Tony Gurr

In Praise of Creativity…(Part One)

In Classroom Teaching, Teacher Training on 20/09/2011 at 12:15 pm

I think it was Einstein that said “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”!

Let’s test that little theory…

Today, we have a guest post from Chaz Pugliese, a teacher-trainer and musician (he plays a mean blues tune or two) based in Paris. Chaz and I met in Istanbul a few months ago and when I learned his “passion” was allthingscreativityI just had to ask how he felt about blogging!

I’m glad I did. Take a read – feel free to contact him at chazpugliese@gmail.com.

He’ll be back soon with “Part İki”…

 

We live in a culture that doesn’t encourage us to be creative unless there’s a chance we are going to strike it big with a commercial hit. Creativity, like so much else in our world, has been co-opted into consumerism and its worth calculated by how much money it generates.

The teaching world is no exception: the big pull is towards standardization, exams, regimented syllabi, a senseless don’t rock the boat attitude, intellectual shortsight that will do nobody a favor. The Victorian art critic John Ruskin, when asked why he was teaching factory workers to draw, said:

“I’m not teaching them to draw, I’m teaching them to see”.

Isn’t learning a language, too, a way of learning to see anew? I would venture to say that enhanced seeing and feeling are the real reasons to create, whether it is an exercise, a song, a haiku, or a brand new thought.

A creative teacher knows how to get his/her students’ attention. and help them keep it. A creative teacher knows how to teach in ways that are meaningful to the students. A creative teacher will always find ways to make her lessons stick.

Creative teachers can do all that.

Creativity is not an optional extra for a teacher, but rather the foundations to base our practice upon. Think of the word creativity and images of imposing Renaissance men or 20th century iconoclast physics will come to mind. Well, luckily for us common mortals, the story is a little more complex than that. If you’re after a genius type of creativity and you’re wondering whether this article will make you attain the heights of a Leonardo da Vinci or Bach, I’m sorry to say that, no, it won’t. But please read on, there’s hope. If we talk about an everyday type of creativity, absolutely everyone can be creative.

In this post we will tackle a few important questions such as:

  • What is creativity?
  • Why should I bother?
  • How can I become more creative?

 

What is creativity?

But what are we talking about when we’re talking about creativity? There are as many as 125 different definitions of creativity in the literature.

One thing is certain, there’s more to creativity than just thinking outside the box (or divergent thinking as it is called by creativity researchers). In fact, there seems to be general consensus that rather than just a single trait, creativity is best thought of as a cluster of skills used to produce an idea that is novel and culturally appropriate or valued.

There’s another definition I have always liked by professor Robert Sternberg, perhaps the world’s leading researcher in the field. For him, creativity is a decision we take. Wanting to be more creative is the main drive, the rest is up to hard work.

 

Why should I bother? 

A few years ago a few hundreds school kids in the UK were asked to name the qualities they thought a top teacher should have. What came first was ‘originality’, followed by ‘fairness’. This is hardly shocking news: great teachers have known all along that you can’t teach anyone anything if you haven’t managed to get through to them. And the best way to get our students’ attention is through a surprise: yes, kids like to be surprised (but don’t we all?), and anything that smacks of routine is bound to fail. So, a surprise gets us attention.

Interestingly, this seems in line with neurobiology research findings on the quality of attention: one of the four factors that has an impact on attention, and gets the students in a state of mental arousal is novelty (the three others are a perceived need, meaning, and emotions). Without creativity, we wouldn’t be able to come up with any surprises. Without creativity, we wouldn’t be able to cater for the great diversity of our classrooms: mixed levels, mixed intelligences. And without creativity, we wouldn’t be able to inject new life in the coursebook, either.

 

How can I become (more) creative?

The idea that creativity is a gift bestowed upon a few select ones by the gods above is one of those myths that tend to stick around for a long time. Just like intelligence, creativity is not a fixed, unitary trait, and can be in fact developed. But creativity needs to be invited, welcome, embraced. There is a myth about the creative soul that if you don’t feel inspired, you don’t have it.

I’ve been a musician for 30 years and if I had to depend on my inspiration every time I picked up my guitar, the guitar would stay mute. I’ve experienced every emotion imaginable when I play—from abject terror to sheer frustration to feeling absolutely nothing—and through it all like a recalcitrant mule, I have plodded on.

There’s no quick fix, no magic recipe, but  below are just a few things that may get you going:

  • Cherish the company of creative people around you. Engage them in conversation, ask questions, tease them.
  • Seize the moment. Always keep a notepad and a pencil ready. When an idea strikes, don’t EVER brush it aside thinking you’ll remember it later. You won’t. That’s not the way our brain works, once that synopsis is gone, it’s probably gone forever.
  • Is there a time of the day that seems to be conducive to better thinking? If so, try to stick to it.
  • Don’t be disappointed if what had seemed a great insight doesn’t lead to much. Put it on the back burner, you’ll come back to it later. Sometimes an idea needs a good incubation period. Nurture it, take it apart, play around with it. Play, play and play.
  • Take baby steps. You’re not out there to blaze new trails, or revolutionize the ELT world. Just keep telling yourself that every little bit helps. Fail, but fail better each time, to quote Beckett.
  • Value feedback, but believe in what you do and persevere. Charlie Parker was mercilessly booed off the stage for playing something new. Negative reactions didn’t stop him from pressing ahead and become the greatest jazz musician who ever lived.
  • Take sensible risks. Remember: learners like to be surprised, but they certainly don’t like to be shocked.

So here’s what I’d like to seecreativity training in ALL Teacher Training programs, from the newly-initiated or the inexperienced all the way up to MA level!

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  1. I couldn’t agree with you more and I love your advice. I teach first-year composition and many of my students, when asked to think sideways, say, “I am not creative.” There are some games you can play to exercise that creativity muscle. Check out http://creativitygames.net/

  2. It is such a relief and pleasure to read this. I have taught teachers for years and ALWAYS included creativity as part of what we did. I remember an irate teacher from down the corridor bursting into my room to find out what all the noise was about and she was faced with male students dressed in female clothing, a football lout and few students on the floor doing press ups whilst the others dressed in national dress were pretending to be on a tube. We were working on ‘theories of learning’ at the time, although i appreciate it may have been difficult to realise at first glance! this was not my creativity but the creativity of my students. set free to explore something in the way that best suited them. when they learn their way rather than ‘mine’, they blow me away with their skills, knowledge and capacity for creativity. They also worked harder than i would ever have dreamed of asking them to. the reward was for all of us, and they still remember that.

    • Thx Jackie,

      Yes, Chaz did a wonderful job with these two posts ;-) Great to see that so many others have started to talk about creativity much more these days!

      Chaz – we need another guest post (or three) from you ;-)

      T..

  3. Our society is solely focused on making money. “Why should you do something unless it means money?” Not only that but technology is made it easy for anyone to do an adequate job of producing music. With auto-tune machines you don’t have to even be able to sing. I have children 15 and under and they love my 70’s and 80’s music because many of these people are talented. They didn’t have the computers back then. Yes, it was still commercialized music, but not to the extent see today. Nice article!

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