A Closer Look at Creativity, and How to Teach It

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As kids, with crayons and coloring books in hand, we probably didn’t think twice about coloring outside the lines. As we got older, we learned all about lines: standing in them, behind them, and that crossing them was risky and could get us into trouble. As a result, our creativity may have been stifled – either a little or a lot.

But who knew that creativity matters more than ever in the business world? At Hult Labs we have heard employers say that they want business school graduates to exhibit more of it. They’ve also told us that schools should help students develop their creative competence alongside more traditional core business skills. So what are some specific ways schools can instill more creativity in students? Some good learnings at the primary and secondary school levels are beginning to shed light on some of the ways to do it.

In the article “Fundamentals of Creativity,” Ronald A. Beghetto and James C. Kaufman provide five insights educators should consider before incorporating more creativity in the classroom. The first insight, they believe, requires defining what creativity means. Most people don’t realize that creativity is a mix of two elements: “scholars generally agree that creativity involves the combination of originality and task appropriateness.” This means that a great idea is only half of the creativity equation; if it doesn’t meet the requirements of the task at hand, it’s as useful as a shiny penny (bright, but not so useful).

Beghetto and Kaufman advise building in imaginative thinking into traditional learning assignments. One example they give isa lesson on ancient Rome, [where]students might create a diary for a person living during this time, with period-accurate details.” Another example is a math teacher asking students to contribute ideas on all the various ways to “solve an algebraic proof.”

The second insight involves the distinction between two types of creativity: “little c,” and “big C.” The first type is the kind that people engage in every day, while the second involves “transformational contributions made by mavericks within a domain.” Beghetto and Kaufman have expanded on the two types to create “The Four C Model,” which they believe can help educators assess and develop their students’ competence.

Here’s how they describe the model in their article:

  • “mini-c, or interpretive, creativity (such as a 2nd grade student’s new insight about how to solve a math problem).
  • little-c, or everyday, creativity (such as a 10th grade social studies class developing an original project that combines learning about a key historical event with gathering local histories from community elders).
  • Pro-C, or expert, creativity (for example, the idea of the flipped classroom pioneered by teachers Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann).
  • Big-C, or legendary, creativity (for example, Maria Montessori’s new approach to early childhood education).”

To make the model come to life, they use the example of a student and a science fiction story. A student who submits an original story to a literary contest might be considered “mini-c,” but a teacher can help the student develop the skill to compose a story that might eventually be categorized as “little-c.”

In some cases, with more dedication (and over time) a teacher and student can work toward the goal of “Pro-C” level stories. But Beghetto and Kaufman say this can take years of “deliberative practice,” and only a small group of science fiction writers will ever reach the top level in the model – “Big-C.” But it’s important, they say, for educators to teach students about the lives of Big-C creators; often their life stories involve persistence and resilience, which are keystones for all the creativity types.

The third insight involves schools, which play a big factor in helping or thwarting students from expressing themselves creatively, and further developing their competence. Teachers can hinder students’ creativity if they promise rewards based on their creative work, compare them to each other, and promote a competitive atmosphere. In a positive environment, teachers would nurture students’ personal interests, encourage them to have fun, and acknowledge their creative efforts.

Beghetto and Kaufman also cite a couple of examples for how teachers can encourage students to become more engaged in their own learning process: allow them to develop their personal interests through their assignments. “Instead of having students choose from a limited set of topics for their science experiments, a teacher might encourage them to plan experiments that examine their specific interests […] Language arts students might have the option of writing a new scene for an assigned novel instead of writing a compare-and-contrast essay.”

In the fourth insight, Beghetto and Kaufman take issue with the “myth” that creativity is all fun and games and requires a minimal amount of enterprise. It can take years, they say, for an individual to develop the kind of mastery required to produce Pro and Big-C creative contributions – even the little-c, “every day” kind. Moreover, it takes guts for young students (even older ones) to reveal their creative ideas to others, because it means risking rejection. Teachers should be prepared to help students deal with the public slings and arrows portion of the creative process.

The final insight involves choosing one’s creative moments. Beghetto and Kaufman believe teachers can help students develop “creative metacognition,” which means knowing one’s creative strengths and weaknesses, and the “when, how and why” of applying creativity based on the situation at hand. Teachers can help students develop this ability by providing feedback using the “Goldilocks Principle.” The authors describe it like this: “it should be neither too harsh (stifling students’ motivation) nor too mild (failing to acknowledge real-world standards).” Constructive feedback can go a long way in helping students strengthen their creative competence – and their risk tolerance – at any grade level.

Photo courtesy of plindberg.

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