Monday, November 23, 2009

Creative = Common?

Last Friday, I stayed in district to attend our school's annual Institute Day. This time I was "voluntasked" (worth copyrighting?) to co-lead a session on Creativity. With less than a week to prepare, a copse of papers to grade, and the nagging tug of my blogging duties in and out of class, I wanted to say no, but this is a topic I care a great deal about, so I agreed.

Hearing the alarming fatality numbers on PowerPoint™ presentations, my co-presenters (Murphy, Kajfez) and I decided to show, not tell. We asked the teachers in our sessions (about 60 in all) to play with pictures, language, and cartoon captions before we led a short discussion.

The conversations in sessions and afterward offered some interesting comments. I'm also sneaking in comments from parent-teacher conferences and some student comments here. Use any one of them as springboards for your own blog comments:

"Creative assignments are fine and good, but when do we start preparing students for college?"

"Who can be creative in a stressful, time-driven environment like NT?"

"When I was a young kid I was very creative, but that's not what gets rewarded in the real world of tests?"

"No one pays attention to human development in school. It's who you are right now vs. the national average that matters."

"School tells a story of how the world is, not how the world might be."

"Whenever a good enough idea emerges, people often stop thinking about new ideas. 'Why re-invent the wheel?' they'll say."

"Some people are just born creative."

"It's such a myth that creativity flourishes in isolation. It's all about working with other people."

"If we practice creativity we become more creative. It we practice routine we become robots."

"There are so many ways to measure creativity, but schools only measure a tiny fraction of these."

"Necessity is the mother of invention; we only truly create when we feel we need to."

"People should always have the chance to opt out of being creative."


Katie M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katie M said...

I was reading the different comments that you posted below your blog and the one that caught my eye was "some people are just born creative." A few weeks ago I was able to attend a leadership conference, and the leader of this conference spent a great deal of time focusing on the fact that there are no "born" anything: leaders, athletes, etc. While I think that some people may be born with better athletic skills due to certain genes being passed down, I think that the statement "some people are just born creative" is not true. I think everyone is born with the tools to be a creative person, it just all has to do with the type of environment you are raised in. Some people are able to funnel their creativity into something easier than others. Anyone can be creative, but that might take different forms. For some, the creativity could be illustrated through art, coming up with a new idea, figuring out a solution to something... there are multiple ways to express creativity.

Sophie M said...

As I read the comments, the one that stuck out to me the most was "School tells a story of how the world is, not how the world might be." Reading this, it made me realize the real difference between a straight history class like AP US history and one like AIS. This quote allowed me to see the benefit in taking AIS. Being in a class like AIS allows students use history as a precedent and apply it to the future. By analyzing what has happened in the past, we can expand on how the world is right now, but we can also delve into how the world would be different in the absence of certain people or events (through analyzing their importance in history). The structure of this class allows us to focus on details that create a picture beyond that of the world today. This being said, an unconventional class like AIS sets building blocks for students to be able to not only think about how the world is now, but how it might be different had historical circumstances been different, something that other students may not be able to do in more straightforward history and english classes.

Lizzy said...

Two of these quotes particularly caught my attention, and I think that one can help to disprove the other. Personally, I believe that creativity is very important to education, and most of all, personal growth. The first quote: "Creative assignments are fine and good, but when do we start preparing students for college?" I think that whomever said this seriously underestimates the value of creativity in everyday life. Any higher-level occupation will require a relatively high degree of creativity simply because one has to be quite personable to be successful in such a job, and having personality requires creativity. And why do most people attend college? To prepare themselves for a career. To be successful in most fields, you need to be able to deal with other people well, and to deal with other people, you have to be engaging. To be engaging, you have to be creative: "If we practice creativity we become more creative. It we practice routine we become robots." No one wants to be around a robot.

StoneA said...

Honestly, I want to write a page long response to all of these quotes. They all definitely deserve one. However, there at two quotes in particular that I think relate to a peculiar event I witnessed just last night, "There are so many ways to measure creativity, but schools only measure a tiny fraction of these" and "People should always have the chance to opt out of being creative". Last night I was struggling with my math homework at the Wilmette Library. A women sitting at a table parallel to mine noticed I was having trouble and sent her twenty-three year old daughter over to assist me. I graciously accepted her help and watched closely as she attempted to answer the problem I was struggling with. However, she got stuck on the same step I did. Puzzled, she called over her brother try his luck with the problem. He was a capable mathematician but, like his sister and I, could not best the troublesome equation. About a minute past and then out of nowhere Nicky (sister/daughter) drew pencil to paper and solved the problem using a complex technique I was unable to recognize. Her brother was in awe. He stared at her and passionately said, "That's beautiful".
I shocked that he could recognize beauty in something as bland as math. I suppose to him, and all others passionate about math, creativity can be expressed with numbers. I think we tend to forget that creativity can be expressed through any kind of design. Not just through music, writing, ect. I think this is relevant to the second quote I mentioned because teachers don't always know how students like to express their creativity. It may be that a student expresses creativity through very obscure methods and doesn't feel comfortable forcing creativity in an assignment. Students shouldn't be forced to be creative and should have the option of completing assignments with traditional methods.

