The Importance of Music Education

One Teacher’s Views on the Advocacy of Music in the Schools

Here are partial transcripts, excerpts, and commentary about this blogger’s perspectives on the value and benefits of music education, paraphrased from the program The Edge, produced by the Peters Township High School On-Air Talent class: Episode No. 45, “The Importance of Music Education,”https://archive.org/details/The_Edge_-_Episode_45_-_The_Importance_of_Music_Education

 

The Edge Episode 45

 

music-1781579_1280_GDJOver the years, I have been a strong advocate of equal-access to music and the arts as an essential part the education of all children. This blog will give me an opportunity to put a lot of my thoughts in one place. I am aware that there are many people “out there” who offer the premise that studying music makes you successful in other areas, and you will see that this assumption is well-supported. However, I am not a brain scientist. I cannot confirm research that seems to point to a direct correlation that “the music itself makes us smarter.” It could be that students who are attracted to and become proficient in the arts are somehow uniquely “wired,” have a greater work ethic, or are better intellectually “equipped” to become successful engineers, doctors, lawyers, educators, scientists – you name the career – and enjoy life-long happiness and self-realization. So many of those music-in-our-schools-month fliers say “music is basic,” “music is math,” “music is reading,” “music is science,” etc. and they are right! So, it’s not wrong to bring it up. But we should be fully aware that the primary goal of an education in the arts is for the development of creative self-expression.

In short: music for music’s sake.

When revising our Fine and Performing Arts mission and goals of music education for Middle States accreditation, the music and art teachers in my district centered on several primary goals. Probably the most important one was “to promote the skills of creative self-expression by using music, art, dance, and/or drama as vehicles for defining the students’ self-identity, learning concepts, communicating thoughts and feelings, and exploring mankind’s musical heritage in order to gain a broad cultural and historical perspective.” This statement was written many years ago… prior to the advent of Internet and social media, but perhaps it is even more relevant today!

However, there’s plenty of room here to provide you a wide spectrum of rationale and research from multiple vantage points.

It was my joy to be interviewed by host Sam D’Addieco, a junior percussion player in my South Hills Junior Orchestra. This link takes you to a 30-minute Vimeo recorded in the Peters Township Community Television studio on May 6, 2019. Although this was his assignment for a media class, it really prompted me to do some additional introspection about “what I think I think.” These were some of the issues we discussed… by no means verbatim, but, after all, this is my website. Now I can say what I really meant…

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Initial Questions and Responses

  1. Why did you choose to become a music educator? Music teaching is the greatest job in the world. Every day you deal with the inspirational subject matter of music, and then share it with students who want to be in your class! What could be any better? We guide students towards finding their personal identities, innate artistic and expressive potentials, and successes in making music.
  2. What inspired you to become a music educator in the first place? Were you always going to be a music teacher? I was one of those “goobers” who wanted to “live” in the music room… if I could, participating in band and orchestra eight periods a day! But, up to my Freshman year, I was going to be a doctor or surgeon, thinking that the field of medicine, “saving people’s lives” would be the most exalted career. That is until my Special Biology teacher gave each of us a needle, alcohol swipe, and blood type testing strip, and I found out I was too squeamish to poke myself. What did I really want to do with my life? Share my love of music!
  3. How did you get started in music? Before grade school, my mother signed me up for piano lessons, and I practiced on our Howard baby grand (Baldwin brand) at home reveling in its big, beautiful tone. At school in California, I started out on the snare drum. My piano teacher also introduced me to the violin in the summer between fifth and sixth grade. After that, every new band director I had when I moved to different school districts in Western Pennsylvania switched me to a “what was needed for the band” instrument (baritone then tuba), and my private string teacher moved me to the viola, probably due to the length of my fingers, which eventually became my “major” in college.
  4. Did you have any mentors that helped you along the way? I was blessed with many outstanding music educators, school directors, conductors of local community orchestras, and private instructors. Probablymusic-students-246844_1920_musikschule the one who had the greatest influence on my going into a career of music teaching was Eugene Reichenfeld, who I saw the last period of every day in Orchestra at Penn Hills HS, at least once a week in a private lesson and rehearsals of the Wilkinsburg Civic Symphony on Thursday nights, and over the three summers at the Kennerdell Music and Arts Festival in Venango County. What a role model! Partially blind and losing his hearing, Mr. Reichenfeld played violin, cello, and guitar, and taught uninterrupted until three weeks before he died at the ripe old age of 103!
  5. Any regrets? Absolutely not! My classmates in college dubbed me “mister music ed.” But some of my well-meaning supporters saw other skills in me and tried to talk me into other pursuits. From my senior year in high school to four of five years enrolled in Carnegie-Mellon University, my string professor George Grossman prepared me for employment as a professional musician, even to consider auditioning for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. I said, I want to teach students! My CMU music department chair Robert Page and Fine Arts Dean Akram Midani in 1977 urged me to look into enrolling in Harvard summer arts management courses. Again: I want to teach students! Believe-it-or-not, even my own dad encouraged me to rethink my plans. After attending my first Edgewood Elementary 4th grade musical production (1979), he marveled about how much time I devoted  to making music… 6-7 days a week including evenings! He asked me what were my earnings. We compared my first-year salary of $8200 vs. his position as manager in the nuclear division of Westinghouse Company (move the decimal point to the right – nearly $82,000 annual compensation). He suggested a partnership. “Why don’t you join with me, form a company together, and become entrepreneurs, and with a little luck and your obvious work ethic, we could both make a million dollars in a few years.”
  6. conductor-4189841_1280_GordonJohnsonDid your father ever realize why you chose music? In December 1986, Dad came to my choral/orchestra department production of Scrooge, involving over 250 students at my second career assignment, Upper St. Clair High School. After the closing curtain, he came up to me and asked, “Did you do all of this yourself? I answered, “Well, I had a lot of help. I did prepare the students on the dialogue parts in the script, the leads’ solos, chorus harmonies, and orchestra accompaniment, but I needed a drama specialist for coaching the actors and a choreographer for the dances. And yes, I am also the show’s producer, responsible for the printing of the program and tickets, finding people to assist in sewing the costumes, building the sets, running the stage tech, and applying the make-up.” After a short pause, he said something I will never forget: “Wow! This was incredible! You really made a difference to so many of your students’ lives.” He was proud of me, and finally expressed it! (It was a good thing too… he died suddenly of a heart attack exactly two years later when I was in the middle of staging USCHS’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.)

 

Statistics in Support of Music Education

What is the purpose of music in schools? Why is it important to take a creative arts elective throughout your middle to high school education?

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Okay, we can start with the huge body of research published just about everywhere that indicates “music makes you smarter.” Here are just a few examples and sample supportive documentation. (Please take the time to peruse these links!)

Other skills:

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More attitudes:

Several more general links, additional literature that supports the inclusion of music in the school curriculum:

 

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Learning Styles and “Intelligences”

Ever felt like you were a square peg trying to fit in a round hole? Now, lets dive into the concept that “music is a means to learning.”

Intelligence is often defined as our intellectual potential; something we are born with, something that can be measured, and a capacity that is difficult to change. In recent years, however, other views of intelligence have emerged. Also, more research has been applied to learning styles and preferences… all to promote better success in education.

“Many of us are familiar with three general categories in which people learn: visual learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners. Beyond these three general categories, many theories of and approaches toward human potential have been developed.”

— North Illinois University: https://www.niu.edu/facdev/_pdf/guide/learning/howard_gardner_theory_multiple_intelligences.pdf

In 1983, the theory of “multiple intelligences” was formed by Dr. Howard Gardner, Professor Education at Harvard University, and widely read in his initial book offering Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Supported by Thomas Armstrong (books such as Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom), “the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited.” Instead, Dr. Gardner proposed nine different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults (the first one is my favorite):

  • choral-3871734_1280_gustavorezendeMusical (sound smart)
  • Naturalist (nature smart)
  • Logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart)
  • Existential (life smart)
  • Interpersonal (people smart)
  • Bodily-kinesthetic (body smart)
  • Linguistic (word smart)
  • Intra-personal (self smart)
  • Spatial (picture smart)

“Dr. Gardner says that our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We esteem the highly articulate or logical people of our culture. However, Dr. Gardner says that we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live. Unfortunately, many children who have these gifts don’t receive much reinforcement for them in school. Many of these kids, in fact, end up being labeled “learning disabled,” “ADD (attention deficit disorder,” or simply underachievers, when their unique ways of thinking and learning aren’t addressed by a heavily linguistic or logical-mathematical classroom.”

