A fascinating – if somewhat nebulous – topic: and one that we take seriously here at Mentor. After all, a failure to appreciate the nature of creativity can hinder a student’s progress. In this blog, we’ll discuss some important research into creative ability, as well as giving tips on how to build upon this through teaching.
One of the most ground-breaking studies into creativity, its role in learning, and how this changes with maturity was conducted by general systems scientist and author George Land in 1968. Based on the creativity test he designed for NASA (which was composed with the aim of helping them select the most forward-thinking scientists and engineers), Land tested children at the age of five, then at the age of 10, and finally at the age of 15. He also performed the test on adults. The astonishing results – which showed five-year-old children scoring a whopping 98% on the creativity scale, which then declined sharply to just 12% by the time they were fifteen, and to as little as 2% when they were adults – led Land to conclude that ‘non-creative behaviour is learned’ (Breakpoint and Beyond: Mastering the Future Today by George Land and Beth Jarman ).
It’s no surprise, then, that there has been greater emphasis on the importance of nurturing creativity from an early age within schools, with leading educational experts agreeing that it can’t just be left to chance, because ‘as children move through school, they quickly learn how the system works and suppress their spontaneous creativity’. How, then, can we foster that creative spark through learning – and ensure that it is not lost as a child matures?
Divergent thinking. Encourage students to look at problems from every angle – and to grasp the idea that there is more than one solution to every problem. For divergent thinking, the more solutions, the better; we want students to seek out unusual and innovative answers to questions, to really think ‘outside the box’. This fosters creativity in powerful ways. There should also be no judgement about ideas; in this setting, any idea is as valid as another. More is more – and the more radical, the better!
Remove boundaries. Typically, we wish for students to stay focused; to remain within the prescribed ‘lines’, as it were. If we’re trying to develop creative thinking, however, we want to remove those boundaries. Focus on the tactile and unusual: if you’re studying a coastal town, bring in some sand and let students feel and craft; paint murals; turn a story into a play. There’s no reason that geography can’t involve artwork and that history can’t involve performance. This kind of cross-pollination can be really helpful in eking out creative potential. And don’t be afraid to take away the traditional desk-and-chair set up, either; an Australian study showed that students were more capable of problem-solving when lying down – perhaps due to the relaxed, ‘free’ state such a position promotes.
Teach through play. Whether it’s using word puzzles, maths games, digital mediums (such as educational apps or even video games) or drama-based learning, there’s no doubt that even the most unengaged student can be encouraged to develop creative thinking through play. Not only will introducing a game take students out of the familiar, creativity-suppressing ‘system’ of formal education, but also it will focus their attention and encourage their creativity without them even realising – because they’ll be having so much fun!