Defining Creativity – Higher Order Thinking for All Students

Sir Ken Robinson was recently interviewed for  the “Teaching for the 21st Century” issue of Educational Leadership. more

The article “Why Creativity Now? A Conversation with Sir Ken Robinson” notes three misconception that people have about creativity.

One is that it’s about special people—that only a few people are really creative. Everybody has tremendous creative capacities. A policy for creativity in education needs to be about everybody, not just a few.

… It’s about special activities. People associate creativity with the arts only. … education for creativity is about the whole curriculum, not just part of it.

… It’s just about letting yourself go… Really, creativity is a disciplined process that requires skill, knowledge, and control. Obviously, it also requires imagination and inspiration…. It’s a disciplined path of daily education.

I agree with Robinson but he defines creativity in a way that I find a bit narrow  ”a process of having original ideas that have value.” I define creating more broadly as “a new combination of old elements.” The distinction between the two definitions is important. As educators we want to move all our students along a full spectrum of Blooms’ Taxonomy. If we want our students to reach the highest level of critical thinking, then we need to be clear on our goals.

Creating requires both a strong foundation in content knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge in new ways – usually across a variety of disciplines. And it requires using all of Bloom’s skills from remembering through creating. It begins with a firm grasp of the basics and includes analyzing patterns and needs, evaluating alternatives and finally creating something new. When seen as as “a new combination of old elements,” creating is not  limited to the “creative.” It’s something that all students can do, and one of the goals of the new Common Core standrards.

Toy-bath To illustrate the point that all students can create, here’s a photo of my granddaughter, Zoe taken when she was a toddler. I had walked into her room and saw her sitting in a mesh basket used to store her stuffed animals. When I asked her what she was doing, she quickly replied “I have a toy bath.”

Was their “value” in her “creation?”  Probably not.

But don’t try to tell me that this little cutie isn’t creative!

What Questions Should School Boards Be Asking about 21st Century Learning?

Next week, I’m keynoting at the New Mexico School Board Association’s Leader’s Retreat. I plan to take a “Socratic approach” and frame my talk around a series of themes and sample questions that I think school boards should be asking in response challenges and opportunities of 21st century learning.

I wanted to offer readers the chance to offer their suggestions – via this blog’s comment or Twitter/edteck.

I plan to address three themes and pose some reflective questions for board members to consider.

Theme 1. Learning must engage student in rigorous thinking at higher levels of Bloom – analyzing, evaluating and creating. School boards should ask:

  • Does our school community recognize the difference between higher and lower order thinking?
  • Are students expected to just consume information, or are they asked to create something original that demonstrates their learning?
  • Is our district a creative problem-solving organization?
Answers: We cut music and art for remedial math. (Wrong!!!)
We recognize music and art are vehicles to teach math. (That’s better!)

Theme 2. Learning is relevant when the student understands how the information or skill has some application to their life, has an opportunity to figure out their own process rather than just learn “the facts,” and is given opportunities to reflect on their work and their progress as learners. School boards should ask …

  • Do our students get high grades for simply memorizing the review sheet for the test?
  • Do our students “follow the recipe” or are they increasingly asked to take responsibility for their learning products, process and results?
  • Is the audience for student work simply the teacher, or are students asked to share their learning with peers, family, community?

Theme 3. The digital age has redefined literacy. To paraphrase David Warlick, Literacy now means the ability to: find information, decode it, critically evaluate it, organize it into digital libraries, and be able to share it with others. School boards should ask …

  • If we’re no longer the “information gatekeepers,” are we teaching our students to critically evaluate information and use it responsibly?
  • Does our technology get used mainly by the educators, or are students regularly employing it to create understanding and share their learning?
  • Is our credit system based on seat time or can it be expanded beyond the school walls to any place / time virtual learning?

