Being An Original

I mentioned a few weeks ago in a blog entry that Adam Grant’s new book ‘Originals’ was high up on my reading list. Well, in the last few days his TED presentation on the topic came out – and it’s increased my enthusiasm for reading the book.

In it he shares some great research based findings on what marks out the most original and creative people. He shares some refreshing and interesting ideas on the value (within reason) of procrastination and the willingness to fail many times in order to get great ideas.

I believe his ideas merit particular attention and study by educators for the implications in terms of how we teach children, how they spend their time in school. Especially, we need to take a cold hard look at the issue of failure, seeing as most children see avoiding failures as one of their most vital and important tasks in school.

More Creativity, Please.

In our schools – at least the more progressive ones – we tell children that we want them to be creative and that creativity is a vital skill to grow up with. However, I believe we don’t do nearly enough to explore with children what creativity is, where it comes from/ manifests and how a person can develop a higher quantity/ quality of creativity. It’s almost treated as ‘you’ll know it when you see it.’ Further, i think all too often, the actions of the adults in our schools frequently send conflicting messages. On the one hand children are told that creativity is a good thing, but on the other hand when they choose to be creative or to act creatively in the way of their choosing, this is actively discouraged or sometimes even punished.

The reality is that one person’s creativity can often sit uncomfortably with others. Creativity, by its nature doesn’t run along neat pre-set lines like a train running on tracks. Rather, it has a random and uncontrolled aspect to it and this is likely to be even more the case for a child within whom their creativity and it’s counter-balancing elements of self-control are still developing.

Another issue is that a person’s creativity requires an element of separation and distancing from others. The reality today is that the more progressive a school is, likely the more students are encouraged to be actively engaged with their peers through projects, group work or even pair work or peer tutoring. Introvert habits of isolating the self fro others are frequently actively discouraged. Here’s a very interesting article that explores the role of isolation and solitude in creativity.

Lifehacker – Is Solitude A Key Element Of Creativity?

It makes a number of references to the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and I would thoroughly recommend his book on creativity for anyone who wants to delve further in to this area.

I believe that, as in so many things, balance is the key. We need school premises and infrastructure that provides for both group and individual space and activity. We need to build the flexibility and balance in to timetables to ensure that students have the freedom to be with themselves, to explore inside as well as to work in groups and collaborate. And, we need educators who understand the balanced needs of both interpersonal activity and solitude. We need to actively help children to understand how this aspect of their mind works, the role and value of daydreaming and we need to respect when they open up and share the material of their daydreams. To acknowledge isn’t to agree.

My guess is that, right now, in most schools we’re probably doing a better job of the engagement and busy activity of projects and group work than we are of the solitary aspects of creativity. Both are needed to develop key citical skills for the Twenty First Century.

Sad State of American Kindergarten

When supposedly rational, trained professionals do things which are increasingly bizarre and showing ample evidence that they are actually harming children in the longer term, you have to wonder what’s driving the whole process.

Edweek – Kindergarten Today, Less Play, More Academics

This article shares, very visually and starkly how much has changed in the US approach to Kindergarten between 1998 and 2010. The two big issues are, firstly, the inclination of KG teachers to expect that children should already have mastered many academic skills before starting school and secondly, how much more time they allocate to academics once those children are in school.

And, let’s not forget, this is a 12 year period during which the US has shown little progress on international comparative standardised assessments like PISA – indicating that it hasn’t even worked to raise academic standards and performance compared to other countries.

However, in my opinion, the damage of this strategy will show through in many ways other than failure to progress in PISA. I fear a generation of children who avoid learning except when it’s ‘done to them’. I also fear that this will be a generation of children within which the winners and losers in life will be determined by the chance factor of whether they happened to be a lucky or an unlucky one in terms of whether their brains’ neural networks were ready for this early onslaught of academics. Further, if evidence from research is right I fear this will be a generation that experiences higher levels of criminality, drug and alcohol addictions, marital discord and rates of failure in the softer aspects of living a successful life.

Overall, unacceptable prices for these children to pay for skewed logic and foolish treatment.

They Really Are All Unique

Do we have the courage to bring up a generation of children who really, genuinely think for themselves, do things their way each as individuals and are not bowed down under the weight of expectations to conform, fit in, comply, to be square pegs in square holes?