— American Institute for Learning and Human Development: http://www.institute4learning.com/resources/articles/multiple-intelligences/

saxophone-3246650_1920_congerdesignTransforming the way schools should be run, the multiple intelligences theory suggests that teachers be trained to present their lessons in a wide variety of ways using music, cooperative learning, art activities, role play, multimedia, field trips, inner reflection, and much more. This approach truly “customizes the learning” and provides eight or more potential pathways to learning.

“If a teacher is having difficulty reaching a student in the more traditional linguistic or logical ways of instruction, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests several other ways in which the material might be presented to facilitate effective learning.”

— Thomas Armstrong: http://www.institute4learning.com/resources/articles/multiple-intelligences/

“While a person might be particularly strong in a specific area, such as musical intelligence, he or she most likely possesses a range of abilities. For example, an individual might be strong in verbal, musical, and naturalistic intelligence.”

— Kendra Cherry: https://www.verywellmind.com/gardners-theory-of-multiple-intelligences-2795161

The bottom line? We need music in the schools for a variety of reasons, not the least to systemically and intentionally provide avenues of learning for “music smart” kids as well as to share resources that all teachers across the disciplines may use to enrich their lessons, differentiate the instruction, and “reach” their students.

 

Ever Heard of the Four C’s?

How about defending the rationale that “music makes connections, within us and from the world around us?” Easy!

Music and art courses offer great rigor in developing 21st Century learning skills:

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Released by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2010), the best resource I found when this movement made the headlines was this P21 Arts Skills Map. It was developed to “illustrate the intersection between 21st Century Skills and the Arts. The maps will enable educators, administrators and policymakers to gain concrete examples of how 21st Century Skills can be integrated into core subjects.” With so much more detail, this document provides skill definitions, core subject interactions, outcomes and examples:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • stones-451329_1920_dweedon1Innovation
  • Information Literacy
  • Media Literacy
  • Information, Communication, and Technology Literacy
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Self-Direction
  • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Productivity and Accountability
  • Leadership and Responsibility
  • Interdisciplinary Themes

“The music classroom is a perfect place to teach critical thinking and problem solving,” says MENC [now NAfME] member Donna Zawatski. Instead of giving students the answers, she asks questions that will clarify the process and lead to better solutions from the students. “Students will define the problem, come up with solutions based on their previous experience, create, and then reflect on what they’ve created,” she says.

— Donna Zawatski, “4C + 1C = 1TGMT,” Illinois Music Educator, Volume 71, No. 3.

 

Creativity is Number One!

One of my favorite educational gurus, probably an expert on creativity in the schools, is Sir Ken Robinson. His most viewed Ted-Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (18 million+) should be required of all pre-service teachers. A great story-teller with a wonderfully dry English sense of humor, Robinson tells a narrative about a child who was not “behaving” very well in school… “coloring outside the lines” and fidgeting in class. According to the primary teacher, she was distracting the other students, and was hard to “contain” and keep her sitting in her seat.

At the insistence of school staff, the parents took the little girl to a psychiatrist. He did a battery of tests on her to find out why she was so “antsy” and… The counselor’s analysis? He said to her parents: “Your child is not sick. She is a dancer. She likes to express herself in movement. Take her to a school that emphasizes dancing.”

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A “quick-from-the-hip” diagnosis might have resulted in prescribing drugs in order to “calm her down” and make her “fit in” better with the traditional school setting.

The rest of the story? The incident he was talking about described the childhood of the super-successful multi-millionaire English ballerina and choreographer of Cats and Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, the late Gillian Lynne.

Creativity is probably the single most essential learning skill… and I have devoted a whole section of my website on the subject, starting with “Creativity in Education” to numerous blogs here.

 

Flexible Thinking, Adaptability, and Problem Solving

In the interview, I asked the question, “What is 1 + 1 + 1?” What I meant to elicit was, “Besides the obvious response of 3, how many different answers can you find to solve this math problem?”

  • 111
  • 11 (in binary)
  • 1 (draw it in the air, one vertical line and two horizontal lines making the Roman numeral I)

Living in the real world (as well as learning the arts), there are very few “one-right answers!” Unlike other subject areas and pursuits, music fosters abstract decision-making in situations where there are no standard answers, analysis of and response to nonverbal communication, and adaptations and respect of divergent styles and methods for personal expression and thinking.

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The arts foster divergent thinking (the ability to consciously generate new ideas that branch out to many possible solutions for a given problem) as well as convergent thinking (the ability to correctly hone in to a single correct solution to a problem).  According to Professor Curtis Bonk on his insightful “Best of Bob” – Instructional Strategies for Thinking, Collaboration, and Motivation” website, “In creativity, convergent thinking often requires taking a novel approach to the problem, seeing the problem from a different perspective, or making a unique association  between parts of the problem.”

“Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.”

— Proverb quoted by Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly

 

Are You of the “Right Mind?”

First, take the Left-Brain/Right-Brain test at the “Best of Bob” website above.

RThe 60s work of Nobel Peace Prize scientist Dr. Roger Sperry pointed to different sections of the brain being used for unique functions of the mind. Accordingly, the left brain is supposed to be more verbal, analytical, and orderly than the right brain. It’s sometimes called the digital brain. It’s better at things like reading, writing, and computations. In contrast, the right brain is purported to be more visual and intuitive. It’s sometimes referred to as the analog brain. It has a more creative and less organized way of thinking.

However, portions of his research, especially about brain hemisphere dominance have been disputed.

“Magnetic resonance imaging of 1,000 people revealed that the human brain doesn’t actually favor one side over the other. The networks on one side aren’t generally stronger than the networks on the other side.”

“The two hemispheres are tied together by bundles of nerve fibers, creating an information highway. Although the two sides function differently, they work together and complement each other. You don’t use only one side of your brain at a time.”

“Whether you’re performing a logical or creative function, you’re receiving input from both sides of your brain. For example, the left brain is credited with language, but the right brain helps you understand context and tone. The left brain handles mathematical equations, but right brain helps out with comparisons and rough estimates.”

Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/left-brain-vs-right-brain

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Here is what I believe. Parts of what we do in music, like interpretation, expressiveness, phrasing, aesthetic sensitivity, and perception of man’s creations around us, etc. involve imagination and intuition, and are more holistic, intuitive – I will call it “right” brained.

In his book A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World, Daniel Pink, formerly a lawyer and the speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore, forecast that most future careers throughout the world will involve the learning skills normally attributed to the right side of the brain – innovation, invention, ingenuity, adaptability, critical thinking and problem-solving, etc., not jobs that are dominated by predetermined or routine actions, instructions, scripting (e.g. tasks that can be done by robots, Legal Zoom for simple wills, or 1-800 tech help hotlines).

I recommend looking into Pink’s books and his “Discussion Guide for Educators.”

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Finally, with so many memories swimming around in my mind, I was asked by Sam what I thought was the greatest achievement of my career (or perhaps he meant what single student did I “inspire” to greatness?).  I replied that there were far too many to count, those blessed “AH HA” moments when a musician, singer, actor, or dancer goes for his dream and realizes his potential… “I made it!” Sometimes they don’t believe in themselves, are afraid to try, and the teacher has to nudge or encourage them. But, once it happens, you can see the sparkle in their eyes! And, even in retirement, they never let you forget their accomplishment(s) and the difference you made in their lives!

Finally, I agree wholeheartedly with the following statements regarding music’s role in everything from self-esteem development to building “symphonic” relationships and connections between seemingly unrelated or dissociated items or events – “putting the pieces of the puzzle together!”

“To be able to play a musical instrument (increasingly well), to be able to express oneself musically, to become friends with others making the same accomplishments, to reach musical goals and achievements — these things help people feel good about themselves. That has lasting value as it relates to nearly all other things in their lives, according to the music educators.”

The Herald Paladium, September 10, 2000

Music also boosts creativity and the ability to see the relationships between seemingly unrelated things—enhancing all learning. Children who have studied music develop faster socially, mentally, and even physically.

Woodwind Brasswind: “How Music Study Relates to Nearly Every School Discipline”

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Simply put, making music in school and life-long learning as adults are FUN! It nurtures our inner voice, feelings, and self-worth. We enjoy the social interactions of participation in an ensemble. Literally, we explore our artistic “souls” and embrace the beauty within and around us. A career of 40+ years of directing orchestras, both in formalized classes and community/youth groups, has been the most inspirational and life-satisfying of pursuits… something I hope I can do for many more years until I reach Moses’ age!