Sam H said...

I really enjoyed the quotes. Some of them made me laugh, like "Who can be creative in a stressful, time-driven environment like NT?" This struck as not only false, but if a teacher said it, offensive and destructively apathetic. I think that a teacher telling me that I am already assigned too much to be creative is offensive. I think that a teacher telling me that my school is too stressful for "fun" activities is rather annoying. Who has the power to make it more conducive to creative beneficial learning, the teachers. This leads me to one question, What great societal apex was reached on a scantron?

This leads me to the quote "When I was a young kid I was very creative, but that's not what gets rewarded in the real world of tests?" Doesn't it defeat the point of tests if they don't reward creativity and ingenuity. There has been very little achieved through "fact based" thinking. Basic facts are important, those who don't know the past are bound to repeat it. We need to learn about the basic trends of history, learning the birthdate of Roy Cohen and the way in which he died will have no bearing on my true conception of American history in a way to apply to the future.

There are lots of people who do well on tests. They get into "good" colleges and get jobs at "good" companies. I bet a high percentage of Wall Street investment bankers went to an ivy league school, what did they ever contribute to society.

That isn't to say that lots of great people haven't also gone to Ivies, their testing abilities allowed their true intelligence to grow in these "elite" institutions.

Max Rice said...

Yo Doc Oc, its max making his glorious return to After reading this post the famous Mark Twain quote comes to mind "dont let schooling get in the way of your education". There are some things that you just cant teach like creativity or calculus and it would be unfair to grade students on something their born with. Thats why I am thankful that I go to a school like new trier where they're so many out of school options where I can master my creativity like LOGOS magazine which meets Tuesdays after school in the mac lab.

MMarin said...

"Some people are just born creative."

I hate hearing this sort of thing, but I hear it often. As someone who does a lot of stuff with art now, I often get comments like, "Wow, I've wished I could draw my entire life. But I can't," and when I encourage them to start practicing I always get the dead-end response that it's hopeless to even try because it's a natural gift.

Drawing isn't a natural talent! There may be some inclinations towards an interest in it early in life, but interest is just about all it takes to get things started. Dedicating time to it is probably one of the most important things for it. When I was younger I drew all the time, and while drawing is fun and rewarding, it was also a frustrating, tedious, and discouraging process. When I was in elementary/middle school I was about the same as everyone else at drawing, but things are a lot different now because it's something I wanted to put time to. Only a few years have made a huge difference, so there's no reason for anyone to think they can judge what's possible for themselves based on what they haven't tried developing yet.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people have this idea that creativity and many other skills are inborn, and it is the worst belief one can have when they're learning. With number rankings and competition at NT, for instance, I can imagine that notion being very discouraging. Some people might feel like the numbers charting their efforts in school are definite. Consequently, they might think they're stuck in one place compared to other people for the rest of their lives. In reality, just about anything can change between now, college, and on.

Shirley said...

Reading through all these comments has led me to believe that our class does not have a strong grasp of genetics. "Some people are just born creative" is true to some extent. Something as complex as creativity is doubtlessly affected by a large number of genes. Genes are a template, something that can be read to determine tendencies, not actualities. People can be born with a lesser of greater tendency towards creativity that can either be nurtured of discouraged. The combination is what actually determines a person's creativity.

Caroline C said...

I think all of these quotes are very interesting. This one struck a particular chord with me, "It's such a myth that creativity flourishes in isolation. It's all about working with other people." I agree with this statement because I like to get inspired by others. For some, however, it actually is all about isolation. Some of the best artists like to sit in a room and just think about what they are going to paint and even some authors wait until an idea pops into their mind. For me, working with people gets my creative juices flowing. I think it's good to bounce ideas off one another.

Anna.S said...

