Friday, May 22, 2009

Another Denver Airport post: Creative Teachers

We had our end of the year meetings in both sites over the last 10 days, Nebraska and California. As Monique, Nancy and I discussed the energy and immense productivity we saw in the meeting we started recognizing how uniquely creative and collaborative our teachers are. Our approach focuses on key ideas while letting teachers create their units and variations. The idea is that fidelity is to core ideas and not a prescribed lesson. Our principles are about process, thinking and integration. Our teachers have become amazing at using this platform to be creative. Even though grades have created units together the products were often different in meaningful ways. For example all second grades created a stamp as one assignment- but those were not uniform in the classes- showing that kids are creative, not between classroom showing that teachers are creative. More than that they UNDERSTAND what are the key ideas and where they can be creative and create variations that reflect their classrooms, individuality and skill/ comfort level.
As a researcher this has cost me much- and they are constantly aware of the research asking " we don't want to screw up the data". But the results are exactly what we wanted- implementation that is powered by teachers, sustainable, meaningful. For a second there I thought - if I had to retire right now, I would have retired happy.
If we want a creative generation we need to let teachers be creative! For that to happen professional development must provide the space for teacher creativity to emerge.

Monday, May 18, 2009

More Thoughts about Creativity

Before I start I'd like to send a hello to Regina Murphy of Ireland, and invite her to contribute to the blog (let me know and I'll set this up). I never intended this blog to be a one person act and what Regine is doing I find extremely interesting (I'll let her tell about it...).

In my last post I focused on skill as a part of creativity and potentially a filter for measuring "higher order" processes.
The question stays- what is creativity? My understanding is still evolving and this blog seems to be one of the places I do my thinking, so here goes:
Creativity has a strong creative domain component- like expertise in any field it is highly contextualized. If you are a sculptor a painter or a mathematician your deep understanding of your field is part of being creative or it at least a necessary but not sufficient condition. Such domain knowledge is what enables the artist (and I use this term to include anyone attempting to create an art product) to translate a vision, intent to a product. As Mike Jackson explained to me [I am paraphrasing] For me creativity is when I can translate what I see in my mind on the paper, then it is a good product. I care about the process the most, once it is done I stop being engaged.
Yet, people who describe themselves (or by others) as creative seem to be able to carry some of their creativity with them into new domains explore them and finally be engaged with them in full. Looking at the Universal Learning Model that my colleagues and I are focusing on- creativity becomes a multi-dimensional construct that combines several aspects of learning. The first is knowledge of the domain, most important is procedural knowledge that drives the creative process itself. Second is focus- single minded focus of attentional resources (i.e. working memory) to the task at hand. It is the experience of Flow or just extreme focus on the work that is often romantically portrayed. Finally and maybe the characteristic that most often helps the artist transcend a creative genre and learn a new one- Motivation.
The most universal feature of creativity is motivation. Motivation directs attention and allows the focus described above, which in turn leads to learning of new knowledge of the domain and most importantly the process. In motivation I think the most important features are slef-concept, seeing one's self as an artist or creative person. The second is the longing for complete engagement or flow. I think that once you develop Flow, you constantly search for it. And if you cannot find it you look for new domains in which you can re-experience it. Oliver Sacks describes such a case in "The Case of the Colorblind Painter". A desperate search by the artist for the way to rediscover flow probably the experience that ancient artists used to describe as the presence of a muse.
More later

Thursday, May 7, 2009

On Being Skillful

We often disregard the skills. We want kids to think (adults too for that matter). As we try to measure things like creativity, we try to avoid the skill threshold or work around it.
I am like that too to a certain degree. But, as I think about these constructs I strongly believe that creativity, intelligence, and learning are all deeply embedded in domain knowledge and a threshold of skills that allow you to engage meaningfully with the the subject matter.
In other words, Tiger Woods that cannot putt well is just a golf bum who thinks a lot about the game, Einstein without his knowledge of math is just a crazy dude sleeping on a park bench. Before we disregard skills in favor of other "higher order" thinking we must remember that when Bloom created his taxonomy he did not mean that knowledge is not as important as any other level in his hierarchy.
Sooooo, my point is that teaching skills and measuring them should not be disregarded. Moreover, if we intend to measure any higher order thinking about these things- creativity, interpretation. We must also measure skills- to make sure that skills are not the filter that mediates what we measure. If we do not, what we claim is creativity may just be a proxy to skill level and out of school experiences.
In fact, I would argue that the only way to reliably measure creativity is a dynamic assessment in which students are first provided a meaningful context to work in and provide content knowledge and then their actions with these building blocks are measured.