And finally I will wrap up the talk with an overarching perspective on accountability and assessment. I find it ironic that while schools chase NCLB “proficiency,” life has become an open book test. We need to unleash the power of assessment that targets and inspires. One-shot, high stakes tests are just autopsies. Students need regular check-ups where teachers can gauge student progress and target instruction. Ultimately the program must be designed to foster student self-assessment that gives them responsibility for monitoring their own progress. Students should be supported in on-going sell-reflection that addresses questions such as:

  • How can I use this knowledge and these skills to make a difference in my life?
  • How am I progressing as a learner?
  • How can I communicate what I’m learning with others?
  • How can I work with teachers and other students to improve my learning?

Schools will need to become places that create engaging and relevant learning experiences, provoke student reflection, and help students apply the learning to life. Authentic  accountability is reciprocal …  leadership is responsible to provide resources for success, educators are responsible for results. Simply sorting students along the “bell curve” won’t do.

… Please add a comment below or Twitter to let me know if I’m leaving anything out.

Sept 22, 2009 UPDATE: For School Board Leaders’ responses to the workshop see: School Board Leaders Reflect on Essential Questions / 21st Century Learning 

Engaging Teachers in Planning Relevant Staff Development

I recently posted "A Guide to Designing Effective Professional Development: Essential Questions for the Successful Staff Developer." I thought I'd follow up with an example of how those recommendations were followed in a recent professional development project.

This example comes from my recent work with the Edison School of Engineering & Manufacturing, a Rochester (NY)  City School District high school. We began the project by using one of the weekly early releases to do some agenda setting. I was introduced to the faculty and I spent about 40 minutes giving an outline of the types of PD subjects I could offer. I use a TurningPoint audience response system that gathered data to help us target our future PD.

We then utilized two more early release sessions to provide the requested training. I think it is critical to model the learning strategies in the session. That's especially true with PD is offered at the end of the school day. Feedback from teachers noted that they felt as if they were part of a learning environment that gave them a feeling for how the strategies would be perceived by the students.

Professional development need to move from the abstract setting of a training session into a real world classroom. So we next turned to Focus Classroom Walk-Throughs to develop a shared understanding of what the strategies look like when you are working with your students. I came back to the school on three additional days to conduct the walkthroughs.

Teachers were divided into teams of about six teachers and each team was led on a half-day walkthrough experience. Each session began with an orientation regarding goals and protocols. Our group of six was split into two smaller groups and visited classroom in teams of 2-3. We spent about 20 minutes per visit and regrouped all six teachers after visiting a few classes. 

All school faculty were aware of our walks and could elect to host a visit or opt out. We were not evaluating, nor passing judgement. Our goal was to hone our skills at identifying what we saw in the classroom. For example, could we look at classroom activity and agree on what level of Bloom we would assign to it?

After the classroom visits, I led each group in a debriefing with a focus on developing a shared understanding of what the strategies look like in the classroom. A “March Madness” analogy would be a group of observers discussing the defensive strategies they see being used in a basketball game. They share a common vocabulary and they are in full agreement about how to label what they observe.

Armed with a shared understanding of what how we would define our instructional strategies, we then turned to agenda setting for future PD. I led each walkthrough group in brainstorming session on how they would recommend we focus their future PD. I compiled input from all six brainstorming session into a report to the school based planning team. They then met to design their  09-10 professional development program.

Here's a Wordle of the top 50 comments from our brainstorm sessions.


Teaching Innovation

04edlife.fruit.190 Innovation – an idea put to work – stands at the pinnacle of higher-order thinking. It begins with a firm grasp of the basics. Then the innovator must continue up through Bloom's taxonomy of thinking skills to analyze patterns and needs, evaluate alternatives and finally create something to resolve to the problem. Creating is nothing more than a new combination of existing components.

The New York Times has devoted much of this week's "Education Life" (1/3/09) to showcase 23 innovative ideas generated by students. The same issues details a number of college course on entrepreneurship – "Dreamers and Doers." 

<<< The Elizabowl’s shape shifts to hold more or fewer fruits. The idea is to separate fruits into individual compartments to retard spoilage. Photo by by Sarah O'Brien (it's inventor)

Let's hope this focus on innovation and sustainability can extend down to K-12 education. Kids are getting plenty of time with the basics – when do they get to create something original with them?  Seems more valuable and engaging than test prep.


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