I recently read an interesting blog post by James Clear about “the scientific art for mastering one thing at a time.” James bases his post on psychological research about not only becoming good at something but the importance of sticking to it. It shouldn’t come as a revelation that mastering something takes practise, right? The hard part is, as James writes (and I can attest to), is finding the time. He goes on to say that research shows that we are more likely to actually do something if we have a plan to do it. For example, I have started putting time aside every Friday to write blog posts like this. I hope to write more when I can but I know on Friday I have time set aside to do it.
So recap, we only get better with practice and that is more likely to happen when it’s planned. James stresses that for this scheme to be successful, one should be focusing on just one thing at a time to master.
Now classrooms seem like a good constant and if you think about it, this is exactly what they are for, we are sharing and teaching so that our students grow, develop and master skills in the same place and regularly. Not rocket science but I think we forget the basics here and are missing a massive opportunity to install all the hip things in education, a growth mindset, creative thinking, innovation, blah blah.
Side note: you may be picking up on some cynicism but rest assured it only strengthens my passion as an educator, not detracts.
The holy relic of students “being creative” in our classes must seem like fantasy to many teachers, but it isn’t or rather shouldn’t be. There are some simple things that can be put into place, in all classes, to elicit creative thinking behaviours; some of these are probably being done anyway, just not explicitly. I have been analysing and evaluating how creative behaviours are being fostered in my classes and these are some of the things I have noticed - and are transferable across the board.
In my dance classes it is vitally important that students grasp a set of choreographic skills in able to fulfil the practical nature of the course. ‘Creative thinking’ is an assessment criterion in the MYP curriculum, I have to approach it prescriptively which is actually surprisingly hard to grasp when you haven’t defined what creativity is, or isn’t. There are many contributing factors in creative thinking behaviours but one of the key elements is ‘reframing’ (@tseelig), taking one object, idea or situation and looking at it through various lenses.
Investigating the multiple possibilities (exploration) that inherently lie in any set of variables is a key skill for creative thinking, and here is the revelation - surprisingly it is not difficult to do when teaching subject skills, regardless of the subject.
In class students must construct dance compositions, they are required to interpret stimuli and produce a response. Essentially all students are capable of this without much guidance but being able to consciously compose it into a dance, requires knowledge of choreographic skills. Therefore all students are equipped with a tool box of skills. It starts with only a few (unison, canon and levels) with which they have to re-choreograph a warm-up routine, then each week the skills are explored again through different tasks, often adding one or two skills (for example; repetition, mirroring, pause). Through the continual exploration of the same skill set they begin to discover the power of (infinite) possibilities that lie within. New skills get added regularly but only when they are used in combination with those previously learnt. These are always written up on a white board and in their process journals for reference. Occasionally I will limit the students with just two skills to work with, which is always met with objection, but has extremely powerful results (another post on constraints to come).
The last piece of the equation is actually assessing the ‘creative thinking’ and it is not just about making
a good piece. It is about the cycle of exploration and evaluation. In my classes there is a saying “you are never finished.” Even if you have something that you are satisfied with you can, and should, try something else in order to compare and evaluate… which is practising the creative behaviour of reframing. There is a given time constraint of course and at some point it has to be ready for presentation but until then, you are working on it. Assessment happens through reflection in a process journal, video evidence of the process and my observations.
This didn’t just magically happen, it took me time to figure out how students could best learn the choreographic tools needed but yet experience the power of their own ability to explore those skills. The point that James Clear made earlier was that it does indeed take time to learn something. I too often get the feeling we write off creative practice when it isn’t ‘imaginative’ or ‘interesting’ straight away or we expect too much without any guidance and reassurance. My challenge to you is to examine where it can be implemented in your classroom and tell the world about it.