kitchen table math, the sequel: Creative Students In The Classroom -- What Teachers Really Think

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Creative Students In The Classroom -- What Teachers Really Think

Jonah Leher discusses a study on elementary education
Everybody wants a creative child - in theory. The reality of creativity, however, is a little more complicated, as creative thoughts tend to emerge when we're distracted, daydreaming, disinhibited and not following the rules. In other words, the most imaginative kids are often the trouble-makers.

Eric Barker recently referred me to this interesting study, which looked at how elementary school teachers perceived creativity in their students. While the teachers said they wanted creative kids in their classroom, they actually didn't. In fact, when they were asked to rate their students on a variety of personality measures - the list included everything from "individualistic" to "risk-seeking" to "accepting of authority" - the traits mostly closely aligned with creative thinking were also closely associated with their "least favorite" students. As the researchers note, "Judgments for the favorite student were negatively correlated with creativity; judgments for the least favorite student were positively correlated with creativity."

Link to study:

You should really go read Leher's post and the comments there, plus the study.


momof4 said...

I think the kind of creativity ES-MS teachers value is the love of endless artsy/crafty, touchy/feely projects, books and activities. You know, the kind most boys (and many girls, like mine) detest. None of my kids' teachers ever appreciated creative suggestions like "can I skip the diorama and the acting-out-a-scene and just write a book report?" They are also highly unlikely to value input from kids who have significant background knowledge in history, science etc. and who ask questions that the teacher is unprepared to answer.

LexAequitas said...

LOL. Yes, any parent of any child who's a little bit different than others knows teachers put no value on creativity per se.

My son even brought this up to his first-grade teacher -- she told me at the PT conference he said, "You say we should be ourselves, but then you want us to do exactly the same thing as everyone else, so how is that being ourselves?"

Various teachers have complained about him doing things that were just "weird" (yes, using that word, with a sneer of disgust). And then they start casting around for reasons to punish it (my favorite was, "it will make him unpopular with his classmates" -- umm, yeah, if the early elementary teacher demonizes it then it certainly will!)

Oh, and he watches the science channel as though it were Saturday morning cartoons, has a frighteningly good memory, and enjoys asking difficult or impossible science questions. He's also had to correct his science teacher several times*, and she tends to stick to her guns on whatever bit of misinformation she's giving out. At least he did this for the first half of the year. Now he's simply gone to being quiet in class.

momof4, I think they don't even really value that sort of creativity in their students. The teacher may like to assign a project with a creative element, but what they really care about is just that the student try it and hand something in -- the obedience aspect of it. If a kid did their dinosaur diorama and decided to represent each dinosaur with just a single tooth indicating what that dinosaur ate (which would be creative and also show some scientific insight), the student would probably be told to do their project over.

* in fairness to her, she's not a science teacher, just an elementary teacher who ended up in that role. I don't blame her for the mistakes, but I do for failing to make any kind of correction.

Crimson Wife said...

I absolutely believe it. My brother has been successful in a creative field as an adult but just barely graduated high school despite an IQ in the highly gifted range. He was the bane of his teachers' existence because of his intolerance of "busywork".

Catherine Johnson said...

what is his field?

(if you don't mind my asking)

SteveH said...

Creative ideas are cheap. I get loads of them. What you need is the ability to separate the good ideas from the bad ones. You have to be able to put in the time and money to make it happen ... or find out that it really was a bad idea. It seems that some like to believe that creativity is what separates our culture from others that do better on tests. I think it's comforting to them.

Crimson Wife said...

Catherine- digital music. His day job is at an ad agency and he and a friend also have an anime band (seriously). They have a YouTube single with close to a million views and they've got such a cult following that they now go around to anime conventions performing their music. From the truth is stranger than fiction files...