Is Creativity the Next Essential Literacy?

has been a long belief of mine that one of the most detrimental casualties of our
current education system is the loss of wonder.  That innate desire to understand why things are the way they
are.  I had the privilege of
hearing Dr. Christine Carter speak at a conference on brain research and
development entitled Learning and the Brain.  At the beginning of her keynote my first reaction was “she
is an expert in Happiness, is that for real?”  However as I listened I began to see a correlation to my own
core beliefs about learning and what education is missing. 

most powerful thing she said was something that education policy makers will
ignore at all costs.  That is that
Creativity is the next essential literacy.  Now keep in mind I am just beginning to try and wrap my mind
around what that may look like.  My
first belief in this discussion is that creativity is something that begins at
a young age.  I also believe that
creativity and imagination go hand and hand.  When I teach my courses for the college I refer to
imagination as a sense of wonder because often people are distracted by the
word imagination.  This is because
it brings up a short time in their life when they were encouraged to imagine.  As an education system we ignore
imagination and we have quickly weeded out that perceived “unnecessary” tool
over the past 20 years. 
are a lot of articles/blogs popping up regarding creativity and can it be
taught.  I am not sure I fully
believe it can be taught but it can be coaxed out of students.  Having taught in various grade levels
including kindergarten and fifth grade, I can assure you that teachers can
coax/cultivate this literacy out of students.  It begins at the lowest grade levels but should be happening
in all grade levels.  If we move
from a test centered education system to a learning centered education system
then imagination and creativity will flow freely.  
How to do this is easier than we
think.  To start integrate discussion
and problem solving in your classroom. 
Have students solve real word authentic problems rather than numbers 1-5
in the book. Develop a culture of questioning, imagination and creativity.  Determine the interests of your students;
develop curriculum units that require them to solve a problem related to their
interests.  Begin each day with an
imagination problem prompt, which may include, “imagine if you were….” and tie
it to writing.
            I do believe that creativity is an essential literacy for education.  The
only real solution to our education crisis and removing the need for this post
is that policy makers begin to make time in education for educators to allow
children to use their imagination and creativity.  Although assessment is great to inform instruction, let’s
stop making them all paper and pencil multiple guess tests.  Lets take anecdotal notes, give
projects, do short checks for understanding, peer review, etc. etc

Photo Credit: jef safi ‘pictosophizing

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

23 responses

  1. I agree creativity is definitely an essential literacy for the 21st century learning environment. I think we (the education community as a whole) are concerned that when we move away from the paper and pencil multiple guess tests we will not know how to objectively assess student learning! It appears easier to grade and document with multiple choice tests. Modifying or re-defining that with projects, portfolios, notes or peer reviews is a little "messier" and requires more thought, planning, and time. However, it's a more accurate assessment of what they know and have learned when they create! Thanks for sharing!

    1. It is certainly more difficult to do, as you stated more time, planning and thought needs to occur. Thanks for the comments. We have to figure something out.

  2. I'll comment more when I have time, I'm busy making Art at the moment.

    1. I appreciate your feedback, I would love to see your latest work!

  3. You can't edit on this.
    A story- I was once on a school leadership team.
    The principal left and told us to "brainstorm" on how to bring up our reading scores.
    Result- Everyone dug into past knowledge and began debating.
    I pointed out this was not brainstorming.
    Those in charge gave me the "you're only an Art Teacher, sit down and shut up glare".
    I later told my principal that No brainstorming took place as no one seemed to know what it was but I would be happy to teach our leadership team what and how to BRAINSTORM.
    cue principal rolling eyes.
    Even when voted on by my team was not ( happily) on leadership team again.

    1. Adults often do not choose to understand how to think outside of the "accepted." Brainstorming is a lost art!

  4. Creativity is already in all of us. (Its discipline to finish, and courage to share that is lacking)

    Imagine this: your mobile rings. you look down. its your mother. you answer the phone and hear a rushed voice at the other end "oh its so good to hear your voice. something terrible has happened… I can't talk now… I'll call you in an hour." Now tell me you are not creative 😉

    Creativity fills the space left for it. There is not much space left for it.