Katie, I really like what you said about being born with the tools to be creative. I think this is very true for a lot of things. And Michelle, I think you raise an interesting point. I also spend a lot of my free time doing art, in the form of photography. Anyone who has a facebook can tell you that everyone thinks they are a great photographer, and can prove it with dozens of candid (and not) shots of their friends. But for me, photography is something very, very different. For one, it's a way to connect with my dad who has a lot of cameras and photo equipment. Because I was raised in a house that had a fully loaded darkroom in the basement, and rooms stuffed with camera bags, negative sleeves and boxes upon boxes of photographs, I chose to take a photography class. I chose it because I knew that my dad could help me if I ever needed equipment or advice, because he has the Eye. In photo, having an Eye is critical. Its the difference between a good photo and an extremely boring one. Like Cartier-Bresson said, its all about the "decisive moment" in photography. Because I had my dad to teach me basic camera skills, I have continued with photography (and now have one of Doc OC's co-presenters, Murphy, as my photo teacher).

So was I born creative? Maybe not, but I certainly was raised that way. This is said by the quote "If we practice creativity we become more creative. If we practice routine, we become robots."

S. Bolos said...

Anna -- thanks for keeping this going with examples of such specific practices. In fact, a group of professors from Harvard and other universities just completed a six-year study that breaks innovation down to five simple practices: "Because the ability to think differently comes from acting differently...anyone can become a better innovator, just by acting like one."

Claire m said...

The quote, "Who can be creative in a stressful, time-driven environment like NT?" prompted me to address the importance of having a creative outlet. Since New Trier is a stressful environment, it is imperative that students find a way to relieve that stress. Often times creativity is the means by which stress is relieved. Like Anna, I am also taking photo this year but I am taking it for the first time. That class is a part of my schedule at NT, and I have found that I look forward to that class each day because I can calmly develop and print my photos. This is my own creative outlet, and because it is a part of my schedule I am given time despite the "stressful, time-driven environment". For me, taking a class that involves creativity makes it possible to be creative despite the intense environment.

J.D. M. said...

One of these comments in particular caught my attention, and i gave it some thought. "It's such a myth that creativity flourishes in isolation. It's all about working with other people." Creativity is defined as original work that is generally derived from the imagination of the creative person. This comment says that creativity flourishes amongst groups of people, claiming isolated creativity a myth. I couldn't disagree more with this belief. Take a painting, for example. How can this artwork be creative if it was constructed by a group of people?If the artwork is accurately deemed "creative", it must be an original idea, deriving from the imagination. How could the artwork be "creatively" thought of by a group of people. It cannot. This collective thinking becomes common thought, which can't be considered "creative" thinking because a group of people are all thinking the same thing. In the painting example, a group of people have the same idea for the artwork, therefore it's not a creative idea at all, since it lacks originality.
Throughout history, there have been artists, authors, and musicians that could be considered creative for various reasons. Mozart, for example is creative in his famous method of composition, often times he would complete his works before writing them on paper having memorized the notes and sounds in his mind, and for the unique sound of his music. Many of Shakespeare's plays, poems, and sonnets have references to other famous writers that came before him. His borrowing of other's ideas, questions his creativeness. I'm not saying he wasn't creative, but makes me wonder how creative he really was.

Maeli G. said...

I have another little something to add to the comment regarding being born creative. I agree that we all have the ability to change and grow according to the environment we live in, but I also think that there are some people who naturally tend towards a certain direction. Some children have an inherent drive to create, while others, well, just don't. I'm not trying to say that either one is better or worse than the other; this world is full of all types. In my family, I've always had more of a need to create than my little brother, even though we've received the same upbringing. That doesn't diminish the quality of his work nor his ability to express himself. It's just that creativity isn't a priority to him. Maybe it's genetics, as Shirley said (though I'm not sure that we can attribute one's creative tendencies entirely to his or her chromosomes). Maybe it's something that science hasn't yet managed to explain. Oh well. Just something to think about.

Sarah. said...

"Necessity is the mother of invention; we only truly create when we feel we need to."

At first, I strongly disagreed with this quote. But, then, I thought. I thought about Black Friday and how companies are willing to lose money all year round until this very last month of the year during which they hope to gain a profit - out of necessity. I thought of how my dance day group needs to be done with our piece by the end of this week - out of necessity.

This saddened me a bit, and I began to question the world's motives altogether. But then, I remembered a great quote from Manhattan, "Not everyone gets corrupted. You gotta have a little faith in people," I realized that what may seem like creation out of necessity is confused for being passionate about the things you do. I may be oversimplifying, but there are electronic companies out there who really care about its customers. For example, I e-mailed several electronic companies urging them to follow the Congo Conflict Minerals Act and received a speedy reply from Nintendo Wii. I didn't sign up for dance so I could be on stage for one period during dance day this year, but because I truly love it.

