B-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l." My colleague Reece still sings that to herself when she writes that word. When she was in 2nd grade, her teacher divided the kids into groups, mixing together students with different reading abilities. Each group's task was to learn how to spell all the words on a ten-word list for the weekly spelling test. Reece was skeptical—such long words plus she had to work with kids who couldn't even read! But it turned out well. Pretty soon all the kids contributed various ways to learn spelling—drawing pictures, noticing letter patterns, even singing the words. The latter method, Reece remembers, was suggested by one of the kids in the lowest reading group. Their group aced the spelling test every week for months, and the other kids became interested in learning their strategies.
This might be called an example of mini-c creativity, defined in this issue by Ronald A. Beghetto and James C. Kaufman (p. 10) as interpretive creativity, or having a new insight into how to solve a small problem. No doubt this kind of creativity was inspired by the teacher's Pro-C, or expert-level, creativity. She knew—through insight, training, and experience—how to create the conditions that make learning stick with kids. "There were aha moments going on in that classroom all the time," Reese remembers.
Recently while participating in the interviews of the candidates for ASCD's OYEA (Outstanding Young Educator) award, I heard about other wide-ranging instances of creative teaching and learning:
- A preschool teacher in rural Montana told of her Superheroes of Kindness project, in which all the 4-year-olds dress in their favorite hero regalia and go out in the community to do "intentional kind deeds." The project, which went viral when 8,000 people tuned in to her blog, teaches kids "creative thoughtfulness."
- An art teacher in Maryland created video tutorials illustrating various photographic techniques, thereby encouraging students to tap into their original ideas and "invent their own design companies." His students' 100 percent pass rate on advanced placement exams and their multiple awards at exhibits are a cause of pride.
- A teacher of twice-exceptional students in California spoke of getting middle school kids with school phobia interested in becoming scientists by sharing her scientific knowledge of worms and cockroaches. Now, previously nonparticipating students regularly make presentations about their genetics and robotics projects.
- A physics teacher in Iowa challenges his students to think up interesting problems they want to solve even though he often has to wait 10 minutes before anyone volunteers one. He spells out his "golden rules for learning": "Kids want to do challenging work; they want you to tell them if it is bad or good; and they want to have some choice in what to learn the next day."
All of these examples corroborate the primary message of this issue on "Creativity Now!"—namely that creativity intermingled with academic learning is a powerful mix. "Teachers who understand that creativity combines both originality and task appropriateness," Beghetto and Kaufman write, "are in a better position to integrate student creativity into the everyday curriculum in ways that complement, rather than compete with, academic learning."
In fact, as authors Robert Root-Bernstein and Michele Root-Bernstein (p. 16) tell us, skills usually associated with creativity—such as visual imagination, handcrafting skills, and musical perception—all play prominent roles in scientific thinking. "There are real and measurable consequences to integrating arts and crafts education with science and mathematics education," they write.
There is another message in this mix of articles about creative learning: Schools cannot afford to leave creativity on the back burner. Researcher Kyung Hee Kim, as cited by Yong Zhao (p. 57), reports that creativity scores on the internationally administered Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking have inched downward worldwide even as children have been exposed to more knowledge and enriched environments. Causes for "the creativity crisis" are merely speculative, although hours of passive media engagement and school environments that consider rigor and creativity at odds are both suspect.1
In countries around the world, creativity development has become a priority, yet the United States seems to be making a U-turn, as Yong Zhao calls it, toward more standardization and rote learning. Meanwhile, the demand for creative and entrepreneurial talents has increased. "Creativity is no longer a choice for a select few; it has become an essential quality for all," Zhao writes.
The good news, as many of our authors and OYEA candidates can testify, is that where there is a student, there is creativity. A robust human quality, creativity thrives in environments that support personal interest, involvement, enjoyment, and engagement with challenging tasks. In other words, creativity is alive and well, but it does need to be valued and encouraged—now!