It used to be thought that only some children are born creative — they will become the great Shakespeares and Picassos of their time. But all others who are not born this way are doomed to just ordinary thinking… no creativity.
However recent advances in how our brain works and the development of new educational techniques show us that this is false… ALL STUDENTS CAN BECOME CREATIVE THINKERS.
1. Doing Things in Creative Ways
The first type of creative thinking that we will explore is coming up with new and original ideas for something that will serve a purpose in our lives. Often this is needed when the way that we usually do things that serve this purpose cannot be done or have stopped doing what they do, like losing the keys to a room you have to enter. Well, using a kitchen fork to pick the lock is certainly creative, though the more this is done as a way to open doors the less creative this remedy is.
Here’s an example from a teacher-designed activity for lower primary students about things they eat. For example, they really like apples. But they can’t reach them on the tree.
And that makes them want to give up. But wait. Maybe they can figure out a way of getting the apples. Here is one of the drawings they made. Can they do it this way?
Get a long pole that they can hold easily, put an empty tin can on the end, and raise it under an apple, wiggle it, and then bring the pole down and get the apple from the can. But wait — getting one apple at a time may not be so efficient especially if they want to share their apples with others. That may take a long time. So let’s think more about a better way. Hmmm. How can we teach students so that they don’t just work on one way to get the apples? Here is another way, equally creative. Will it work?
But what about higher grade levels? Here is another example of a grade 4 classroom in which the job of the students is to make some good use of wastepaper and other waste products put into wastebaskets? These children have chosen to use what is in their waste baskets to illustrate ways of travelling in the real world.
In the literature on creative thinking this is sometimes called creative problem solving when something needs to be done to make something else happen. The second context is where there is no problem, but we want to do something that no one has ever done before; sometimes this is called a project. Originally is what is desirable in these cases.
Here are some students displaying the creative products they have made from scrap paper and other things from waste baskets.
Notice how proud these students are. And a theme that has been well-researched is that this kind of pride in doing something creative is a motivator in doing the same sort of thing again.
It is a quick step from this to transforming these creative ideas into newly made inventions when they can have an effect on some product being developed and with these ideas they can accomplish the task. Or what can be invented can be a technique that is new and original that uses the same old materials but in a new way in order to accomplish the task more efficiently or effectively. Using a fork to pick a lock and open a door when you have lost your keys is a new and original — and inventive — technique for getting the result you want.
So our challenge is: what can we do in school classrooms not only to help students develop these techniques and turn them into inventions but also do these things in ways that benefit us all.
But we want to stress an important technique needed to be used to be able to transform creative ideas to inventions. This is because an invention is an invention if it does things that need to be done to achieve our objective, so here’s one.
And here’s another one quite similar but for a different context — indeed problem.
Indeed this “invention” may well be based on the idea that this student got when he saw the “Rescue at Sea” created. But it still counts as a new invention — if it works. This is for rescuing stranded and injured mountain climbers.
These are examples of inventions that don’t just pop into the heads of these students but that are the results of these students engaging in certain specific patterns of thinking that they can not only learn but that can become regular thinking techniques used by them to develop creative ideas and then transform these int inventions that can improve their lives and the lives of others. And these are techniques that all students can learn and that can become as basic as speaking a language when needed. This, in fact, is based on combining learning patterns of good thinking by infusing these into substantive situations in our lives that we learn to understand in regular content learning. And this represents the heart of TBL — what I call infusing the teaching of thinking into content instruction.
This is the first of two major contexts in our lives in which our ability to develop and use creative ideas enhances our own learning and of the students but also helps them develop their own abilities to help students to develop their own creative ideas.
But this is only the first of the two major types of creative design that enhances our own learning and that all students can learn. This also involves creative expression but also yields creative communication. So let us turn to that now.
Here is a very clear example of a person communicating a powerful set of ideas to students through an indirect means — the use of metaphor in saying something. This is something that all students can learn to do that goes beyond developing creative products only and enhances a special way of communicating — especially describing something in a rich and creative way.
Here’s an example.
This is a political cartoon from the 1890s in the USA. It is a visual metaphor which describes in a non- literal way the Republican Party in the USA. And what does this cartoon tell us about the Republican Party? It is not too difficult to read that the Republican Party in the USA is advancing a political position that is weak and will seriously injure the party. The Republican Party in the USA in the mid-1890s doesn’t have much support made to stand out by using something that draws everybody’s attention and people are rejecting them.
And it communicates this message. How many other metaphors like this can you construct that will say the same thing?
But it is in literature that metaphor is used as an enriching and creative mode of expression. For example, here is a poem written by the American poet and author Carl Sandburs Notice the simplicity but the enrichment of a common phenomenon: fog.
By Carl Sandburg
The fog comes
On little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
We must remember something important about metaphor. There is a similar figure of speech, called simile, in which words like “like” are used. In this poem instead of saying that the fog comes “like little cat feet” the author says, “The fog comes on little cat feet”. And think about this, to say that the fog comes on little cat feet is more powerful than just saying the fog comes like it is on little cat feet: “Like” could refer to many attributes that express a similarity. But to say that the fog comes on little cat feet this is the way the fog comes in all the silence and rapidity of a cat walking. Think about how “Your eyes are shining stars” is more direct and powerful than just “Your eyes are like shining stars”, without mentioning how.
Finally, I want to point out that the techniques of metaphorical representation to say something flourishes in the visual arts. Take a look at this.
No words but metaphorical images are clear as can be in the famous 18th Century colored print from a plate that uses a visual metaphor to represent the fury of a storm at sea. These images are clawed fingers poised to cause maximum damage by a liquid sea. And now think about great masterworks from major oil paintings to abstract flashes of color only on a canvas.
But I like what seems to be a purely representational work of art by Goya’s, The 3rd of May of 1808 in Madrid. It is not the title that is metaphorical but almost every image and brush stroke that represents the impersonality of death in warfare to the horror of a momentary death in the eyes of one of the prisoners. These are not accidental slips of the artist’s brush but the deliberate placement of images and colors to tell us something.
And think of the many great sculptures that also communicate wisdom, strength, and love in the form that are shaped into the sculptures. And we want to convert to our readers that the power of metaphorical thinking is so important in these masterworks. Look at the Goya painting — it is not just a pictorial representation of an event that took place on real dates, it communicates through its forms and colors a profound message about people, life, and death.The acts of creativity are as carefully thought through as deciding the most important course of action in your life.