Designing Effective Projects : Using Knowledge

Innovation and Ingenuity
Most educators would agree that creativity is generally a good thing. Yet few teachers have a clear idea of what creative learner work looks like or what they can do to improve learners’ creativity. Fortunately, there is research to help in this area. Creativity is something that all of us have to some degree, and there are techniques teachers can use to help learners become more creative.

According to Robert Sternberg, a nationally-respected researcher on the subject, “Creativity is the ability to produce work that is both novel and appropriate” (cited in Armstrong, 1998, p. 3).  Highly creative individuals like Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein have changed the face of the fields they work in by their fresh perspectives and original ideas. For the rest of us, however, “a thought would be considered creative if it is novel to the one who produces it, irrespective of how many others may have entertained that thought” (Nickerson, 2000, p. 394).

Children can be creative in many ways, by seeing new relationships that surprise their classmates and deepen a discussion. By “giving an example, giving a counter-example, questioning, proposing a solution, creating new relationships, providing context, inventing a problem” learners can use their creativity to enrich their learning and the learning of others (Daniel, Lafortune and Pallascio, 2003, p. 18).

Creativity takes many forms in children such as a Grad 1 learner’s surprise ending to a story about her stuffed animals, a Grade 5 learner’s plan for sharing playground equipment fairly, a high-school learner ’s robot, and a biology learner‘s method for rebuilding the habitat of a local bird. Creative endeavors like these benefit both the individuals who perform them and the society which nurtures them.

Helping learners develop their creativity is a worthwhile goal if for no other reason than personal enhancement. A poem that is only read by the poet, an idea to make housekeeping more efficient, an insight into the world around us, may not be known to anyone, but still has the power to make life more meaningful and more pleasurable. Teresa Amabile (1983) argues that anyone with normal intelligence can aspire to be creative in some area, and everyone benefits from the “excitement and colour” (Nickerson 1999 400) these creative accomplishments add to our lives.

While having “excitement and colour” in our lives is certainly a worthy goal, most of us live in a real world, where we are held accountable for very different outcomes with our learners. Why worry about improving learners’ creativity when success is judged on the basis of academic learning and test results? Sternberg and Lubart (1999) provide comforting news. They claim that research shows that when creative learners are taught and assessed in ways that value their creativity, their academic learning also improves, so teaching to improve creativity can do more than make a person happier and more productive in society. It can also help learners improve their test results.

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