Creativity vs. stress

Interesting read this morning to follow my last post – an article from Newsweek titled “the Creativity Crisis“. It begins with the assertion that for the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. This conclusion has been drawn after analysing the lifetime achievements of a group of 400 children who were a part of a study involving a series of creativity tasks designed by E. Paul Torrance back in the 1950s. The research found that those who came up with more good ideas on Torrance’s tests of creative thinking grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers.

The Newsweek article cites a recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. And yet it is declining (apparently), both in society as a whole, and in our schools in particular. The authors identify two of the possible reasons for the decline…

  1. the impact of television and the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities
  2. the lack of creativity development in our schools, there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children.

While it’s easy to blame the school system for all manner of social failings, this is one that I feel we do need to consider more seriously. In her writing about The Neuroscience of Joyful Education, Judy Willis highlights the importance of novelty in our teaching, stress-free classrooms, and pleasurable associations linked with learning as essential pre-cursors to joyful learning and the development of creativity. She goes on to suggest that when planning for the ideal emotional atmosphere we should be mindful of the following;

  • Make it relevant – when stress in the classroom is getting high, it is often because a lesson is overly abstract or seems irrelevant to students.
  • Give them a break – students can reduce stress by enjoying hobbies, time with friends, exercise, or music.
  • Create positive associations – by avoiding stressful practices like calling on students who have not raised their hands, teachers can dampen the stress association.
  • Prioritize information – helping students learn how to prioritize and therefore reduce the amount of information they need to deal with is a valuable stress-buster.
  • Allow independent discovery learning – students are more likely to remember and understand what they learn if they find it compelling or have a part in figuring it out for themselves.

Others, including Richard Millwood who has written about ‘delight’ in learning, emphasise similar conditions for learning – minimising stress and allowing for more risk-taking, learning from mistakes, discovery and so forth.

This is unlikely to be the case in classrooms (or our school system as whole) where the  emphasis is on high stakes assessment, fear of failure, and “getting it right”. I’m not saying that we oughtn’t be concerned with measuring achievement – but when that becomes the driver of what we are doing the likely result is that the conditions identified for the development of creativity will be less likely to occur.

Here’s my list of current practices in classrooms that need our urgent attention if we are to see the level of creativity increase again…

  • a narrowing emphasis on certain sorts of academic work – literacy, numeracy, sciences etc., at the expense of the arts,
  • curriculum design that is linear, mechanistic and focused on conformity and standardization
  • the classification of human knowledge into things called ‘subjects’ which are then taught in isolation
  • the breaking up of the learning day into homogenous chunks of time that are then organised into a timetable to determine when certain subjects are learned
  • the existence of ‘homework’ as a concept where separate tasks are assigned to be done ‘at home’ – as distinct from considering the flow of learning that can take place at school and continued at home and vice-versa

2 thoughts on “Creativity vs. stress


    Label on the left of the home page: “Creativity”.
    You may wish to explore an alternative view with a focus on ‘lateral thinking’: Simple, entertaining, practical and productive. More important, learning to think laterally, deliberately, using specific thinking tools, is available for all, not only the domain of the talented or ‘already creative’.

    Cheers from Kaunas.

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