Our school is in the middle of a self-study, and we are looking at the “Habits of Mind” we would like our students to have when they graduate. Rather than a skill-set, habits of mind, as we define them, are attitudes or ways of learning developed in an individual that they will use when presented with new experiences in life. Our identified habits of mind are: Critical Thinking, Creativity, Curiosity, Reflection, Empathy and Collaboration.
Today I am thinking about Creativity. I’m an avid “fiber junkie” at home, and I have a vast supply of fabric, yarn, wool, ribbon, thread, etc. for creating quilts and clothing. Much of what I’ve purchased I’ve intended for a certain project, which I never got around to. As a result of all this fiber hoarding, I’ve taken a vow to spend a year not buying anything new. So, I have a special event to plan for and I need to make a dress. I can’t buy anything new, so I’m going through what I already have to see what I can cobble together into what I need. I look at one fabric and say, this was supposed to be for a coat, but it drapes nicely – it could be a skirt panel.
I often think of Creativity in a sort of “sky’s the limit” sense. If you could do anything, what would you do? Sometimes, in terms of motivation, we give students a “sky’s the limit” option – write a story (do a project, research a report) about anything or anyone you want. They get to practice whatever skill we are working on, and they get to choose the topic. Choice is good – I’ve mentioned that before, and recently! We imagine this is allowing them to be creative, and in one sense it is. But there is another part to creativity – what do you do with what you already have? How do you see it in a new way – perhaps in unexpected, innovative ways – so that you create something that you wouldn’t have thought of at the start? I think that sometimes, creativity happens because there are limits we must work within. When there are fewer limits, when the “sky’s the limit,” what I often see is students choosing something they already know and are comfortable with. This does not enable them to stretch their creative wings.
Sometimes I feel creatively stagnant simply because there are fewer limits. Maybe this is where our “starving artist” stereotype comes from. When you have less, you learn to use it in new ways. So perhaps, too much choice actually limits the imagination. I think I may have this discussion with students the next time they feel they are being “punished” because they cannot choose what they already feel comfortable expressing.