PKF

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com:

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox

ESSA, PDE, and Lessons in Creativity IV

Advocate the Arts and Creativity by Providing Feedback to Your State’s Education Department

“With this bill [ESSA], we reaffirm that fundamentally American ideal—that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the zip code where they live, deserves the chance to make of their lives what they will.” — President Barack Obama

In the constantly changing climate of “educational reform,” the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed by President Obama in December 2015 is the latest “flavor” of educational law to come down from Congress, serving as the re-authorization opmeaf the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Each state must now develop and adopt their own “plan” of ESSA implementation. For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is considering some very broad topics for inclusion in its state plan, and is currently asking for feedback from the general public on the following (source – Pennsylvania Music Educators Association – PMEA –  http://www.pmea.net/specialty-areas/advocacy/):

Assessments

  • Can we reduce the amount of time students spent on statewide PSSA testing (grades 3-8)?
  • Is it feasible to test students at multiple times across the school year instead of only once?
  • Can we eliminate double testing for middle school Algebra I students? (Would need to add advance math test in high school for those students.)

Accountability – Measures

  • Future Ready PA Index – a proposed tool to measure school success
  • Increased weight on growth in test scores  versus point-in-time achievement
  • Local options for additional assessments
  • Career ready indicators and meaningful post-secondary student engagement
  • More holistic measures of student success
  • Measures of both inputs (i.e., course offerings) and outcomes (achievement scores)

essaAccountability – Interventions

  • Tailored to local context and school based needs assessment.
  • Intervention for lowest performing schools to include BOTH academic and holistic strategies
  • Level of state intervention to be responsive to student progress over time.

Educator Preparation and Evaluation

  • What are the best strategies to ensure effective, diverse educators and school leaders for all students?
  • What changes in teacher preparation do we need to consider to improve the readiness of new teachers?
  • How to promote alternative pathways to teacher certification?

Mark Despokatis, Chair of the PMEA Council for the Advancement of Music Education, says that music teachers and parents “don’t have to respond to every suggestion, but please feel free to respond to those on which you can provide opinions and feedback.” Comments should be shared directly with the PDE at RA-edESSA@pa.gov. Also, PMEA members should submit their feedback to PMEA via email to Mark Despotakis at mark.despotakis@progrmusic.com.

PDE has provided a PowerPoint presentation about the public listening tour and with a little more background on the above listed suggestions on their website at http://www.education.pa.gov/Pages/tour.aspx#tab-1.

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This blog-series on “creativity and education” maintains the position that a focus on the development of self-expression and artistry in the schools should be at the top of the critical “big four list” for satisfying  “the real purpose of education” – personal discovery, self-improvement, and developing the building blocks for success and happiness in life:

  • Creativity
  • Literacy
  • Logic
  • Global understanding

“Talk is cheap! Educational research, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills movement, and other leading-edge groups, company managers, HR Directors, and the general employee job market have known for a long time what is best for kids and the economy… in a nutshell, the need for more exploration, teaching, and mastery of student creativity, including inquisitiveness, ingenuity, inventiveness, flexibility of thought, and inquiry-based learning! In this era standardized testing, the Common Core revolution, and relentless “teaching to the test,” are we embracing the best practices of “whole child” learning? True customization, individualization, and personalization of education dictate a change in emphasis from not relying purely on lesson targets and assessments of simple objective, one-answer-only, convergent thinking, but moving towards the more complex (and richly meaningful) higher-order, multiple-pathway, divergent thinking – greatly valued skills of analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing.” — Paul K. Fox in “Creativity in Education” https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/creativity-in-education/

Here is your next installment of research and resources on rationale and application of helping our students become more creative. However, do not be shy in vocally expressing your own views and support of the arts to your state legislators and and governor. For the future of education, this is probably the most important role a music advocate can play!

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Google’s Most Cited Sources for Creative Teaching and Learning

  • Creativity in Education edited by Anna Craft, Bob Jeffrey, and Mike Leibling (Continuum 2007)
  • Creativity and Education by Robina Shaheen (Scientific Research 2010) http://file.scirp.org/Html/3369.html
  • Creativity and Education by Hugh Lytton (Routledge 1971/2012)

“Throughout the world, national governments are reorganizing their education systems to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. One of the priorities is promoting creativity and innovation. In the new global economies, the capacity to generate and implement new ideas is vital to economic competitiveness. But education has more than economic purposes: it must enable people to adapt positively to rapid social change and to have lives with meaning and purpose at a time when established cultural values are being challenged on many fronts.” — Ken Robinson in the Preface of Creativity in Education

Creativity in Education provides insightful essays by Margaret A. Boden, Ken Gale, Laura Haringman, Susan Humphries, Dame Tamsyn Imison, Mathilda Marie Joubert, Jenny Leach, Bill Lucas, Bethan Marshall, Kevin McCarthy, Susan Rowe, Leslie Safran, and Peter Woods. The book is divided into two general sections and thirteen chapters:

Part One: Creativity and Individual Empowerment

  • The Art of Creative Teaching
  • Creative Teaching, Teaching Creativity, and Creative Learning
  • Little “c” Creativity
  • Creative Literacy
  • Creativity as “Mindful” Learning: A Case from Learner-Based Education

Part Two: Creativity and Pedagogy

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  • Creativity and Knowledge
  • Teacher Education within Post-Compulsory Education and Training: A Call for a Creative Approach
  • Creating Danger: The Place of the Arts in Education Policy
  • Poised at the Edge: Spirituality and Creativity in Religious Education
  • Creative Leadership” Innovative Practices in a Secondary School
  • Effective Teaching and Learning: The Role of the Creative Parent-Teacher
  • Creating a Climate for Learning at Coombes Infant and Nursery School
  • A Hundred Possibilities: Creativity, Community, and ICT

Although conceived more than ten years ago, this set of comprehensive articles are a “must read.” As Sir Ken Robinson endorsed, these contributions provide arguments that “educating for creativity is a rigorous process based on knowledge and skill; that creativity is not confined to particular activities or people; that creativity flourishes under certain conditions and, in this sense, can be taught.”

Creativity and Education comes to us via Scientific Research Open Access of “Creative Education” 2010, Vol. 1, No. 3. Robina Shaheen shares interesting research focused in her three sections of her paper:

  • The Link Between Creativity and Education
  • Changing Role of Education
  • The Inclusion of Creativity Within Education

She cites numerous authorities in support of the essential rationale for promoting  creativity in schools.

“Fostering creativity in education is intended to address many concerns. As a summary, this includes dealing with ambiguous problems, coping with the fast changing world and facing an uncertain future ( Parkhurst, 1999). Perhaps the most dominant current argument for policy is the economic one. The role of creativity in the economy is being seen as crucial (Burnard, 2006) to assist nations for attaining higher employment, economic achievement (Davies, 2002) and to cope with increased competition. It is for this reason that creativity cannot be “ignored or suppressed through schooling” (Pool e, 1980) or its development be left to chance and mythology” (NESTA, 2002). It is predominantly for this reason that there is a call for its inclusion in education as a fundamental life skill” (Craft, 1999) which needs to be developed to prepare future generations (Parkhurst, 1999) so that they can survive as well as thrive in the twentyfirst century” (Parkhurst, 2006). Developing children’s creativity during their years in education is the start of building human capitalupon which, according to Adam Smith and successive commentators, depends the “wealth of nations (Walberg, 1988).” — Robina Shaheen

child-laptop-1243096Shaheen discloses the new focus of the Foundation Stage Curriculum and National Curriculum for schools in England, with the aim that the school should “enable pupils to think creatively and critically, to solve problems and to make a difference for the better. It should give them the opportunity to become creative, innovative, and enterprising.” The key points on the National Curriculum website are:

  • What is creativity?
  • Why is creativity important?
  • How can you spot creativity?
  • How can teachers promote creativity?
  • How can heads and managers promote creativity?

She concludes that there has been a recent upsurge in “creativity and education” in most European, American, Australian, and East Asian countries, as reflected in their policy documents. She cites the example of what UNESCO now proposes should be taught to Asian students:

  • Rather than “learning how to learn” – “learning how to learn critically”
  • Rather than “learning how to do” – “learning how to do creatively”
  • Rather than “learning how to work together” – “learning how to work constructively”
  • Rather than “learning how to be” – “learning how to be wise.”

Another excellent reading, the book Creativity and Education rounds off the third most cited online reference on this subject.

