Teach Creativity, Not Memorization

Teach Creativity, Not Memorization

Sternberg’s analysis of the importance of creativity has become seminal reading for those interested in the implications of creativity and learning. Creativity, according to Sternberg, is under utilised and students need to ‘mobilize’ their creativity.

The main area of consideration, he states, is how university and the corporate world values creativity. The qualities of creativity which are so coveted are not taught in schools. The education system focuses on memorisation which is setting students up for failure. 

To promote creativity in the classroom, students need to be encouraged to define and redefine problems that they encounter. This includes things like projects, assignments and presentations. If students make a mistake, they can solve the problem to fix the error or start again if their approach was a mistake. This is all valuable learning for students as they strive to develop judgement. As such, it’s more important for students to learn what questions to ask, and how to ask them, rather than just learning the answers.

Additionally, another crucial element of creativity is selling one’s creative ideas. Ideas have value and students need to learn how to sell those ideas to others.

Having too much knowledge can also be a hindrance to creativity. Knowledge is beneficial but can also entrench thinking and attitudes. Considering this, the learning process can be a two way sharing opportunity. Teachers can share knowledge that students don’t have. Conversely, students have flexibility, precisely because they have less knowledge, and can use that flexibility to open avenues of creative process.

Creativity requires perseverance. Traditionally, creative thinking has encountered obstacles caused by resistance from others. Creative thinking, which lacks structure and discipline, often brings disappointment and disillusionment. There are a lot of grey areas and ambiguity. Creative though can be sporadic, non-linear and takes time to develop. Promoting creative though also means fostering self-efficacy. Steinberg suggests that creative thinking requires measured risk-taking, along with perseverance. By defying norms and producing ideas, creative thinking can result in innovation which is trend setting and respected by others. 

By helping students find something they love, or having them demonstrate their talents or ability, they’re more likely to act creatively. It doesn’t matter what their focus area is, just that they love the activity and feel a sense of importance but without a need for immediate rewards.

“Students develop creativity not when they are told to but when they are shown how.”

Investing in Creativity – R. Sternberg and T. Lubart

The paper on teaching creativity stems from earlier works by Sternberg in which he takes a more analytical and psychological approach to looking at creativity. Sternberg surmised in 1996 when he wrote the paper “Investing in Creativity” that not research had been conducted regarding creativity. It had been neglected as a research topic. Numerous contributors are cited as to why creativity was ignored; partly because of the ambiguity of what creativity actually meant and mostly because there were no rigid methods to study or measure creativity.

Creativity is the ability to produce work that is both novel and appropriate. It’s a broad topic that has implications on both an individual and societal level. Individually, creativity is useful for problem solving. Societally, creativity can lead to new scientific findings, art movements, innovations and social programs. 

In the 1950s creativity research increased and a few learning institutes were founded to look specifically at creativity from a psychological perspective. Intelligence, naturally, attracts more interest and research than intelligence. However, Sternberg argues that creativity is just as important as intelligence. 

It is through creativity that we can cope with significant challenges in our environments in novel and appropriate ways. Indeed, given the rate at which the world is changing, the importance of creativity to our lives is likely to increase.

Even now there are few organisations specifically focusing on creativity. Two such journals exist: The Journal of Creative Behavior and the Creative Research Journal. The former is mostly non-empirical, with a focus on how to improve creativity rather than the study of it. The latter, which has a research focus, has been published since 1988. The conclusion here, made by Sternberg, is that creativity is not an area that readily lends itself to scientific study.

An early approach called the psychodynamic approach took the view that creativity arises from tension between conscious reality and unconscious drives. The Freudian theory was that artists used creativity as a way to express their unconscious desires.

The problem is, as noted earlier, that creativity is hard to define and observe. Methods have been tried to scale creativity and measure it in a scientific way. One such method is Guilford’s “divergent thinking” tasks called the Unusual Uses test. The test required asking participants to think of as many uses as they could for a common object. They were tested on a creative scale. 

Where tests and definitions fell short were in the disparity between “Creativity” (big c) by famous artists or eminent thinkers, compared to “creativity” (little c) on an every day level. One related research paper proposed that creativity is, essentially, ordinary cognitive processes hielding extraordinary results – – referring to studies of eminent creators and lab research.

A more social-personality approach focuses on variables such as personality, motivation and sociocultural environments as creative sources. Studies comparing creative samples in eminent “Creativity” and everyday “creativity” have yielded identification of common, relevant traits: independent judgement, self-confidence, attraction to complexity,, aesthetic orientation and risk taking. Along with Maslow’s observations about creativity, there’s definitely a link between creativity and motivation. Specifically, intrinsic motivation affects creative output. This has relevance to confluence theory – that creativity is a confluence of task motivation, domain relevant knowledge and abilities, as well as creativity-relevant skills. This forms the basis of a model for creative problem solving.

Sternberg’s own research identifies the importance of personality for creative functioning. Creativity requires a willingness to overcome obstacles, take risks, tolerate ambiguity and self-efficacy. All of which are traits mentioned earlier in the paper with relation to creative obstacles. Sternberg, too, asserts the importance of intrinsic motivation for creative work – that creative people love what they do and are less focused on rewards. Finally, he recognises the need for an environment which is supportive of creative ideas. 

In this paper Sternberg has established the importance of creativity, despite the lack of research on the topic, as well as obstacles to creative output. He considers a variety of definitions and concludes that creativity is a vaild field of study. Using confluence theories offer a methodology to study creativity which allows for experimental testing.

Sternberg is an advocate of creativity as a method of promoting learning and critical thinking. While it’s an under-developed field of research, creativity (and particularly motivation) is a desired skill in the buisness world and plays an important role in learning.


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