Creativity…more than art (2)

Motivating children to develop their natural ability for creative thinking through cross-curricular projects incorporating Deep-level processing and design technology.

(Article written using excerpts taken from the ECIS 2016 Conference presentation given by Corrina Gifford and Manda Ophuis.)

In the previous article I discussed the definition of creativity and it’s role in education, touching on maintaining children’s natural ability for creative thinking as they get older. In this article I will cover stimulating gifted children to use and acknowledge creative thinking as a valid thought process; increasing motivation using creativity, by developing tasks involving creative thinking to stimulate students to want to learn more; and an explanation of how promoting ownership of learning will increase motivation. Future articles will discuss:

  • The skills the teacher requires to be able to nurture creativity in their students and examples of how to incorporate these skills into cross-curricular projects looking at the importance of Deep-level processing and the top-down approach in motivating students.
  • The possibilities of using design technology to stretch students’ minds and challenge them to use all their knowledge and experiences to solve problems.
  • How self-evaluation and allowing students to make ‘sensible’ mistakes helps to increase their self-confidence, enabling them to be more creative in the future.

In early childhood, children are filled with awe and imagination. They are seen to be at their most creative, and although hampered by their lack of knowledge and experience, they are unrestricted by the confines of reality, allowing them to go wherever their imagination takes them and truly think ‘outside the box’.

“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imaginations is boundless”-

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Unfortunately, as this natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge seems (in general) to diminish as children get older, so too does their motivation to learn. Now we have children who can’t think AND don’t want to!!!   Besides all this lots of children experience the fear of failure and are perfectionists. Especially gifted children! At a very young age they already experience these fears and the feeling of being different. This makes them feel insecure and afraid to express themselves. Fear of failure, perfectionism and their fast way of thinking restrain these students in their creativity. It is vital that these students learn to deal with trial and error. Most of the time they also experience social barriers. Playing with other children can be a hassle; there’s miscommunication, different levels of understanding, different ways of thinking. The way these children experience “the world” can be totally different. All of this can lead to major conflicts.

To stimulate creative thinking with gifted children, it is of great importance that their “being different” is established and acknowledged in an early stage. This way steps can be taken immediately. There need to be clear rules, regulations and boundaries. A safe environment in the classroom makes the children feel secure enough to let out all of their beautiful ideas.

So how do we harness the creative capacity of gifted children?  

We need to offer children the opportunity to:

* Experience the freedom to allow their thoughts and ideas to go in any direction without boundaries or impossibilities.

* Have the confidence to express their ideas and be themselves

* Stretch their brain to allow them to brainstorm ideas to overcome problems which at first seemed insurmountable. Gifted children need to feel safe and secure, they need to be challenged and they need to feel as if they are being taken seriously. They need a top-down approach; show them the goals, the big picture. What is in it for the students? What is it that they are working for or towards? You don’t need to rehearse and repeat as much as with other students. Give them the same basics, but make it harder…fast.

That way you create a lot of time to spend on other lessons like chess, philosophy, Spanish and, of course, cross-curricular projects. In our department for gifted children, we work with these projects on a deeper learning level.  

I’d like to talk about what deeper learning is. The HEWLETT FOUNDATION describes it wonderfully.

In classrooms where deeper learning is the focus, you find students who are motivated and challenged—who look forward to their next assignment. They apply what they have learned in one subject area to newly encountered situations in another. They can see how their classwork relates to real life. They are gaining an indispensable set of knowledge, skills, and beliefs, including:

  • Mastery of Core Academic Content
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Collaboration: Effective Communication
  • Self-directed Learning
  • An “Academic Mindset”

Students with an academic mindset have a strong belief in themselves. They trust their own abilities and believe their hard work will pay off, so they persist to overcome obstacles. They also learn from and support each other. They see the relevance of their schoolwork to the real world and their own future success.

When students are developing knowledge, skills, and academic mindsets simultaneously, they learn more efficiently. They acquire and retain more academic knowledge when they are engaged, believe their studies are important, and are able to apply what they are learning in complex and meaningful ways. Mastery of academic content is critical to a student’s future success in college, careers, and life, so it is the foundation of—and never overlooked in—deeper learning classrooms. To make sure your lessons are on a deeper learning level, you can use the taxonomy by BLOOM. The first three steps are needed to build a solid foundation. First recall facts and basic concepts, then explain ideas or concepts and after that let the students use the information in new situations. Now the deeper learning starts. The next three steps will help students to activate their brain and lead them toward being creative. First they’re going to analyze and draw connections between ideas. After that they will evaluate by justifying a standpoint or decision. Finally, they will create new or original work.  

Promoting ownership of learning to increase motivation

As teachers we have several tools to try and increase the motivation of our students. We can use WALT and WILF. These are widely used to focus children’s minds to the learning required of them.  

WALT- what are we learning today. Basically the learning objective for the lesson which focuses the children’s attention on the essence of the lesson. The teacher makes clear to the children which skills, knowledge or understanding they will be learning.  

WILF- what I’m looking for The teacher lays out the expectations for the lesson. What will be done, what is required of the student.  

The TEACHER tells the children what they will be learning, the TEACHER tells the children what the expectations are.

The children are waiting to hear WIIFM  

WIIFM- what’s in it for me?

Society is becoming increasingly individualistic and self-centred. I understand what you want me to learn and how you want me to learn it, but what is the relevance of this learning to me? This is all about ownership of learning.  

Example of the use for WALT, WILF and WIIFM: During the topic ‘plants and flowers’ we made hyacinths. The children roll up pieces of tissue paper and stick them onto a kitchen roll. This is a task for the motor skills, developing and strengthening the finger muscles. The fact that Mother’s day was coming up…….  

The group of five year old boys were not impressed. They don’t want to make flowers- yuck!

Out comes WALT-

“right boys, we are going to take these pieces of tissue paper and roll them up into small balls. Don’t pull that face!” “Do you know why we are doing this?”

“to make flowers” (the disgusted face )

“yes, we’re going to make flowers, but why are we making the tissue paper balls?”

That stumped them…..

“look how I am using my fingers, to be able to make the balls you have to have very strong finger muscles”

“Like Spiderman?”

“Um, yes, just like Spiderman”

I’m starting to win, time to pull out WILF:

“I’m going to give each of you a pot to fill with little balls of tissue paper. The smaller the balls are the stronger your finger muscles must be, and if you can fill the whole pot, you must have muscles like Spiderman!”

So, I used a bit of subtle blackmail, but to these boys WIIFM was clear, if I do this, I’ll have muscles like Spiderman!