Synthesis - A Case for Creativity
The Elevator PREZI...
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Could we really all get smarter if we just danced more often?
The White Paper...
In making the case for creativity in school, Sir Ken Robinson calls to light the causes and effects of current traditional educational models which ignore many important cognitive tools in the development of our nation’s youth. He discussed this at length and with considerable clarity in his TED Talk regarding why and how it is so important that education supports the development of creativity. In his TED Talk and his presentation on Educational Paradigms, he is clear that in order to be prepared for success in a 21st Century global marketplace, today’s student must be able to think and solve problems in creative and divergent ways more than ever before.
View Ken Robinson's RSA Animate presentation on Educational Paradigms here: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U) In both presentations Sir Robinson delineates not only the causes and effects of traditional educational models, but the inherent dangers they present with regard to preparing (or not preparing) students for life in the modern era.
Further support is offered for a new model of teaching and learning immersed in creative exploration of content by current and past educational research groups across disciplines or domains of academia. In their quest for clarity, Michelle Root-Bernstein and her husband synthesize and distill the cognitive tools employed by the world’s most creative people in their book, “Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People,” and these have been further refined into seven combined cognitive tools by those involved in the Deep Play Research Group (Mishra, Cain, Sawaya, Henriksen, et al., 2013) at Michigan State University's College of Education. This more consolidated list includes seven key thinking tools which can be nurtured through education to unlock student and teacher creativity:
1) Perceiving, 2) Abstracting, 3) Patterning, 4) Embodied Thinking, 5) Modeling, 6) Playing, and 7) Synthesizing.
Current educational research has shown that a new taxonomy (Bloom's revised taxonomy, LEFT) which places "CREATE" in the top tier of thinking skills will be needed to prepare students to learn in the 21st Century. This model is vastly different than that of traditional education, which tends to place the emphasis more on aspects of learning which comprise the bottom tiers of the revised model such as remember or understanding. Allowing students the opportunity to become more active participants in their education has a unique set of challenges and affordances, which today’s educators must understand and be prepared to celebrate and overcome in preparing future generations for optimum levels of success.
As educators, it is our obligation to ensure that the classroom experience takes students beyond remembering, understanding and even applying into the realms of higher order thinking needed for engaging in analyzing, evaluating and creating with their newly acquired knowledge and skill(s).
The above trends bode potential serendipity for the Arts in education--once conceived as superfluous to the dogmatic "Common Core" curriculum. As educational paradigms shift, the timing has never been better for the inclusion, preservation and expansion of the Arts in all domains of education. Furthermore, these creative thinking tools are equally as important in other content areas, and are best explored in cross-curricular, combinatorial contexts. Despite all that being true, nowhere are these creative tools for thinking more apparently and easily accessed than within the context of the Arts classroom.
Due to the nature of the subject/content, arts classrooms are easily centered in hands-on, active learning experiences which develop the student creative impulse, mind and process. It follows, then, that at least three important considerations should be made in looking at any arts curriculum and how it engages students and fosters creative learning.
First, the arts classroom can be looked at for insight or as an instructional model that reveals the habits and processes of student creative development. Secondly, these understandings can be then applied to other educational contexts and used for the design of powerful learning experiences. Finally, it sends an awkwardly obvious message of urgency to arts educators regarding the analysis of current practice in light of these insights in order to transform the student experience and maximize opportunities for growth. Not only will this help secure the arts as a fundamental aspect of any core curriculum that seeks to prepare students fully for the future, but it will simultaneously empower all students with essential skills needed for success in any career pathway.
The Thinking Tools in Motion
The above seven (or Root-Bernstein’s thirteen) thinking tools are so much a part of the performing arts experience, that they can be most clearly exemplified by identifying their development within a specific instructional activity. In particular, the use of these creative thinking tools in the choreographic design process are readily apparent even to someone with no background in dance. Therefore, the following example of students being assigned a choreography project allows for an analysis of student engagement with each tool independently--and as they overlap to form synergistic connections for the student.
Tool #2 - Abstracting:
The process of abstraction involved in creating choreography can be conceived in a similar fashion as the distillation of anything into its essence. Choreographers must effectively says everything about something while not actually saying the "something" at all. Choreographic inspirations often form through abstractions which are dynamic and fluid--with a movement that cannot be described with any collection of lines on a page.
The choreographic process is often nothing BUT an abstraction of a thought, idea, feeling, or musical phrase. Given the boundless array of ways that the human form can move (or not move) in space, the choreographic process is brimming with possibilities for the abstraction of just about anything the human mind can conceive or the being/body can feel. Through the process of choreographic representation, the choreographer creates physical, living and moving analogies of ideas, things, feelings, or experiences.
Tool #4 - Embodied Thinking:
Much like abstraction, the art of thinking and feeling with the body (Dance) requires a deep understanding of the idea, and an ability to conceptualize something that is as ethereal as a thought in another medium that is physical, visceral and incorporates some element of movement. In working these formative concepts into actual choreography with dancers in space, it is the inner vision which guides the outward expression. The end product is the result of the combined creation of the vision and a whole host of other variables. During the creative collaboration process, I am constantly adapting the vision and the universal language of movement and physical expression that shapes the resultant message.
Dancers and choreographers alike must pay strict attention to body think mechanisms, and work to develop their spatial and kinesthetic awareness through practice and bringing it to the cognitive level. The successful choreographer/dancer is able to fully embody the creative work that they are sharing with the audience, creating a powerful connection, understanding and empathy with the work and its creator(s).