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Author Hugh Lytton (1921-2002) was a distinguished scholar in the field of developmental psychology. His table of contents displays an amazing wealth of thought-provoking material:

  1. The creative process
    • Imagination and intuition
    • Creative moments
    • The poet’s inspiration
    • The scientist’s insight
  2. “Convergent” and “divergent” thinking, or how intelligent is a creative and how creative is an intelligent person?
    • Origins of intelligence tests
    • Mechanics of intelligence tests
    • Theory of intellect
    • “Intelligence” and “creativity”
    • Do “creativity tests” measure creativity
  3. What are creative people like?
    • Creative men
    • Young creatives
    • Madness and genius
  4. dancing-1240581Nurturing creativity
    • Home background
    • Pre-school education
    • Developing productive thinking
  5. The creative child at school
    • Is education biased against creativity?
    • Teachers’ and pupils’ attitudes
    • Achievements
    • A propitious school climate
    • Teaching for creativity
    • Specialization in arts or science
  6. Retrospect

Although a little pricey, the book is currently available for purchase on Amazon, which provides the following description.

“The author provides a lucid account of creativity and its educational context. He discusses the creative process, the character of different kinds of creativity, creative people, developing creativity, and the creative child at school, to give his readers an understanding of the issues that home or school have to face in fostering a creative, non-habit-bound child. The book should be particularly welcome to all concerned with education in view of the present stress on child-centerd education and on the development of individual children’s abilities, especially their powers of original thought and search to the full.” — Amazon re: Creativity and Education by Hugh Lytton

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Politically, very little is in the forefront on nurturing creativity in education. Our legislators, administrators, and curriculum revisionists continue to be more concerned about standardized tests, the Common Core, and the “basics” of math, reading, and writing. Most states (PA included) do not embrace the recently revised and released National Core Arts Standards, for which “creating” has three major essential targets:

  • Anchor Standard #1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work
  • Anchor Standard #2: Organize artistic ideas and work
  • Anchor Standard #3: Refine and complete artistic work

As stated in the first “lessons in creativity,” we should all venture out on our own expedition… to find additional strategies to implement teaching and learning creativity. As you can see, there is a lot of material to review, at least on the rationale of creativity in education, if not the “how to” of bringing it into the classroom. Happy hunting!

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

 

Picture credits: Photographers Collwyn Cleveland, Cienpies Design, Nevvit Dilmen, Shamseer Sureash Kumar, John Nyberg, Gerrit Prenger, Jeff Vergara and cover photo artist Cecilia Johansson at http://www.freeimages.com

More Lessons in Creativity

Your daily experiences should all be about curiosity, divergent thinking, creative self-expression, and life-long learning!

 

What did you think of my May blog-post “Lessons in Creativity” (part 1) on this subject? Did you review the sample opportunities to stimulate your brain, build your artistic sensitivity, and nurture your expressive soul… resources like the following?

If you have not read the first article in this series, please go back to https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/lessons-in-creativity/. For a survey of all blogs on this subject, click on the link (to the right) “Creativity and Education.”

preschool-class-activities2-2-1251386My “soapbox” in this forum has always been that we need to do things in education  intentionally – in the classrooms, written/posted weekly lesson targets, and curriculum. In school, we have spent an inordinate amount of time developing convergent thinking, a.k.a. one-answer-only principles/laws/inarguable facts.What is needed is MORE divergent thinking – multiple solutions or pathways to the resolution of a problem, open-ended “out-of-the-box” proposals – generating fresh views and novel solutions. Best practices in education would be a combination of both convergent and divergent thinking techniques – the ultimate role of our profession – mastery of the essential 21st century learning skill of critical thinking.

Here and in future blogs, “the plan” is to offer more ideas on becoming more creative – improving self-awareness, experimentation, and enjoyment of inventiveness, innovation, and flexibility/adaptability – openness to new and diverse perspectives.

This is a good place to post your opinions and perspective. Thanks for responding with comments to this blog series.

And now, the next bi-monthly installment of research, resources, and my own ramblings to consider….

Cultivating Curiosity

Cultivating Curiosity book - 1I stumbled on a free ASCD webinar for July 28, 2016 that will “detail ways to foster student curiosity through novelty and play; questioning and critical thinking; and experimenting and problem solving.” Based on Dr. Wendy Ostroff’s book, Cultivating Curiosity in K–12 Classrooms: How to Promote and Sustain Deep Learning, the online session will dive into the concept of a structured, student-centered environment that allows for openness and surprise, where inquiry guides authentic learning. “When a classroom is grounded in curiosity, teachers have the unique opportunity to mine students’ deepest held wonder, making their engagement natural and effortless and allowing them to fully open up to learning.” For more information on the workshop, go to http://ascd.org/professional-development/webinars.aspx.

The book Cultivating Curiosity in K-12 Classrooms itself is an excellent find. Dr. Wendy Ostroff defines her rationale in support of curiosity as critical to student success in school:

  • Curiosity jump-starts and sustains intrinsic motivation, allowing deep learning to happen with ease.
  • Curiosity releases dopamine, which not only brings pleasure, but also improves observation and memory.
  • Curious people exhibit enhanced cognitive skills.

The chapters layout a plan to foster student curiosity through exploration, novelty, and play; questioning and critical thinking; and experimenting and problem solving.

 The Artist’s Way

The Artist WayThe “power” of journal writing and brainstorming is so essential to the creative process. Author and educator Julia Cameron has written a series of books on the subject of “unblocking your inner artist.” The Artist’s Way, the title of one of her international best-sellers, has been transformed into a movement of artists helping other artists, a program she says is “used in hospitals, prisons, universities, human potential centers, and often among therapist doctors aids groups in battered woman’s programs, not to mention fine art studios, theological programs, and music conservatories.”

Her lessons included two fundamental tools, morning pages and artist date. Morning pages are three pages of daily longhand writing, strictly free stream-of-consciousness, a.k.a. “brain drain,” absent from any form of censorship or (as she calls it) “logic brain.” Her other tool, artist date, is “a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness…” quality time spent alone with your “creative child.” For painters, 3D artists, writers, photographers, musicians, singers, and actors, I heartily recommend her tutorials The Artist’s Way and for retirees It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond.

More Best of Bonk!

The World is Open bookOne of my “heroes” on the subject of instructional strategies in creativity, critical thinking, motivation, and collaboration is Professor Curtis J. Bonk, Indiana University (Bloomington) School of Education and author of The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education. His course materials and creativity exercises are amazing, and he has been very generous in sharing the slide presentations of his classes. If you have not already done so, you should peruse his “Best of Bonk” website at http://www.indiana.edu/~bobweb/r546/index.html (click on the creativity module), and find out the meaning of these terms:

  • Six hats
  • KWL
  • Reverse brainstorming
  • Checkerboarding
  • Wet ink
  • Second best answer
  • Pruning the tree
  • Fish bowl

If these intrigue you, take a gander at Dr. Bonk’s blog TravelinEdMan where he reflects on his speaking experiences around the world, and posts articles, recommended reading lists, links to other bloggers/sites, etc. at http://travelinedman.blogspot.com/.

He also shared his book, 100+ Activities for Motivating and Retaining Learners Online, available as a free download from http://tec-variety.com/freestuff.php.

Two Ideas for Music Teachers

cornet-593661_1920For school music directors, I would suggest to offer a weekly “create a warm-up” opportunity run by student conductors. Many well-intentioned “school maestros” are guilty of setting up the rigid format of a “benevolent dictatorship” (“my way or the highway”) and not allowing the individual participants to share any input in running practices or interpreting the music. For the first five minutes of the rehearsal, ask student volunteers to choose the articulation or key of a scale, and even create a drill from the challenging rhythmic motives introduced by the music in the folder. Variations on tempo and dynamics can be lead by the student leaders.

My mother had an elementary lesson of free association, “rapid writing” in response to looking at a large picture posted in the front of the classroom. Although probably not as valued by her unimaginative principal (to be fair, this was in the 60s, and phonetics drill was preferable over creative writing), her concept is much like the nonjudgmental practice of brainstorming… “do not stop to edit or evaluate what comes out of your head” and “there are no wrong answers or interpretations.” Save any proofreading and assessment of merit, categorizing, prioritizing, spellchecking, and fixing punctuation or grammar for later drafts. This artistic process can be adapted for singers or instrumentalists. Take two minutes out of a practice, post a giant photograph of just about any scene, and have the musicians express their feelings via random improvisations, communicating “on the spot” what they see, feel, and think about from their observation of the picture. Encourage the communication of their “views” using contrasts of the various musical elements: major/minor tonality, tempo, rhythms, articulations, dynamics, phrasing, etc.

