For many of our students, learning new things can be very unsettling. They are forced to take risks and make — often publicly — mistakes. They are pushed to do something or understand something that they have never known before, and it can cause angst. For others, learning new ideas often launches the mind into a slew of exciting new ideas and journeys that lead down myriad paths. In both of these cases, modeling and encouraging creativity and talent will enhance the ability for a student to learn and remember new material as well as increase the depth to which the new learning has meaning to the student.
Modeling creativity allows highly gifted students an opportunity to explore the divergent ideas that come so readily to them — and often pull them away from the material at hand. According to the article, “High Achiever, Gifted Learner, Creative Thinker”, “the creative thinker’s mind begins to race with all of the diverse and varied possibilities that could be explored.” (Kingore 2004) If this is the case, we are wasting our time with the routine of learning a certain set of skills and demonstrating them on a common summative assessment. Rather, we can push these students beyond the curriculum by tapping into their creativity and supporting their learning style and needs. In an article on the Hoagies website, Joan Smutney explains, “When integrating the arts into the curriculum, teachers can design experiences that are tied to the unique needs, interests, and abilities of gifted students and challenge them to perform more complex and sophisticated tasks.”(Smutny 2001)
I’d like to take this idea a little further though, for tapping into the arts and student talent allows us to connect not only to highly gifted students but to reluctant students as well. When we build on our students’ strengths — whether they are artistic or otherwise — we are meeting them on ground where they are comfortable. For many students, starting at a place of comfort is the only way they can allow themselves to enter the uncomfortable world of learning. In many cases, this strategy allows us to reach a student we otherwise won’t reach — and it may very well allow us to recognize a highly gifted student with perfectionistic tendencies (or some other block) who we may not otherwise have noticed.
One of the aspects of the Harry Potter series that has always appealed to me is how much fun the students have at Hogwarts. Can you imagine what fun school would be if the day was spent imagining and making potions and contraptions, and just “doing magic” rather than writing math equations and essays? The term “wingardium leviosa” is an incantation from the story that makes objects fly — and that is truly what I would hope education to be for students: a spell that elevates (levitates?) their imagination and curiosity to new heights.
In a recent Ted Talk Sir Ken Robinson talks about the importance of teaching creativity in two contexts: first, he explains that “education, in a way, dislocates very many people from their natural talents. And human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them,they’re not just lying around on the surface.” What he means by this is that if we just shovel knowledge into our students, they may never find a true and passionate connection to what they are learning. And if they never find that connection, they may never find real fulfillment nor fulfill their ultimate goal — whatever that is.
Furthermore, he describes the impotent circle that this lack of creativity produces — a cycle of uninspired academia that renders itself unable to fix its broken system. His reference to Lincoln’s words, “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion…As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” emphasizes the importance of creative thinking. We can not “think anew and act anew” if we can not tap into our creativity and re-design our approach to the current condition.
Today’s political climate (from many directions) seems to champion the attitude that we must hold on to the past and avoid the future. Hence, the emphasis on common assessment and test driven curriculum. I am not an opponent to curriculum — we must strive for literacy for all; curriculum and assessment help us sustain coherent communication and learn about history and build on past ideas. They also identify weak areas where we can send reinforcement. But education — and especially gifted education — must be more than the filling of a bucket and gaining “dark green” marks on the achievement graph. Education should be an enchanted flight — a miraculous series of adventures and challenges and creations that help students elevate their thinking to find meaning and make meaning of the world and its problems and its possibilities.