Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Supporting Faculty to Teach Creatively & Teach For Creativity

[Context: This has been a challenging post to write. I had what I would call a creative-and-memory hangup. So long has lapsed since I started reading this book that I found myself asking, "Why did I underline these texts? Why the sticky notes?" But I'm going ahead to publish these thoughts anyway because this is what learning is all about -- not easy at times. A toast to visible learning!]
Wagner, T. (2012). Creating innovators:
The making of young people who will change the world. New York: Scribner.

[Purchased: February 14, 2014. Done Reading: November 23, 2014.]

It feels good to flip the last page of this book. In Chinese, we say 眼大肚小. Literally, big eyes, small stomach; meaning one's appetite is bigger than one's ability to digest food; i.e. I have more books than I have time to read them. So much has happened since I bought the book. As evidence of my reading achievement and reflection are the sticky tabs in the book.

A couple of colleagues saw me reading this book and inquired about it. This blogpost is partly a response to their questions and a quick reflection for personal application. Bear in mind that I read this book from the perspective of one who initially intended to conduct a dissertation study on fostering creative learning environments. I am thus somewhat familiar with the research literature on creativity and innovation. But there are still some ideas in the book that intrigued me.

1. Creativity can be seen as the confluence of multiple components.

The theoretical research on creativity shows that certain factors are possibly significant in fostering creativity, e.g. Wagner mentions Amabile's Componential Theory of Creativity (1998). The theory has evolved but basically she postulated that creativity-relevant processes (e.g. cognitive style, personality characteristics) and expertise in a domain (acquired formally or informally) provide the foundational raw materials an individual needs to explore and solve problems creatively, but motivation determines what people actually do with their skills and knowledge.

[Several creativity theories and frameworks mention similar components of creativity. I'm going to just list two more:

After interviewing "scores of young innovators" and studying their ecosystems (i.e. talked to their parents, teachers, mentors), Wagner (p. 200) identifies an innovation-supportive learning culture with these values:
  • collaboration 
  • multidisciplinary learning 
  • thoughtful risktaking, trial and error 
  • creating
  • intrinsic motivation (play, passion, purpose) 
Although worth repeating, I was looking for something more, as these ideas have been quite widely published in the creativity research literature.  What kept me reading till the end were the many inspiring stories about young innovators and their trajectories to becoming social or business innovators. A thread running through these narratives were the courage and perseverance of these young innovators, their parents and mentors -- how they took the less trodden path to realize or help others realize their dreams.

2. A Few Memorable Quotes 

"What you study is not that important. Knowing how to find those things you are interested in is way, way more important... It's like how I would imagine navigating a satellite through space. You're headed off with a velocity, and, oh, there's a planet over there. I'm going to orbit it a couple of times, and then shoot off somewhere else. How to pick the things you are bouncing off is really about integration -- integration at a personal level...

The classes were transformational for me not because of the content, but because of the people process... This class was great for me because I got to work in teams on these multidisciplinary problems that required bringing together a set of tools to create a solution." Kirk Phelps, young innovator cited in book (p. 32 & 41).

"Here at the [MIT] lab, we take our inspiration from the way people learn in kindergarten, where kids have opportunities to create, design, and build collaboratively." Mitchel Resnick cited in book (p. 182).

Reading as Play. "... the discipline of reading develops the muscles of concentration as well as the habit of self-motivated learning" (p. 211)

... the most important "toys" children needed to develop their imagination and creativity: "Sand, water, clay, paint, and blocks. Once they can use these materials, they can create anything." Beth Wise cited in book (p. 209).

I haven't observed how children learn in kindergartens. But I think frequently about how I learn and my disposition towards thinking and learning. Resnick's quote reminds us not to lose a playful approach towards learning. There is a child in us that still lives on despite our all grown-up exteriors, and it's not a bad thing. Sometimes, when we overthink and overplan, methinks we've killed the inventive spirit, and that child in us has been silenced. Perhaps we've let education and all the bad habits we've learned in schools squash our creativity.

I am privileged. I have many tools, and have access to many more, that allow me to have a voice. Yet I frequently fall back to a few trusty tools to articulate my hopes and dreams -- pen, writing journal, sketchbook, Photoshop, Illustrator, PicMonkey, my blog. We don't need many tools, we just need a few that allow us to express our thoughts. Simple tools facilitate conceptual design. Before I digitize anything, I find that sketching my thoughts out and writing short notes about them are helpful. The questions I ask myself are: What are some tools that best suit your style for exploration and play? Have I set aside time intentionally to play and explore?

I'm very thankful for a set of parents who immersed me in a rich literacy and multilingual environment from young. They didn't and couldn't read to me, but books were always readily accessible. Languages other than English were used interchangeably in my family. Though she didn't know English, my mother would somehow know what English books to borrow for me when I was sick and unable to go to the public libraries with her. The point is, books, and languages, together with tools for exploration and imagination, lead us into real and fantasy worlds where integrative thinking occurs: ideas are unearthed, mixed and remixed. Am I reading and synthesizing ideas?

3. Supporting Faculty to Teach Creatively and to Teach For Creativity

My motivation for reading this book is to learn something in order to better support students of every age and type in their creative pursuits. Creativity is a habit (Sternberg, 2012; Tharp, 2005) and a way of life. I believe we can teach students to cultivate habits that predispose them to think and live creatively.

At the ALT Lab, we advocate that teachers practice connected learning that fosters innovative learning. There is a difference between teaching creatively and teaching for creativity, Bonnie Cramond said. 
There are a lot of teachers who are pretty creative and might think of a creative lesson, but who’s being creative? The teacher is. Teachers can be creative in their lessons but we also want to pull out the children’s creativity.
These are words I want to challenge myself and my colleagues.

My question is: Are we encouraging and supporting faculty so that they can teach creatively and teach for creativity?


Getting Creative about Teaching. (2013, July/August). In SingTeach.nie.edu.sg webzine. Online Issue 43. Retrieved from http://singteach.nie.edu.sg/issue43-people02/ 

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