purpose resources that provoke creative thinking and problem solving. In family conversations, ask “Why did that happen?” and “How do you know?”, rather than “What did you do?” Deeper questions, such as “Why are you studying history?” and “Do rules give you freedom?” support divergent, critical thinking skills.
In this environment, children quickly learn that it is impossible to “get it right”, adult approval is not the goal, and their own ideas are paramount.
How can creative thinking be integrated into traditional subjects?
Whenever the child is at the centre of the curriculum, creativity will flourish. In all subjects, teachers should assume the role of expert guide, rather than all-knowing lecturer. Teachers must avoid simply disseminating information, and instead, design challenging experiences, through which children create their own understandings.
In Language Arts, children should have opportunities to compose texts, based on their personal experiences, passions and perspectives. They need to explore many forms, genres and media, as their creative voices emerge.
In Mathematics, children should not only solve problems set by the teacher, but also design questions, surveys and mathematical games. Instead of memorising formulae, they should suggest multiple methods for arriving at solutions and justify their theories about number.
In Science, students should learn to hypothesise, design experiments, control variables and draw conclusions, for robust thinking and deep understanding.
Can the wrong approach undermine the creative thinking of students?
Certainly, a cycle of fact memorisation and rigid testing is not ideal. It will ultimately limit student ownership, creativity and, most importantly, motivation for learning. However, children are innately creative. Even in an environment of lectures, worksheets and tests, children will doodle in the margins, create games and dream up stories!
An optimal learning environment is carefully designed to capitalise on a child’s innate creativity and channel it into deep understandings and independent thinking skills. In fact, teachers need not “teach” creativity at all. An environment rich in resources, provocations, dialogue, challenge and guidance will automatically foster creativity.
Teacher-child relationships that validate risk-taking, mistakes and individuality, will further support creativity.
Is there still a place for rote learning in modern education?
It is important that children know their multiplication facts and spelling words. This fluency of recall ensures that working memory and brain power are not consumed by lower level skills such as adding small numbers, but can be devoted to higher level skills such as strategising and problem solving. Thus, a broad knowledge of facts actually supports creative thinking!
However, for most children, the exposure, repetition and practice needed for fluent factual recall need not involve rote learning. Number facts and phonics instruction can be woven into rich, open inquiries, so that creative thinking, understanding and knowledge all develop, hand in hand.
Is there such thing as natural aptitude for creative thinking?
In any learning domain, there are individuals who possess great potential. Of course, there are children who show natural aptitude for creative thinking; however, it is such a broad skillset, that creativity may be expressed in many ways. For example, some children have strong spatial skills and solve puzzles with ease, others have a natural eye for color mixing, and others a flair for poetry.
Of course, all children are creative. Therefore, all children have the capacity to develop into creative thinkers and capable problem solvers, in a supportive environment.
Is it true that creative thinking often comes from restriction?
It is certainly difficult to break the rules, if you don’t know the rules! And yet, a child does not fall in love with music by learning the C major scale. Neither does a child become a talented artist by colouring within the lines. Children need ample time to explore freely, experiment wildly and play merrily in order to strengthen their creative muscle.
At the same time, they need expert guides in their lives to feed in the principles of each discipline, be it art, music, mathematics or language. Just as a strong knowledge base supports creative thinking, so too, a firm understanding of the boundaries, supports informed and effective experimentation and improvisation.
Are there any other points you’d like to make?
Creativity is innate. However, creative thinking is a skill. Skills need time and practice to develop.
Children whose lives are over-crowded with structured lessons, (academic, sporting or artistic), have limited opportunities to become autonomous, independent thinkers. Children need unstructured time to think, explore and play, in order to reach their creative potential.