Youtube – TedxTeen – Ann Makosinski
(Embedding of the video is not permitted, so please click on the link above, open the youtube page and watch the video from there)

We say we want creativity in the world, that we want to nurture the creativity and individuality in each child. But, as parents and as educators, do our actions match our words?

Does, this young 18 year old show us what a society of truly individual, creative thinkers might be capable of?

Please watch this video – I promise, it’s really worth the 12 minutes.

The Link Between Worry and Creativity

This short article may be pointing out something that most people have long intuitively suspected – people who worry or ‘over think’ are often more developed, creative people;

Higher Perspective – New Research – Overthinking Worriers Are Probably Creative Geniuses

The article caused me to think particularly about two aspects that aren’t covered in the article.

Firstly, if these are the people with the scope to make greater creative contributions, are our modern organisations respecting them and meeting their needs adequately? Simply, I think such people are usually under-appreciated. All too often such individuals get lumped in with the negative irritants and are not appreciated by their colleagues or superiors. In today’s environment of tight deadlines and focus on doing more in less time, their inclination to get in to detailed discussion of their worries and issues they believe should be addressed are seen as getting n the way of progress. As a result, companies finish up with uncreative, unimaginative solutions to issues and a general anti-creativity. Too many issues get dealt with ‘the way we’ve always done it around here’. This isn’t productive and at worst cn even be dangerous in the longer term.

The second issue that went through my mind was how we fail to support children who show these traits at school. All too often, the worrier, the anxious child is treated as an irritant, a nuisance. The inclination in many environments for a factory-like set of routines and processes for the school day combined with a curriculum that is heavy on content finds it hard to support and facilitate these children.

If we really want to profess a commitment to holistic learning, personalised development, the whole child and the unique requirements of every child in the school then i believe teachers and educators need to develop approaches and strategies that support such students. The evidence suggests that if we can get it right, these students have a great deal to contribute.

Getting Kindergarten Education Right

http://www.npr.org/player/embed/462279629/462412695
(Click on the link above to hear the podcast)

People in many countries, including the UK and America are fond of pointing to countries like Finland and other Scandinavian countries as great examples for where they should be heading with education, if they wish to ensure the highest quality learning for the most children, preparing them to live the best possible lives. So, we then have to really wonder when we see that the reality of what is done pays so little attention to the lessons available from those countries.

I’ve written in the past about how we finished up with education systems that start children in school so very early. Of course, it all goes back to the industrial revolution and the desire to turn out interchangeable widgets (workers) who would be economically contributing with a principle of ‘sooner in, sooner out to get them working at an early age.

Today, most of our KG and Primary level children are being prepared for a life that will last 100 years – where’s the rush? Where’s the hurry?

This article from NPR is really worrying. Even though the data used is up to 5 years old, it shows a trend that suggests little has been learned, and in fact that things have been getting worse, not better. I believe what’s needed is a KG experience that provides abundant opportunity for play – both free and semi-structured, natural development of pro-social skills, physically active and energetic, with a rich variety of materials available to stimulate the children’s creativity.

NPR – Why Kindergarten is the New First Grade

I fear that what we’re seeing is continuing to act as an artificial form of filter, often at the expense of children coming from poorer backgrounds (I’ll be writing about this in another post quite soon), but also filtering those children whose neural networks take a little longer to get in shape to receive and be receptive to a programme of academics and emphasis on alphabet, reading and even basic writing skills. We may be sayingthat we want an education system that is holistic and wants to support every child to fulfill their potential – but do the actions reflect this?

Younger Children and Play

Regular readers of my blog know that I’m a firm advocate of letting younger children play and not burdening them with academics too young or too early.

Well, here’s further evidence for why this matters. This research goes even further to highlight the importance not only of play, but the type of play and the types of toys used to facilitate that play;

Jama Pediatrics – Type of Toy Used – Research Findings

I have had concerns for a long time, that even when children are left and allowed to play, everything becomes way too literal. Each thing is exactly what it is, and nothing else, especially in the realm of online play or games which are electronically based. Earlier, an empty box or some blocks could perform multiple functions, depending on the child’s own creativity. Further, multiple chilren playing together, or a child playing with an adult bought in to common ideas of what each item represents (at least in that moment for that period of play).

This transcript from research suggests that not only does creativity suffer, but also communication skills. The expansion and ‘ownership’ of a varied vocabulary is a critical part of any child’s development in the early years.

More reasons to get out of their way, stop trying to make everything in their lives educational and just let them play!

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