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Teaching Creativity

August 16, 2010
In July, Newsweek ran a cover story titled, The Creativity Crisis by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. They reported that while Americans’ average I.Q. has been rising 10 points each generation , creativity has been falling since 1990, with the steepest declines among children from kindergarten to the 6th grade. Part of the problem, say the authors, is that we assume creativity is a gift that can’t be taught. “While our creativity scores decline unchecked,” they say, “the current national strategy for creativity consists of little more than praying for a Greek muse to drop by our houses.”

How do we know creativity is declining? From a large study using the Torrance assessment, which asks people to generate ways of using everyday objects differently and/or improving them. And why is it declining? Researchers aren’t sure yet, but one likely suspect is the amount of time young people are mesmerized by television and video games. Another is that schools have devoted less time to creative activities in recent years – unlike many other countries, which are making a concerted effort to develop creativity in schools.  (See my post about about Dr. Young Zhao’s book)

Isn’t creativity innate – can it be taught?

According to Bronson and Merryman, “The argument that we can’t teach creativity because kids already have too much to learn is a false tradeoff. Creativity isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, fact-finding and deep research are vital stages in the creative process.”
At the end of the article they give some advice for parents and educators:
• Imagination exercises don’t work. It’s a myth that all you have to do is let your natural creativity run wild. There’s much more to being creative than that.

• Don’t tell someone to be creative. “Such an instruction may just cause people to freeze up,” say Bronson and Merryman. Here’s a better approach from University of Georgia professor Mark Runco: “Do something only you would come up with – that none of your friends or family would think of.” Using this approach, he’s doubled people’s creative output.

• Reduce screen time. For every hour spent watching TV, says University of Texas professor Elizabeth Vandewater, overall time on creative activities like fantasy play and art projects drops as much as 11 percent.

• Exercise. “Almost every dimension of cognition improves from 30 minutes of aerobic exercise,” say Bronson and Merryman. “The type of exercise doesn’t matter, and the boost lasts for at least two hours afterward.” But this works only for people who are physically fit. For those who aren’t, fatigue counteracts the benefits.

• Get immersed in a passion. “Kids do best when they are allowed to develop deep passions and pursue them wholeheartedly – at the expense of well-roundedness,” say Bronson and Merryman.  American Psychological Association researcher Rena Subotnik has found that children who dive into one area and become expert in it have better self-discipline and handle setbacks more effectively.

On this same topic….. if you have not watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about schools and creativity – I encourage you to take a look here.

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