Creativity Takes Time
(My Introductory Lesson to English 2014 – By Shelley Peringuey)
The Lesson – Part 1
Two of my objectives this year were to:
- inspire creative and critical thinking within my students, and
- encourage philosophical debate within the classroom.
I hoped to teach my classes that they need not think that they have to give the “right” answer, rather I would love for them to come up with a better answer by approaching the question in a unique and creative way, using their ability to think for themselves rather than simply regurgitating facts.
I found a fantastic video on YouTube that highlighted the importance of taking one's time in order to be creative. So, stealing the ideas from the video, this is what I asked my classes to do:
- I gave each student a piece of paper like this and asked them to complete the picture in 10 seconds.
- The very vast majority completed the picture by doing something like this:
- I then gave them the exact same picture but told them that it had to be completed in 10 minutes. I asked them to use all the time provided, use as many colours as possible and turn the picture into whatever they pleased. While my students worked we listened to Pharrell Williams' Happy and it was really satisfying to see even my senior students coloring and drawing like they were back in the Prep School! Here's a sample of what they produced:
- In the last bit of the ten minutes, I asked them to think about what I could possibly be trying to show them by getting them to complete this exercise. At the end of the time, they all had to raise their drawings so that everyone could have a look. Then we chatted about the purpose of the exercise. In every class, it took only a few misses before someone hit the nail on its proverbial head and realized that the purpose was to show that creative thought needs time. I then showed them the YouTube clip.
The video ends with a wonderful statement that creativity is inspired by “the playfulness, the freedom and the fun”, which really resonates with me, and I briefly discussed with my classes my belief that they will learn more if they have fun and feel free to explore their own ideas.
The Lesson – Part 2
Ok, so we were all on the same page as far as creativity was concerned, but I wanted to take it a little further. Towards the end of last year the English Department had the opportunity to attend a course on Philosophy for Children, where we were taught some wonderful techniques to encourage philosophical debate and discussion in the classroom. These types of discussions hone one's ability to think both creatively and critically, and so I thought I would allow my students to dip their toes in the pool of philosophical thought that I am hoping we will dive into this year.
We started with two “pre-gymnastic” exercises that should always form the precursor to a philosophical discussion. In pairs, my students were given two minutes to answer the question “Am I creative?”. The curveball was that the person listening was not allowed to respond in any way (nodding, prompting, grunting in agreement) but rather had solely to listen while the other person spoke for two minutes. It made for many awkward silences, but focused the students on the task of listening and communicating effectively. They made the observation that when they are not trying to formulate a response, they actually listen more “completely”. They swapped roles and the question I gave them was “Is creativity born or bred?”. Surprisingly, the majority found this much easier to discuss as they said it was not as personal as the previous question.
So, once we had limbered up our minds and voices, I asked my classes to move their chairs so that we formed a complete circle. I sat with them, on their level, and we began our first philosophical discussion of the year. I asked, “At school, in your experience, are you taught to think creatively or critically?” The conversations flowed so smoothly, and everyone was very respectful in allowing someone to finish speaking before they spoke. We tried not to put up hands, but rather to speak into the gaps created in the conversation. I did not lead the discussion, but rather became a contributor like the students. I did perform the role of directing the conversation and summing up ideas when the pace flagged a little. The conversation was eye-opening and a number of students proposed that creativity is bred out of them at school, but that's a blog for another day!
I concluded my opening lesson by briefly reflecting on both the drawing exercise and the discussions. I said that the point of the exercise is not only to see that creativity needs time to take root and flower, but that we must not always be stifled by the belief that there has to be “right”answer. They drew a clock because they thought that was what I expected of them and thought that was the correct thing to do. But when they could take their time and think both creatively and critically, they turned the mundane into something amazing.