Saturday, October 6, 2018

Creativity: Monoliths and Constellations

Creativity has been increasingly recognized over the last decade, at least, as something more than a pastime or a pursuit that would round out the character or skillset of one who risks going through life with a narrow range of interests and a narrow horizon as well.

Despite the body of literature that has come out over the last few years to underline the social, personal and economic benefits that stem from creativity, it continues to be regarded in some quarters with some trepidation. Creativity continues to be regarded as a remote monolith, steeped in a mythology that reinforces assumptions about god-given creative genius, the quick, easy genesis of complete works and the belief that creativity is merely the reserve of the fine arts.

When viewed with the fear and regard that a monolith incites, creativity can ultimately remain untapped or unexplored, especially in our classrooms. One factor that limits the extent to which teachers may explore and foster creativity in their classrooms, is the attention that must be paid to the curriculum and assessment, especially the diploma exam. Given the structure that the curriculum and a provincial or diploma exam imposes, there is a strong sense of risk in exploring creativity, potentially at the risk of leading the students down a rabbit hole that diverts them too far away from preparation for exams. Investing class time in creativity when it cannot be accurately evaluated nor is part of a diploma exam would be deemed indulgent or even reckless by those looking for measurable results from their child's education.

Apart from the pair of handcuffs that is put on teachers, especially high school teachers, by the diploma exam, there is a teacher's confidence in their own creativity. If a teacher lacks confidence in their creativity and/or does not have a creative outlet that they can visit to regularly identify significant aspects of the creative experience, he or she is less likely to risk exploring creativity if it takes them out of their comfort zone.

The opposed monoliths of assessment and a fine art perception of creativity need to be re-examined or even atomized. Assessment and education always need to be reconsidered as changes to technology and society occur. Creativity, meanwhile, is being regarded more and more through a different lens today. We are slowly moving away from the monolithic, narrow definition of creativity and as we look at the values, skills and characteristics we can associate with creativity. With a careful consideration of input or outcomes that we would associate with creativity we can generate a constellation of skills or competencies that may not the focus of a diploma exam, but are still vital traits that we, as teachers, would like to model and foster among our students.

A considered assessment of the qualities that are a part of this constellation of concepts that we associate with creativity would provide a few areas where teachers can bring a strength or interest to the classroom to model or support for their students. They will not necessarily be exercising creativity in a strict sense but such an approach will be an opportunity for a teacher who has reservations about their creativity to support students in an aspect of their creativity. There will be a need to adapt the curriculum and assessment to ensure that creativity is fostered in the classroom. There will also be a need for the powers-that-be to give creativity its due place in the curriculum and ensure that it is not pushed aside in favour more easily measured competencies. Creativity, like the concepts that I have associated it with in the constellation above, is sorely lacking in our society today and giving it short shrift because we cannot evaluate it should not be continued much longer.

In the meantime, teachers ought to see the opportunity to identify skills and competencies that are among their strengths and ensure that they embody and model them in their classrooms. Such efforts will ensure that their students are in a safe, supportive environment where they, in turn, can develop their competency in these areas and build the foundation for a creative practice that allows them to think divergently, solve problems, thinking critically and pose the "what about" questions that will generate novel ideas and innovations.