Too rigorous for creativity

reading2Once, I heard a teacher speak on the frustration of getting gifted students past the hurdle of simply looking at events of a story to the devices that the author used in writing it and how that affected their views. I worked with a child who had made this leap, despite needing help in English due to dyslexia.  She did this because she was attempting to write stories herself.  I suggested to the teacher that he could have students write short fiction so they could better understand the process that an author went through. The response, “The curriculum is too rigorous and doesn’t allow time for creative writing. They can take that course if they want to.”  Is this the most sensible route to take?

Too much information without allowing students to practically implement what they know leads to a kind of knowledge that de-emphasizes thinking skills. But having students make creative products is often a messy and inaccurate exercise that teachers dread. For example, how exactly do you grade creative works? The teacher is not the only one that needs to tackle this problem.  Students are going need to know how to apply their effort towards tasks requiring imagination. I recommend that projects call for large doses of creative input be made easier by putting everyone through the process step by step.

According to Paul Torrance, who conducted research on creativity at University of Georgia, creativity could be measured along four axes.

1) Flexibility – the number of different categories of ideas

2) Fluency – the total number of meaningful different ideas that were generated (Torrance has changed this component in his later theoretical work)

3) Originality – how different the ideas were from those of peers

4) Elaboration – how well the details of these ideas were developed [1]

First decide on a project that ties in with current objectives. Creative projects are not simply done in writing, art, music and drama.  Figuring out how to test hypotheses concerning plant growth, how to discover the physics of flying paper airplanes, or how to determine the best method for surveying land also requires creativity. Each of the measurable axes for creativity will become a graded step in the project.

1) Flexibility – The students all receive the same open-ended problem to solve or product to make.  Then, they brainstorm individually to come up with at least five ideas (Add more if required; however ten should be the upper limit.)  Explain credit is for each idea that is still useful, but not the same as their other ideas. Also, they will receive additional credit if they come up with ideas that their class mates do not (more on originality later). Make sure they know there are further assignments on all ideas, so they should not assume that one good idea is enough.

Students document each idea by writing at least one sentence; and drawing a simple diagram if required.  They need to make a copy for both the teacher and themselves.

2) Fluency – Next, the students need to determine how meaningful or useful each of their ideas is. This can be completed outside of class, but keep a copy of the initial brain storming and do not let them change their basic ideas. Tell students they will not be graded on the quality of each idea, but on how well they explained it and described how meaningful it is.

Students write out a full paragraph or create diagrams with labels to further explain each idea.  Then, rate all ideas based on how well they should work (1 to 5 with 5 being the highest), and describe why assigned each rating was assigned. 

If you are familiar with Paul Torrance’s work you will realize that fluency  is not entirely equivalent to counting the total number of useful ideas. The evaluation and further explanation of each idea includes the element of elaboration, the students’ ability to work out some of the details. In fact, Torrance himself abandoned fluency as a measure creativity and replaced it with abstractness of titles and resistance to premature closure.[1] However, if you  still want students to practice fluency, increase the minimum number of ideas to ten for the first exercise

Typically these first two tasks make up anywhere from 30 to 40 % of the grade. Students need to be warned that if they do not put effort into thoroughly thinking through this first part, they will not have a good product when they get done.

[1]  Torrance, E. (1999). Torrance test of creative thinking:  Norms and technical manual.  Beaconville, IL: Scholastic Testing Services.

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