Until next time…

clay-1220105_1920As quoted on the back cover of the Cultivating Curiosity in K-12 Classrooms, “We learn by engaging and exploring, asking questions and testing out answers. Yet our classrooms are not always places where such curiosity is encouraged and supported.” As important as literacy and logic, how can we nurture creativity in the schools? For this forum, can you share your thoughts on additional lessons in creativity?

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

Other Blogs on Creativity in Education at This Site

Lessons in Creativity

 

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Sharing the thoughts of others on inspiring innovation, ingenuity, divergent thinking, and creative self-expression in the schools is my lifelong mission. I place this perspective at the top of the critical “big four list” for satisfying  “the real purpose of education” – personal discovery, self-improvement, and developing the building blocks for success and happiness in life:

  • Creativity
  • Literacy
  • Logic
  • Global understanding

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Even though I am now retired, my “mind energizing” routine every morning is to take several moments to “surf the net,” looking for interesting articles on the subject of cultivating creativity in education. A typical online journey might include “waking up” with the following progression (but, this is NOT a fixed script, since this is all about becoming more self-aware and practicing  the skills of inventiveness, personal initiative, and flexibility – openness to new and diverse perspectives).

  1. Visit https://curiosity.com/ and “sit a spell.” Read several mind-expanding articles.
  2. Connect with other professionals with Edutopia.com. Today I  “found” several interesting sections to satisfy my thirst for discussions on infusing the arts in education:
  3. If you have not explored the National Creativity Network website, go to http://nationalcreativitynetwork.org/blog/.
  4. woman-1172718_1920Randomly check out what’s happening in the arts’ scene on the World Wide Web:
  5. Troll for new ideas and sites with a general (and ever-changing Google search). Several results of “lessons in creativity” are shared below.

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As a non-casual observer of most traditional instruction in the schools, I note that teachers are generally very well trained at facilitating in their classes the “left-brain” attributes of speech, language, writing, linear and sequential thinking, understanding of symbols, and logical progression. They focus more on the final product – not the process, laws and rules – not ambiguity, convergent (one-answer-only) thinking – not open-ended questioning, and summative – not formative assessments. Of course, mastery of reading comprehension, writing skills, vocabulary, and understanding of mathematical expressions are essential for a “good education,” but to make the learning authentic and personalized, the habits of creative self-expression, adaptability, self-direction, and intrinsic motivation are equal in importance. And, to the main point of my thesis, this “equality” should not be relegated to the high school students’ enrollment in an “optional” arts elective or two!

Throughout my research in nurturing one’s creative inner self and nourishing more of the “right brain” attributes (divergent and holistic thinking, spontaneity, intuition, artistic expression, etc.) into every day life, these five terms/concepts keep coming up:

  • daydreaming-1568518Curiosity
  • Daydreams or fantasies
  • Focus
  • Play
  • Risk-taking

To glean a new perspective for prioritizing “originality” in school and in life, let’s peruse a few online expert’s “lessons in creativity.” (The following just lists the lessons; you need take the time to read the authors’ entire articles to gain full understanding.)

9 Illuminating Lessons on Creativity

by Margarita Tarakovsky (World of Psychology) http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/04/14/9-illuminating-lessons-on-creativity/

  1. Creativity is about showing up.
  2. learn-2-1237605Creativity is about getting curious.
  3. Creativity is limitless.
  4. Focus on the process, not the product.
  5. Being creative does not mean being skilled.
  6. Forget perfection, and find the “magic threshold.”
  7. Creativity is full of surprises.
  8. Creativity is full of ups and downs.
  9. Everyone is creative.

18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently

by Carolyn Gregoire (The Huffington Post) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/04/creativity-habits_n_4859769.html

  1. They daydream.
  2. They observe everything.
  3. They work the hours that work for them.
  4. They take time for solitude.
  5. They turn life’s obstacles around.
  6. They seek out new experiences.
  7. They “fail up.”
  8. They ask the big questions.
  9. They people-watch.
  10. ideas-1439573They take risks.
  11. They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression.
  12. They follow their true passions.
  13. They get out of their own heads.
  14. They lose track of time.
  15. They surround themselves with beauty.
  16. They connect the dots.
  17. They constantly shake things up.
  18. They make time for mindfulness.

5 Lessons on Creativity from Former Disney Imagineer

by Jonha Revesencio (The Huffington Post) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonha-revesencio/creativity_b_5350605.html

  1. In order to be great, you need to get started.
  2. Focus on what you do best.
  3. Add value. Don’t just criticize.
  4. See things differently.
  5. Stay curious.

education-548105_1920As soon as I posted these wonderful resources, several new ones popped up. Also, please look up the following:

These is just a gourmet sampling of what’s out there. You should venture out on your own expedition… there is a lot of material to review, at least on the rationale of creativity in education, if not the “how to” of bringing it into the classroom. That’s the next step… fodder for future articles. Happy hunting!

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PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

Other Blogs on Creativity in Education at This Site

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If I Were a School Superintendent…

Creativity” Would JoinLiteracy” and “Logic” as the Top Three Educational Priorities

 

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“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.” – Yo-Yo Ma

One of the advantages of teaching and learning in the state of Pennsylvania is that many aspects of specific curriculum and instruction is under local control. We do not have a precocious-432664_1920unified county or state system. “Big Brother” does not dictate all aspects of what is taught.

Of course, the immediate disclaimer is that the local school boards cannot decide everything. You would hear complaints from superintendents about the many federal and state mandates (often unfunded). In addition, I would add my voice against the politics and obsessive focus on standardized testing, coursework with the sole goal of achieving high scores, and the hysterical single-mindedness on providing learning experiences to develop convergent thinking (as opposed to divergent thinking), recently made even worse by the Common (and much more limited) Core movement and curriculum. In some places, this has caused a significant de-emphasis (and in some cases elimination) of the arts, a strategy that fails to meet the needs of “The Whole Child” nor nurtures the development of the 21st Century skills of creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

However, in my experience as a teacher and Curriculum Leader, each individual school district has some autonomy and can devise their own mission/vision and educational plan. This can include the customization and individualization of their academic programs with a new, comprehensive, and actively engaging curriculum, taking into account the special computer-monitor-tablet-and-mobile-1241520needs of a very diversified clientele.

I saw this in action when teachers and administrators designed the K-12 Technology Curriculum at Upper St. Clair School District. Care was taken to include elements of creativity (not originally placed in the first draft). After several revisions, the curriculum committee was proud to publish the competency target “I can apply creative thinking to the creation of original works using technology” under the Grades K-12 strand Creativity and Innovation. Perhaps small steps towards our goal, but for a big purpose!

As Daniel Pink points out, we have already moved away from the total reliance and dominance of the Agricultural Age and Industrial Age, and now even the Information Age that superseded them. One of my favorite quotes from his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the World is, “The era of ‘left brain’ dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which ‘right brain’ qualities – inventiveness, empathy, meaning – predominate.” Referring to the Conceptual Age (creators and empathizes) as the current fourth stage, students need to acquire the tools cornet-593661_1920for success in today’s higher education and jobs. Sure, we want our children to excel at reading, writing, understanding and solving math problems, but now more than ever, we need to place higher priority and greater amounts of time and resources to the goal of teaching students to create and express themselves, and to learn originality, inventiveness, personal innovation, initiative, self-direction, flexibility, adaptability, openness to new and diverse perspectives, and ambiguity.

So, with my “thinking cap on” and the unbridled enthusiasm and freedom to fantasize the creation of a “perfect school,” here are eight ideas from a retired music teacher imagining he accepted the position as “superintendent for a year.” (No one has ever dared to give me this kind of “power!” Besides, I would spend too much money!)

“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” – Albert Einstein

1. Staff training

mark-589858_1920My first act as superintendent would be the planning and institution of several new teacher in-service programs.

ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) has recently released a new online course based on the readings and ideas from Patti Drapeau’s book Sparking Student Creativity: Practical Ways to Promote Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving. Six professional development modules will teach integration of creativity into content to meet and extend curriculum standards. ASCD promises that the participants will use a “creativity road map” to plan instruction, and develop strategies to enhance creative tasks and assess creativity lessons:

  • Module 1: Intentional Creativity
  • Module 2: Practical Creativity
  • Module 3: Creativity and Standards
  • Module 4: Creativity and Imagination
  • Module 5: Innovation and Creative Problem Solving
  • Module 6: Creativity and Assessment

For the opening day keynote speaker, barring having the necessary funding (reputed to be unbelievably high) to bring in creativity-in-education expert Sir Ken Robinson, I would invite Daniel Pink to address the staff and share the importance of designing curriculum and instruction around his six “senses” or aptitudes:

  • Design – Moving beyond function to engage the sense.
  • Story – Narrative added to concepts, products, and services – not just argument. Best of the six senses.
  • Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (not just detail focus).
  • Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition.
  • Play – Bringing humor and light-hardheartedness to education, business, consumer products, and… life, in general.
  • kids-1093758_1920Meaning – the purpose is the journey, giving more meaning to life from inside yourself.