    1. Connor,
      What a wonderful point, it made me think. How right you are there is not much space left for creativity.

  5. Having gone into a "Creative Field" and studied to be "Creative" (Visual Communication & Design) I find that those who retain their sense of wonder and awe of the world can make the biggest leaps in creative thinking. They have the space that Conor is talking about to fill. That is what fuels us as a civilization, yet some how we are tightening those gaps. Be it legislation or education, I don't rightfully know, however if can make the space to be creative, that same sense of wonder and awe will come back. Perhaps I'm going out on a limb, but our future economies will rest on not just information as they do now, but with the creative ability to contextualize that information and make it useful. Teaching that it is ok to be wrong and to take leaps of imagining is where the most benefit will come. Breaking from the status quo must not be shunned.

    1. Ray,
      Great point regarding allowing children to be wrong. It is integral to the learning process. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Creativity and the Arts is why our country is great. I hope our educational leaders have the insight to see beyond their own educational experience to embrace learning environments that allow and promote creative thinking. Our teachers need the freedom to experience it as well. I think Mitchel Resnick has made this an important thread in all of his presentations.

    1. Andy,
      Agreed that is why our country is great. Teachers thrive with autonomy. Thanks for the comments!

  7. How about asking top nonfiction children's authors how they write creatively about the real world? You can do this through Our videoconferencing group is working with schools. Students read our books which are tied to their curriculum, then ask us questions about how and why we wrote it. The discourse is amazing and it inspires students in their own work. BTW, it is our books that are excerpted on the assessment tests. Check us out.

    1. Vicki,
      I really appreciate the resource, looked at the site and can see it's value even in the few minutes I was there. I hope if we have to have "high stakes testing" that PARCC will be a more meaningful look at kids capabilities. However, I have great concerns that we may find educational reform does not really occur. Either way non-fiction reading and resources are needed and I appreciate you sharing.

  8. How about asking top nonfiction children's authors how they write creatively about the real world? You can do this through Our videoconferencing group is working with schools. Students read our books which are tied to their curriculum, then ask us questions about how and why we wrote it. The discourse is amazing and it inspires students in their own work. BTW, it is our books that are excerpted on the assessment tests. Check us out.

  9. Ooh, I can't wait for the standardized multiple-choice test on creativity, and papers about the creativity gap. Remedial creativity tutoring!

    It seems like there's an awful lot of work showing that kids display plenty of creativity *until* they've been through years of school.

    If you wanted to design a system to crush creativity, you'd end up with something pretty much like our school system.

    Instead of trying to figure out what to *add* to increase creativity, maybe we should focus on what to *remove*.

    1. Agreed, the education system slowly weens creativity from children. Change is a painful but necessary process.

  10. I'm with the oft-quoted-on-Pinterest Picasso here. I don't think you can teach creativity. Kill it, yes. Resuscitate it, maybe. But you can't create it ex nihilo because that's already been done.

    Unfortunately, plenty of kids come into school with their creativity already seriously wounded.

    1. I would say you can cultivate it or coax it out. However teach it, I not sold either way yet!

  11. Great post and I agree with you on the absolute need to develop a culture of creativity but . . . holy creepy photo, Batman!

    1. I think you are right probably not my best photo pick ever! Thanks for the comments though!

  12. Excellent post! Unfortunate, however, that it is even up for debate. I believe that we, by our very nature as humans, are here to contribute in some creative capacity. That said, any muscle that is not exercised will eventually atrophy; and so we as educators must ensure that we do not render our students creatively paralyzed. There exists, in my humble opinion, a moral obligation to provide opportunities in which we can facilitate and foster creativity without judgment or fear of failure. We must take a more integral approach to teaching our students (not just our content) more holistically. Sadly, the current state of our system is such that attempts at nurturing the creative process go against the very grain of “teaching to the test”. We are losing some of our best and brightest to fields that embrace creative thinking, and those left to fight the battle are becoming fatigued and disillusioned. It is times like these that community involvement, parent advocacy, and a pervasive awareness are paramount in affecting the necessary change to make our students the whole, creative beings they were born to be. Now I will step off my soapbox. Thank you for your time.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful response!

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