Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sticking to Basics--part 2

A great post related to my earlier "back to basics" post with a couple equally interesting links. The original can be found here .
-Joel G.

Thoughts on “Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative” by Ken RobinsonPublished by Jessica Draper June 13th, 2007 in Shop Talk

Ken Robinson argues in Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative that the world is changing rapidly, due in large part to technological advances, and that the old-fashioned style of “logico-deductive” education simply cannot meet the needs of the rapidly arriving future. The future, in his view, demands a new vision and effective use of human resources—specifically, the urgent need for creativity in all areas of education, culture, and business.
He defines creativity as “imaginative processes with [real-world] outcomes that are original and of value.” This process is the key to thriving amid the rapid and radical changes in modern culture—and the even more rapid and radical changes to come.
Some of these changes have already weakened the traditional view of education and employment; having a university degree is no longer a guarantee of either getting or keeping a job. Employers, he says, “want people who can think intuitively, who are imaginative and innovative, who can communicate well, work in teams and are flexible, adaptable and self-confident. The traditional academic curriculum is simply not designed to produce such people.”
The good news is that anyone can be creative under the right conditions. Robinson argues that creativity is not either/or, not just for certain people or disciplines; instead, “real creativity comes from finding your medium, from being in your element.” It is “a dynamic process that draws on many different areas of a person’s experience and intelligence.” It is also a cultural process, arising “out of our interactions with ideas and achievements of other people.”
So, how can education help train these creative, flexible, innovative people? Robison strongly advocates various reforms (reuniting arts and sciences, abandoning the IQ-based conception of intelligence, and others), but his keys to promoting creativity (in education and in business) are:
Encouraging risk-taking and experimentation.
Creating interdisciplinary associations, breaking down the barrier between art and science.
Harnessing creativity, encouraging and acting on ideas and creative solutions.
Obviously, any of these things is much easier to say than to actually do in the real world. (This is where grand visions in education-reform books tend to founder—it’s harder to come up with specific techniques and recommendations than general principles.)
On the subject of reducing the risks that stifle experimentation, however, a couple of ideas did bubble up as I read the book. They’re based on the question posed in the parable of the fence or the ambulance: do you build a fence at the top of a dangerous cliff, or station an ambulance at the bottom? To reduce the negative consequences of failure as a learner explores a new topic, a combination of techniques seems promising.
First, the fence. When presenting a new subject, reduce the consequences of failure by providing the learners with the background, concepts, and guidelines they need to freely experiment. Nothing is so frustrating as having too wide a field and no idea at all about how to proceed. Giving the learners a defined “sandbox” and the tools to use in it changes confusion into purpose, and wandering into real exploration. Schools that follow Maria Montessori’s methods [] provide just one example of fence-building technique: the children use tools and toys that let them freely explore and experiment, but they conduct those explorations and experiments within precisely defined structures and routines that are set up so that they can correct themselves when they begin to go off track. (For a humorous look at Montessori schools, see The Cult of the Pink Tower by Emily Bazelon.)
Second, the ambulance. If methods for preventing failure don’t work, the failure shouldn’t have such dire consequences that the students are afraid to experiment. Part of decreasing the consequences of failure is changing the focus of assignments and exercises from categorizing students (by score and grade) to assessing whether or not they actually know the material or can do the task—aiming for mastery rather than earning a score. Providing low-stakes, repeatable assignments with frequent, specific feedback, for example, lets students try, learn from their mistakes, and try again without worrying about a single failure permanently marring their academic record.
Of course, making those assessments relevant, interesting, and even fun is another challenge. Sounds like a job for creativity!
To see Ken Robinson talk about education and creativity, watch his speech at TED.

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