Sponsoring future workshops (spring semester) on what I call “the meat and potatoes” of teaching more creatively and teaching creativity, we would be inspired to have Dr. Curtis Bonk (Indiana University of Bloomington) unpack many of his pedagogical strategies with hands-on breakout sessions for the teachers exploring (his terms) brainstorming and reverse brainstorming, metaphoric thinking, checkerboarding, wet inking/free writing, simulations, semantic webbing or mapping, role playing, etc. (See http://www.indiana.edu/~bobweb/cv_hand.html).

“We are the facilitators of our own creative evolution.” – Bill Hicks

2. Staffing

usctaglineTaking a page from the leadership philosophy of the current superintendent (Dr. Patrick O’Toole) for the Upper St. Clair School District, my former employer, I would install new administrative positions that foster creative self-expression and educational innovation. Our “customization” tagline (logo to the right) is ambitious, unique for most public schools, and articulates the USC organization’s core functions, culture and mission. However, I believe it needed the intentional assignment of extra managerial manpower and flexible foresight in staffing in order to fulfill the school district mission statement: “Developing lifelong learners and responsible citizens for a global society is the mission of the Upper St. Clair School District, served by a responsive and innovative staff who in partnership with the community provides learning experiences that nurture the uniqueness of each child and promotes happiness and success.”

Copying from Dr. O’Toole’s HR playbook, for my imaginary school district in the first year, I would hire a new Supervisor of Customized and Online Learning and an Associate Principal of Program Planning and Innovation, and have both of them report directly to me (the superintendent) every month.

“I believe this passionately: that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.” – Sir Ken Robinson

3. Improving the climate for risk-taking

risk-884117_1280Sir Ken Robinson says the studies show the longer students stay in school the less creative they become. It is all about the willingness to accept risk, instead of seeking conformity or the “one right answer.” We need to venture out from our “comfort zone,” be different, try new ideas or angles, and even fail miserably once in awhile along the way.

Peter Dewitt wrote an interesting blog on the climate of school risk-taking from the perspective of a principal:  http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/finding_common_ground/2012/10/does_your_school_culture_encourage_risk-taking_or_rule_following.html.

I also recommend reading the article “The Keys to Inquiry (Section II): Big Messages to Communicate Around Learning from Experience” by Tina Grotzer (Harvard Graduate School of Education):  http://hea-www.harvard.edu/ECT/Inquiry/inquiry2text.html.

idea-1020343_1920In our society, at times we do value risk taking. Steven E. Landsburg, author of Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life says that the reason we pay CEOs so much money (in the millions plus stock options and golden parachutes) is to provide enough security for the company executive to take more chances and find new ways to make even more money. Quoted from his book:

“Why are executive salaries so high? Remember that stockholders want executives to take more risks. One way to encourage a person to take risks is to make him wealthy. Other things being equal, multimillionaires are a lot mellower about losing their jobs than people who are worried about how to put their children through college. If you want your corporate president to be receptive to the rocket-powered running shoe project, you need to encourage that kind of mellowness. A high salary helps a lot in that direction.”

caveman-159359_1280Speaking of balancing “risk and rules,” just how creative are YOU? Have you heard about Chindogu, the Japanese concept that combines ingenuity and inventiveness with the absurb? (See http://www.weirdworm.com/10-bizarre-japanese-inventions/.) Created by amateur inventor Kenji Kawakami in the 1980s, “…a chindogu must be both useless and useful at the same time” and have a real purpose (other than making people laugh) but “also be completely unusable.” According to weirdworm.com, “A real prototype of the invention must be made for it to be called chindogu. Unfortunately, the rules also state that chindogu are not to be sold. Once used for commercial gain, the artifact would no longer be chindogu, but a commercially viable product. Chindogu are also not to be patented, but are instead to be considered a gift to the world. Fortunately, many chindogu have been sold, albeit as novelty items, but they are rarely patented.”

“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” – Erich Fromm

4. Generating a daily/weekly lesson target of divergent thinking

think-975605_1920To improve the instruction, both in learning creativity and more creative teaching, let’s move towards practicing more divergent thinking. Teachers would be asked to post in front of their class the “innovative idea of the week” or “creative target for the day.”

Monthly faculty meetings would offer the chance to share some of these “aha” moments and new teaching/learning techniques. This also means we will make a concerted effort to share the creative work of our students. Regarding the education profession, whoever said, “It’s not the sage on the stage, but the guide on the side,” was absolutely right!

My best example of approaching a problem “outside the box” is the nine-dot-puzzle and puzzle solutions. How about a math lesson that asks how many different ways a student could solve the problem 1 + 1 + 1 = , or how to justify these answers: 3 (the sum, the obvious response), 11 (binary), 1 (drawing the Roman Numeral I in three strokes)? Additional examples for teachers of all subjects is about “inventions” and comes from TeacherVision: https://www.teachervision.com/inventions/teacher-resources/6636.html.

“But the person who scored well on an SAT will not necessarily be the best doctor or the best lawyer or the best businessman. These tests do not measure character, leadership, creativity, and perseverance.” – William Julius Wilson

5. Adjusting for balance

We have to re-examine our historic emphasis on summative assessments and final grades vs. providing meaningful feedback using formative assessments. Personally, I have never learned a thing or improved my knowledge or skill from a standardized test. Alternative in-giving-we-receive-1241576assessments, often called authentic, comprehensive, or performance assessments, are usually designed by the teacher to gauge students’ understanding of material. Examples of these measurements are open-ended questions, written compositions, oral presentations, projects, experiments, and portfolios of student work.

I believe that assessment for learning (formative) is preferable and should occur more often than assessment of learning (summative). Yes, we need both, and must print something on the report card. But, classroom activities should model our lives outside… fostering all of the words with “self” prefixes: self-motivation towards self-discovery for self-improvement and self-sufficiency. Creativity is all about “life long learning.”

“Art in the classroom not only spurs creativity, it also inspires learning.” – Mickey Hart

6. Requiring daily instruction in the arts for every student regardless of grade level

school-1063561_1920Day one, there would be more rigorous high school graduation requirements of four years of music or art courses for every student enrolled at the high school. Yes, that would mean hiring a few more teachers… but the payoffs would be instantly evident and promote exponential growth in the creative quotient of every student!

You cannot expect a true understanding of the artistic process without creating your own original work in art or music. Some students try to go through four years of high school, four or more years in a college or university, and another 2-4 years in postgraduate courses, never experiencing a single “goosebump” moment in personal self-expression.

In addition, I was also amazed to find so many building principals and curriculum supervisors who themselves have never completed a single hands-on arts course in high school or college.

Really, this is as silly as not expecting every educator to be computer literate, having advance reading and writing skills, or capable of doing math (grading exams), etc.

clay-1220105_1920Every administrator and teacher in my buildings would be expected to “practice what we preach” and develop their own artistry by participating in an instrumental ensemble, chorus, classes in painting or drawing, pottery or jewelry making, sewing, woodworking, acting, dancing, etc. Sure, as “the boss,” I would even allow some of this during school time. Can you imagine the positive effect it would have on the ensemble programs in all buildings if the teachers, principals, and other school staff also explored singing, playing in the band or orchestra, or performing on stage in the musicals?

“Art is permitted to survive only if it renounces the right to be different, and integrates itself into the omnipotent realm of the profane.” – Theodor Adorno

7. Expanding arts integration in all classes and disciplines

My hypothetical school district would embrace the definition of “arts integration” from the Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA) Program: “Arts Integration is an APPROACH to TEACHING in which students construct and demonstrate UNDERSTANDING through an ART FORM. Students engage in a CREATIVE PROCESS, which CONNECTS an art form and another subject area and meets EVOLVING OBJECTIVES in both.”

woman-1172718_1920According to CETA, “This approach to teaching is grounded in the belief that learning is actively built, experiential, evolving, collaborative, problem-solving, and reflective. These beliefs are aligned with current research about the nature of learning and with the Constructivist learning theory.” CETA outlined the following “best practices” of this theory that align with arts integration:

  • Drawing on students prior knowledge;
  • Providing active hands-on learning with authentic problems for students to solve in divergent ways;
  • Arranging opportunities for students to learn from each other to enrich their understandings;
  • Engaging students in reflection about what they learned, how they learned it, and what it means to them;
  • Using student assessment of their own and peers’ work as part of the learning experience;
  • Providing opportunities for students to revise and improve their work and
  • Building a positive classroom environment where students are encouraged and supported to take risks, explore possibilities, and where a social, cooperative learning community is created and nurtured.