I think that, as long as you try hard at whatever you do, be it a job where you sit for 8 hours a day, and strive to do your best, you are being creative. You may not be drawing or painting or sculpting, but you are doing something that effects not only yourself but others. You are creating you, essentially. And the only person who needs to do that is yourself.

Anonymous said...

While I read this blog, I thought about a quote that Albert Einstein once said, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I think it is interesting that Einstein refers to the “intuitive mind” as a "gift" and the “rational mind” as a "faithful servant". I think that the word servant carries a negative connotation almost like the word slave. Gifts, however, are usually happily accepted by people, but a gift like the "intuitive mind" is one that the receiver must work to keep. Creativity, among other things in our lives, tends to wither away with less use. Because, cut and dry thinking may be easier to some people, I think their sense of creativity may be lost.

I also think it is interesting that Albert Einstein said this quote, because he is famous for being a physicist. Like Andy said, I think that people forget that creativity comes in forms other than art and poetry. It can be seen every day, including in the most factual/quantitative subjects like physics.

Morgan L said...

I happen to be artistically inclined and thought of as creative. And projects such as posters etc are just my thing. Scantron and standardized test are a very important part of school, but I wonder what these people are thinking when they say "...but when do we start preparing students for college". Especially in this economy its the creative ideas which thrive. The same old same old doesn't always work its the really inventive ideas which jump start something huge. For example iPod apps are huge now, and the more creative you get with them the better. Like Andy said I could say a lot about this because I do feel passionate about it. Its true that creativity is not as clear cut as a math problem, but in the real world if a creative idea (like the iPod apps) is successful its pretty easy to measure.

And as for parents who believe it isn't preparing us for college. The test scores are important, but why do they think schools have essays? Its the creative ones that stand out which I believe will stick with the admissions office the most and help get you in.

Ruchi said...

The quote, "When I was a young kid I was very creative, but that's not what gets rewarded in the real world of tests?" really spoke to me because it really sums up a large part of my life. Maybe I was "born creative," like a ton of the people above have mentioned, but I know that I was much more creative as a child than I am now. I think it must have something to do with growing up and realizing that in the real world, things like drawing don't often make you as successful or earn you as much money as, say, math. Younger people tend to have more romantic, fantastical views on life, whereas those views often die down as they grow old and realize how cut-throat the real world truly is.

This also made me think about how most people seem to lean democratically in high school and college, and over time many of them develop more republican views. I'm not saying that democrats are more creative than republicans by any means; to me it just seems that they often have more innovative and new ideas for change. Young people feed off of innovation and change, we love it; we love anything that will separate us or make us better than the older generations of our country. Then again, maybe they know something that we don't. Maybe creativity is childish and unreal; maybe it serves as a detriment in the "real world." All I know is that now is the time in our lives when we are beginning to find out what it means to be adults, and it's time for us to either harness our creativity for life, or cast it aside.

Judy Gressel said...

There is no doubt that American students are more creative than their counterparts across the world who are expected to learn through memorization of facts. It is also important to remember that most creative products/innovations are too large and complex to be generated by a single individual.

Luckily, most New Trier teachers know when to put aside the textbooks and prescribed curricula and authentically engage students in learning. Group projects allow our students to build on each other’s ideas to jointly construct new understandings that none of the participants had prior to collaborative effort. Collaboration moves knowledge, creativity and communication beyond mere acquisition of facts and engages our students with real learning over time.

Anna H. said...

The quote that I found interesting is actually from Doc Oc's poetry blog.
“There is no time for creativity in schools. Everything is geared to getting into college. Schools pay lip service to creativity, but the sub-text is ‘teach to the test.’”

This quote reminded me of my sister, Meredith, who is a former middle school math teacher. She taught in rural Mississippi where in one of her seventh grade classrooms, she had a 16 year old student. AS a teacher she was discouraged from any sort of creative teaching methods and was told the only thing she needed to worry about was the standardized state testing. This was because the higher the tests grades were, the more money the school got. So even though she attempted and was successful at infusing her class with the slightest amount of creativity, she was still reminded time and time again that the only thing she needed to worry about was getting these kids to test-well.

Bead Corporation said...

Does creativity come from thought? If so, does thought come from solitude? Do you know anyone who seeks solitude in todays IPOd, texting, IM'ing,computer, Iphone, twittering world? Maybe we have all hookedf into the matrix and creativity is a hoax