Can creativity, innovation and talents be taught? How is school responsible for students’ success?
Study after study has shown the incredible capacity of brains to grow and change in a really short time. When we talk about early years education this capacity is significantly increased. At this developmental stage the plasticity of the human brain allows students to learn much easier and be very creative.
Every student possesses talents; with the right support of the environment and with experience they will shape the type of personality that will allow them to be successful in their lives. The key in this process is the development of a specific type of mindset, a type of mindset that values obstacles and sees mistakes as a learning opportunity.
Anyone who needs advice about how to build magnificent things should visit a school that promotes creativity and embraces the culture of making. Being creative, being a maker, is a mindset. The learning process, especially in Early years, offers great insight on the concept of creativity and how grown-ups have abolished it in fear of failure. At some point we all have failed at something; for most people failure is a dead end, yet for others it is a guide that shows the way.
Developing a Growth Mindset
Last week I took part in a teachers’ workshop titled “Teaching with 21st century skills in mind”, led by Lance G. King. The facilitator has made an impact on education with his book “The Importance of Failing Well“. In this book the author, based on his research, claims that, among other qualities, successful students demonstrated acceptance of failure, while underachievers tended to deny that failure existed for them or took steps to avoid the possibility of failure in their lives.
Mr King asserts that students with a growth mindset see failure as an opportunity for feedback, that they believe that personality and intelligence can change and grow, and that they also believe in continual improvement through adaptation. In other words, the mindset of successful students does not let failure get in their way to success!
Psychologist and Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, in her book: “Mindset:The New Psychology of Success” summarized the key findings from her research on the nature and impact of mindsets. Her decades long research showed that students with a growth mindset, who believe that intelligence and “smartness” can be learned, go on to higher levels of achievement, engagement, and persistence.
Growth Mindset VS. Fixed Mindset
Mathematician John Mason from the University of Oxford claims that all students have “natural powers” in problem solving. He claims that these powers are integral to human intelligence and are used across fields of human activity. When it comes to being a successful problem solver, it is really about learning to use these powers within the right context.
Cognitive psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) used the example of mathematics to argue that learning is a scientific endeavour and that students need to be in the presence of a teacher, who will scaffold the process of learning. It is within that process that students make meaning and they eventually become aware of how fundamental is to human intelligence to follow that process.
Another influential educator and mathematician Jo Boaler, in her book “The Elephant in the Classroom” claims that ” one of the most damaging mathematics myths propagated in classrooms and homes is that maths is a gift, that some people are naturally good at maths and some are not”
It is not only academics and mathematicians who are making the point that success is something you learn. Writers and artists as well are argue that what most people refer to as talent is the result of perseverance, resilience, self-awareness and systematic work, qualities that are at the core of 21st Century learning skills.
So, if we all have the power to be creative what’s getting in our way? Here lays the importance of Early years education. It is at this developmental stage that kids shape their mindset and it is really vital to make positive connections about their abilities and build trust on themselves.
Problem solving in the life of young learners
John Mason’s seminal book Thinking Mathematically describes 3 stages students go through when attempting to solve a problem: Entry, Attack, Review. As an early years teacher I see pure creativity in my classroom every day and my role is to support the students’ “natural powers” . A book that I love to use as a reference about the beauty of making and the power of perseverance and resilience is ‘The Most Magnificent Thing‘, by author and illustrator Ashley Spires.
Spires takes us on the journey of a little girl who, alongside her best friend (her dog), wants to make the “most MAGNIFICENT thing!”. This is described by Mason as the ‘entry’ stage of problem solving.
Moving into the Attack stage, the little girl starts with enthusiasm, but when things don’t go as she has planned she feels such a disappointment that she decides she is no good at the task and quits. Mason describes this psychologial state as “being stuck“.
If you are a maker you sure know how it feels! Writers and artists call this stage “creative block”. Mason assets that “being stuck” is a honorable and positive state from which much can be learned. There is a major physiological impact when we are creating something. Stress comes with creativity and creativity as well as stress are physical, a matter of hormone secretion that produces that special feeling. In that stage, positive reinforcement is crucial.
And this is what our little heroine in the book did. After a long walk with her best friend and treating herself to a muffin, her stress and frustration dissapate. It might take some time but, as all teachers know, with the right support makers will go back to work. It is that time where reflection turns from “Stuck” into “AHA!”.
Dr. Ken Atchity, whose work is part of prestigious creative writing curriculums in universities around the world, claims that in that stage of creative block our mind is testing us to see how serious we are about our desire to be disciplined and to get the best from reflection.
Understanding how the process works is what converts anxiety to elation. As a learner and a maker, the challenge of been successful in pursuing your passion is not to avoid anxiety but to cope with it and turn it in positive energy.
Back to our story, the girl, now calm, starts ” to work carefully and slowly, tinkering, hammering, gluing and painting”. Ultimately the little girl and her dog take their creation (a push scooter with side car for the dog) for a ride and discover that it is indeed “the most magnificent thing”.
The little girl in the story is a maker, her growth mindset allowed her to learn from her early failures and overcome her challenges.
Her early failures enable her to gain control over her mood by utilising the effective skill of emotional management. She has also demonstrated perseverance and resilience. All these are part of the 21st century skills that modern education sets at the core of the teaching practice.
Once the environment supports the cognitive and physical growth of every child and learning is designed to scaffold learners capacity to be creative and develop their super powers innovation happens in the classroom every day.We can see it as long as we know where to look and how to support it. If we don’t recognize it, we are the ones that are failing, not out students.