“The arts, quite simply, nourish the soul. They sustain, comfort, inspire. There is nothing like that exquisite moment when you first discover the beauty of connecting with others in celebration of larger ideals and shared wisdom.” – Gordon Gee

8. Bringing creativity to the Common Core

school-1063552_1920A lot more (ahem) innovative research is needed to merge both creativity and the Common Core (and other so-called “new” educational initiatives when they inevitably come down the pike). Below are a few additional resources. In my “administration,” it would be common practice to share these at faculty and staff meetings… and look for more ways to intentional bring creativity skill instruction to the forefront.

TEACHHUB.com “Creativity Within the Common Core State Standards” http://www.teachhub.com/creativity-within-common-core-state-standards

Just ASK “Creativity and the Common Core” www.justaskpublications.com/just-ask-resource-center/e-newsletters/mccca/creativity-and-the-common-core/

The Arts Education Collaborative has the best bibliography exploring the Common Core and the Arts (http://www.aep-arts.org/resources-2/common-core-and-the-arts/):

Special Report on Education 2012: Arts Education at the Core (December 2013) – A report based on the findings of the Theatre Communications Group’s 2012 Education Survey discussing the impact of Common Core on arts education.

Art and the Common Core (February 2013) – A PowerPoint presentation from an Education Week webinar about arts integration within the Common Core, featuring Susan M. Riley and Lynne Munson, and moderated by Erik Robelen.

The Arts and the Common Core (December 2012) – A report prepared by the College Board monument-1027560_1920for NCASS on connections between the CCSS and the Next Generation Arts Standards.

Use Arts Integration to Enhance Common Core (November 2012) – This post by Susan Riley from Edutopia’s Education Trends blog discusses arts integration as a means to enhance the Common Core.

Guiding Principles for the Arts: Grades K-12 – Developed by David Coleman, this is a discussion on the ways in which arts education intersects with the Common Core areas.

The Arts and the Common Core Curriculum Mapping Project – A guide utilizing the arts in a Common Core curriculum.

Creativity, Critical Thinking, and the New Common Core State Standards (March 2012) – A symposium co-hosted by the Los Angeles Unified School District Arts Education Branch and the Museum of Contemporary Art, bringing together school leaders, teachers, and educators from arts organizations to discuss the impact of the Common Core on their work.

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” – John Steinbeck

My aforementioned school superintendent, a definite arts advocate who “puts his money where his mouth is” in the funding and staffing of an excellent Fine and Performing Arts program at Upper St. Clair, would probably laugh me out of his office for these zany ideas. With the possible exception of a new start-up charter or cyber school or private institution, it is unlikely any elected School Board would ever have the courage to support a total creativity-based curriculum. At least, my wild imagination and arts perspective may have started you thinking on a few improvements that can be considered instead of the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all schooling. Please stay tuned for more “lessons on creativity,” revisit my past blogs on creativity in education, and feel free to comment on anything!

PKF

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© 2016 Paul K. Fox

 

Creativity in Schools Revisited

“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.” – Deepak Chopra

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My Perspective and a Little Rehash on Creativity

Since June 2013 when I retired, I have looked back fondly to an exciting 35-year career in public school teaching, examining the purpose and impact of teaching music education to literally thousands of students. Being assigned to band/choral/orchestra ensembles, music theory and general music classes, as well as directing extracurricular chamber groups, plays, and musicals, I willingly embraced that hectic 24/7 schedule to have access to (and hopefully “inspire” creative self-expression in) my kids before, during and after school hours. Yes, we had musicians, singers, actors, and dancers who chose for themselves a career in the arts, and even more who entered into the noble quest of “giving back” by seeking employment as music educators. However, the largest majority of those students who studied with me went on to non-musical careers.

So, in reflection, was all of this worth it?

Sure it was, but not just to master the course content or complete so many concerts, theater productions, or music lessons. At this point, I have come to peace knowing that the main purpose of my job was to somehow motivate, engage, encourage, guide, and facilitate my students to realize their own success in creativity and self-expression… hopefully to last a lifetime.

Remember, in education, it is the “process” that truly matters, not solely the “product.”

“Creativity is as important as literacy”- Ken Robinson

sign-1268930Two years ago, I wrote a three-part series on the critical need, rationale of, and techniques for developing skills in teaching creativity as well as teaching more creatively. I based my compilations on the February 2013 issue “Creativity Now!” of the ASCD Educational Leadership magazine, and passed on the research and insight of creativity experts, self-expression advocates, and/or self-proclaimed ”right-brain” educational gurus Ronald Beghetto, Dr. Curtis Bonk, Eric Booth, Susan Brookhart, Roger von Oech, Daniel Pink, Sir Ken Robinson, and Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein.

With 2016 about to make its grand entrance, where are we now with creativity in the public schools? In Pennsylvania, the writing of meaningful and extensive “scope and sequence” creativity curriculum, and its implementation of essential questions, lesson targets, and pedagogy, still take a backseat to the highly politicized Common (and much more limited) Core subjects and standardized achievement tests, which the latter, in my opinion, measures very little of an individual’s potential for success. To this day, a focus on “Whole Child” and “customized learning” priorities remains to be lacking throughout the country. We need to “take action,” mandate further research, and propose teaching creativity as an art and a science, all along bringing the necessary courage and vision to make significant changes in our educational systems.

Thinking “Outside the Box”

thinking-out-of-the-box-2-1237525The continued fixation on “error-free” convergent thinking, a priority of the one-answer-only mentality, baffles me. 1+1+1 does not always equal three. I can give you at least two alternative answers: 11 or 1 (the sum in a binary system for the former and the result of drawing the Roman numeral “I” with one vertical line and two horizontal lines for the latter). This is an example of divergent thinking (“process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions”), and sits at the top of the charts for higher order of thinking skills (HOTS) and depth of knowledge (DOK). Use of divergent thinking is much more valued in higher education circles, future employment, and especially research and development in a host of careers from medicine to engineering to technology innovation to consumer markets… probably the foundation of future success in our whole economy.

Review the Literature on Creativity in Education

Are you interested in joining the bandwagon of creativity education advocates? First, review my other three articles and absorb the thoughts of some of our greatest educational innovators. Go to the following links:

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Inspiration from… Who Else? Adobe!

Next, take look at the recent research of Adobe, Inc., posted on the company website: http://www.adobe.com/education/creativity-in-education.html. Gathering data by polling educated professionals (2012), educators and parents (2013), and hiring managers (2014), the crucial role of creativity in education was illustrated.

Based on a survey taken in early 2013, Adobe published the following findings:

  • Parents and educators are strongly aligned in their concerns and desires for the educational system.
  • The education system is stifling creativity; a transformative change is needed.
  • The demand for creativity and creative thinking is increasing and will fuel economies in the future, yet students are less prepared to become innovative thinkers of tomorrow.

According to Adobe, the top two reasons educators struggle to incorporate creativity into the classroom in the United States are lack of resources (56% of the survey responses) and the current education system doesn’t value creativity (54%).

In addition, Adobe reported that the top 3 most important steps to promote and foster creativity in education (in the U.S.) are the following:

  • Provide tools and training that enable educators to teach creativity.
  • Make creativity something that is integral to the curriculum.
  • Reduce mandates that hinder creativity.

In another study sponsored by Adobe (2012), several key headlines were released:

  • 57% of college-educated professionals believe creativity is a learned skill that can be learned in their career, while 65% believe it is a personality trait that is innate.
  • 88% agree creativity should be built into education curriculums and 72% agree they were more focused on subject matter than creative thinking in school.
  • 85% agree creative thinking is critical for problem solving in their career, but nearly one-third (32%) do not feel comfortable thinking creatively at work.