Tool # 6 - Play:
The art of play requires an abandonment of fear and a complete surrender to the serendipity possible in things meaningful and useful beyond their intended purpose. Choreographers must be open to unlikely combination of elements which are discovered through play or experimentation/improvisation which provide new solutions to even the oldest of problems.
Choreographers who allow for time to play with their ideas can create many divergent solutions and without "trying to". Often the seriousness of "working" on something creative can completely squelch the joy and spontaneity out of the process. Engaging in the choreographic process allows the dancer to play on many levels and with many variables. All modalities of play (Root-Bernstein, 1999) are used in the context of choreographic work, including the practice play, symbolic play, and game play.
Tool #1 - Perceiving:
The human form can communicate in a language that is universal and uniquely profound, and the choreographic design process calls one to perceive motion, form and space in further detail and with greater attention than. Spatial awareness is needed to create formations, lines, and shapes, and the artist must be acutely familiar with any music or other subject matter that contributes to the message.
Choreographers must also consider the real limitations and powers of the moving human body, and envision or imagine what varying combinations of choreographic elements might look or “feel” like. The dancer/choreographer must also attend to details of movement or style, and the manner in which they affect the body—or rather what the body must do in order to execute it. This starts with the dancer developing a strong kinesthetic self-awareness and an awareness of themselves within space; as well as what types of movement feel more natural to the individual body (such as fast or slow, weighted or light)
Tool #3 - Patterning:
The recognition and manipulation of patterns in the art of dance is among the most important skills to achieve mastery. Making patterns that occur and elements or building blocks of a choreographic sequence transparent and explicit during instruction is very important for students to comprehend and be able to execute a sequence. The dancer/choreographer must be able to envision patterns (often multiple, layered and varied, staggered or simultaneously) and explain them or represent them in a way that can be easily understood and executed.
Dance elements of space, time, and direction of travel are also manipulated in the creation of patterned sequences, to provide variety and interest. Forms such as lines and circles also represent familiar patterns which can be recognized in choreography and rhythms stemming from the movement create added elements which contain patterns which may or may not coincide with musical patterns (if set to music) Rhythmic patterns in choreography may form singular, multiple and varied patterns which add layers of complexity and texture.
Tool #5 - Modeling:
Thinking about dance from a dimensional perspective seems something of a paradox. Choreography is dimensional and modeled thinking in action and just as architects and designers go through many paper and cardboard drafts, so do choreographers as they refine and redefine the problem or the question of the piece. These cognitive and affective skills require the choreographer to employ all of the creative thinking skills, and to work them out dimensionally in their head before actually trying anything with live dancers.
The physical and kinesthetic nature of choreographic creative process attempts to define the work, bit by bit, count by count and moment by moment, using all the possible variables (time, space, form, line, dimension, direction, force, effort, flow) in different combinations until it is “right”. The more flexible and able to utilize this process of forming new patterns from old ones, the more effective a choreographer can be. Choreographers must also be able to scale space and patterns of movement dimensionally and create maps or visual representations of dance sequence formations to communicate their vision to dancers. This imagined and mental manipulation of form in space develops spatial and kinesthetic tools for understanding and communicating their ideas with the world.
Tool # 7 - Synthesis:
In the choreographic process, students must play with the many elements that comprise choreography---including play with lines, shape/form, space, time/music, patterns, spatial formations, socio/cultural contexts, and through experimental combinations (whether through mental imaging or with actual bodies in space) they must create new patterns from combinations or modification of old ones. Like many other inventors, choreographers must play with movement or lines through a collaborative process in order to solve choreographic problems. When a movement or sequence is not working the way it should, it is up to the creative collaborators to play until a better pattern is achieved.
The creative process of choreographic design requires that students engage in abstracting, modeling, dimensional thinking, empathizing, perceiving, patterning and playing all during one cohesive experience. They must combine their formal and informal experiences and education in dance and other theatrical performance and evaluate aesthetic choices. It is an innovative process by nature, and to engage fully requires a state of creative flow free from distraction and judgement (particularly during the nascent phase). Joy, freedom, affective safety, confidence, risk-taking and a lack of fear of failure are all important to the playful development of choreographic ideas and details. The choreographic process also demands a sense of openness, a sense of humor, and a kind of personal candor or willingness to become vulnerable and not so serious at the same time.
As an example of student engagement in the arts classroom which develops the seven creative thinking tools, the choreographic process reveals several insights regarding the tools themselves and their potential for enhancing the teaching and learning process. First, there is an inexorable connection betwixt and among these tools, and the development of one will often fuel the growth of others.
Further inference suggests that students who engage in the choreographic process may be more likely to utilize these skills when solving problems or engaging in higher level cognitive tasks in other learning contexts. And there is an even greater likelihood that students will be able to transfer these skills to other domains if they are made aware of their own creative development on a meta-cognitive level. This means that these skills be explicitly presented along with the instructional activity, and supported continually throughout the creative process.
At this point many educators may be saying, “So what?” and wondering how these thinking tools might influence things that really matter, like MEAP /ACT scores or high school dropout rates. As Sir Ken Robinson is quick to point out in his RSA Animate presentation, the educational paradigm must change in order to respond to the needs of today’s student.
The body of assessments used for high-stakes testing has already been changed to reflect the kind of teaching and learning which fosters independent and divergent thinking, the application of knowledge and analysis of trends, and the evaluation, synthesis, and creation of some new understanding. Teachers may be living with curriculum designed based on traditional educational models, yet how they explore content and allow students to create their new understanding is within the scope of possible change.
In order to revitalize their best practice, teachers must be first exposed to new frameworks (and the research in support of them) and then allowed to explore their own creativity development along with their students. Providing the timely and ongoing support of such positive change has the power to transform education for an entire generation of learners.