Finally, from July through August 2014, Adobe sampled HR administrators’ attitudes and beliefs about the skills required for success in the workplace of tomorrow. In its report “Seeking Creative Candidates: Hiring for the Future,” Adobe summarized with the following:

  • 75% of hiring managers believe creativity is required for economic growth and valuable to society (85%), but only 51% think businesses grasp the importance of creativity.
  • Problem solving (51%) and creativity (47%) have gained the most value in driving salary increases in the last five years.
  • 75% of hiring managers agree the job market will change significantly in the next five years. Tech-savvy (88%), the ability to communicate through digital and visual media (82%), and creativity (76%) are cited as becoming essential skills.
  • Hiring managers indicate that problem solving skills and critical thinking (58%) and creativity innovation (41%) will be among the most “in-demand” skills over the next 12 months, along with technical/specialist skills (42%).
  • 94% agree creativity is key when evaluating candidates and prefer those with creative skills over conventional skills by more than five to one.

creative-cubes-1509571My next blog on the subject of creativity in education will explore additional resources, including new websites and books on the subjects of innovation, ingenuity, originality, and self-expression released over the last several years.

Please feel free to comment. More to follow…

“The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.” – Anthony Jay

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Creative Teaching & Teaching Creativity – Part II – Definitions and Rationale

“I think the single most potent school reform goal would be to place the highest priority on individual creative engagement, and to shape schooling to develop the habits of mind that constitute creative engagement.” – Eric Booth

Warm-up/Review/Refresh

How many rectangles do you see below?

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What is your initial response? If you said sixteen or seventeen, sorry! You are not even close! The real number is more than 50! (See the exact answer at the end of the article.)

According to Robina Shaheen in her article “Creativity and Education” (Creative Education, Volume 1, No. 3, 2010), interest in creativity historically goes back to Plato’s age and is found in the Greek, Judaic, Christian, and Muslim traditions. She said that a sudden “frenzied” emphasis for the renewal of inventiveness and creativeness in schools (especially in the sciences) came about with the launch of “Sputnik 1” satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957. The supposed failure of engineers from Europe, USA, and other Western countries was attributed to their lack of creativity, which led to the adoption of the National Defense Education Act to accept the concept as important for “prosperity…survival of society.” Since then, there have been several additional “waves of creativity” in education.

From numerous educational visionaries, we have more recently heard the essential need for 21st Century learning skills, including creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communications, and yet our political focus continues to be on high-stakes standardized testing and the ‘common core’ (and very limiting) subjects.

Definitions of Creativity

Numerous scholars, scientists, and educational leaders have provided their perspective on the meaning of creativity:

  • Creativity is defined as the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others (from Human Motivation, 3rd ed., by Robert E. Franken)
  • Creative refers to novel products of value, as in “The airplane was a creative invention.” Creative also refers to the person who produces the work, as in, “Picasso was creative.” Creativity, then, refers both to the capacity to produce such works, as in “How can we foster our employees’ creativity?” and to the activity of generating such products, as in “Creativity requires hard work”(from Creativity – Beyond the Myth of Genius by Robert W. Weisberg).
  • Creativity is generating new ideas and concepts, or making connections between ideas where none previously existed (from SmartStorming by Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer).
  • Creativity is the ability to find new solutions to a problem or new modes of expression; thus it brings into existence something new to the individual and to the culture (from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Dr. Betty Edwards).

Creativity According to Sir Ken

“Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.”

“Think of creativity as applied imagination.”

The above quotes are from Sir Ken Robinson, internationally recognized leader in the development of education and creativity, famous for his 2006 and 2010 talks at the prestigious TED Conference, estimated to have been seen by more than 200 million people.

Sir Ken Robinson champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity, and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence. He has been known to say, “We are educating people out of their creativity,” and “Creativity is now as important in education as literacy, and we should teach it with the same status.”

Sir Ken embraces the written works of Howard Gardner (Multiple Intelligences), Robert Steinberg’s three intelligences (analytical, creative, and practical), and Robert Cooper’s “heart brain” and “gut brain.” His own “three features of intelligence” are that they are “diverse, dynamic, and distinctive.”

Through his numerous lectures and online videos, Sir Ken has tried to dispel a few myths on creativity:

  1. Only a few people are really creative. “Everybody has tremendous creative capacities.”
  2. Creativity is for the arts only. “Creativity is a function of everything we do. Education for creativity is about the whole curriculum, not just part of it.”
  3. Creativity is just about letting yourself go. “No, creativity is a disciplined process that requires skill, knowledge, and control, as well as imagination and inspiration.”

In a recent TEDTALKS video on YouTube, he defines three principles crucial for the human mind to flourish, but seem to be currently contradicted by the culture of education:

  • Diversity vs. conformity
  • Curiosity vs. compliance
  • Creativity vs. standardization

See http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley.html for one of his lectures. If you like his presentations, you will love Sir Ken’s two books: Out of Our Mind – Learning to Be Creative, and The Element – How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.

Eric Booth’s Creative Habits of Mind

Eric Booth, a teacher at the Kennedy Center, Stanford University, New York University and the Lincoln Center Institute, and founding editor of the Teaching Artist Journal, maintains that the arts are more than subject matter and disciplines. They serve as modes of cognition that are necessary for every content area and for success in life.

Centering on the essential skills of brainstorming, divergent thinking, metaphoric thinking, flexible thinking, multisensory engagement, and empathy, the following “habits of mind” according to Eric Booth, are key processes, actions, and attitudes activated when we invest ourselves in the flow of creating:

  1. Generating multiple ideas/solutions
  2. Sustaining an inner atmosphere of exploration
  3. Using one’s own voice
  4. Trusting one’s own judgments
  5. Formulating good questions and problems
  6. Improvising
  7. Finding humor
  8. Crafting
  9. Making choices based on a variety of criteria
  10. Inquiring skillfully
  11. Persisting
  12. Self-assessing
  13. Reflecting metacognitively
  14. Thinking analogically
  15. Willingly suspending disbelief
  16. Observing intentionally
  17. Going back and forth between parts & wholes
  18. Trying on multiple points of view
  19. Working with others
  20. Tapping & following intrinsic motivation

He concludes with advocating for the arts and more inquiry-based learning in the schools (quoting Booth):

The “artistic process” encompasses:

  • Asking great questions and identifying good problems
  • Experimenting, while carefully attending to results
  • Cultivating a productive relationship with failure
  • Anticipating challenges and generating imaginative solutions
  • Tolerating uncertainty (even taking pleasure in ambiguity)
  • Engaging in appropriate risk-taking
  • Being resilient
  • Focusing on quality and excellence
  • Self-assessing eagerly & naturally
  • Infusing ongoing reflection into the work at hand
  • Enjoying the process and getting personal satisfaction out of it
  • Connecting to others through an expression of who you really are

Pink’s Points

To round out this provocative philosophy of teaching creativity and creative processes for their own sake, we have the highly entertaining Daniel Pink, author of three best-sellers: A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and To Sell Is Human: the Surprising Truth About Moving Others

Daniel Pink talks about his first book on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhKLSTBSgwI

Pink’s core argument in A Whole New Mind… is that “the era of ‘left brain’ dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which ‘right brain’ qualities – inventiveness, empathy, meaning – predominate.”

Tagged as “Pink’s six senses,” he proposes the following new “aptitudes” or abilities that individuals and organizations must master in an outsourced, automated age – and should become fundamental to updating our curriculum, enduring understandings (“big ideas”), essential questions, unit planning, and lesson learning targets:

  • Design
  • Story
  • Symphony
  • Empathy
  • Play
  • Meaning

Roger von Oech

Finally, a very appropriate example of defining creative thinking as “changing contexts” is described by Roger von Oech in his book Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative:

In 1792, the musicians of Franz Joseph Haydn’s orchestra were mad because the Duke had promised them a vacation, but continually had postponed it. They asked Haydn to talk to the Duke about getting some time off. Haydn thought about it, decided to let the music do the talking, and wrote the “Farewell Symphony.” The performance began with a full orchestra, but as the piece goes along, it is scored to need fewer instruments. As each musician finished his part, he blew out his candle, and left the stage. They did this, one by one, until the stage was empty. The Duke got the message and gave them a vacation.

Von Oech concludes with stating that this example illustrates “the creative mind power to transform one thing into another. By changing perspective and playing with our knowledge, we can make the ordinary extraordinary.”

More to come… Care to join the debate?

[Answer to the 4 by 4 rectangles’ puzzle at the top of the page: Remember, a rectangle can be two columns by one row or three rows by one column, etc. The total number is 100!]

Segments of this and other articles on my blog are reprinted from PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association. To see more writings or the complete three-part series on creativity, please go to the following:

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox