Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Creative Skills & Elaboration

In Teaching for Wisdom, Intelligence, Creativity, and Success (Sternberg, Jarvin, & Grigorenko, 2009), the authors identify “four types of different thinking skills: memory, analytical skills, creative skills, and practical skills” (p. 19). Comparison between these thinking types and the core processes of the Architecture of Learning provide valuable insights. (For similarities between memory and experience or analytical skills and comprehension, see recent postings.)

Sternberg, Jarvin, and Grigorenko describe “creative skills” as those that enable us “to come up with new ideas (whatever the field)” and enable us to “deal with new situations or problems that we have never confronted before” (p. 35). At first, this may not seem to overlay neatly with the process of elaboration, but note several verbs associated with creative skills: present differently, “similize” (to form similes), “metaphorize” (to form metaphors), combine, pattern, tesselate, re-present, and personify.

Many of these actions require the blending of concepts—the very process that constructs understanding: elaboration. Newly organized sensory data, or knowledge, gained from a focus on comprehension and recall of relevant previous experience—a reference point from long term memory—provides the data (experience). During comprehension, the brain holds one input (e.g., the newly organized data) and examines its critical features. It then does the same with the second input (e.g., the reference point from long-term memory). Working memory processes blend both inputs to identify similarities, differences, and relationships between the new and the known. Blending the new and known enables the brain to construct understanding of the new data (elaboration).

What does this parallel reveal? First, creative thinking contributes to learning. Creative activities are not nice add-ons to “real” instruction. Engaging students in creative thinking actually enables learning.

Second, students need creative means of communicating their learning. If creative thinking empowers deepened learning, such learning cannot be measured through traditional assignments and assessments. When students engage in elaboration, the expression of their new understanding requires more response than filling in blanks or identifying multiple choice answers.

Third, tools such as Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences can aid teachers in developing effective elaboration activities. By asking students to take ideas presented via text or lecture and re-present them in a different “intelligence” (e.g., musical or bodily-kinesthetic), teachers foster creative thinking and enable students to communicate their learning in forms that fit their strengths (and/or strengthen their weaknesses!).

Authentic learning involves elements of both critical and creative thinking. We increase student learning by increasing student thinking. Architecture of Learning provides a tool for teachers to design such successful instruction.

Next up: “practical thinking” and application.

If any readers are on Twitter and would like to follow my “tweets,” I can be found @kdwashburn.

Sternberg, R. J, Jarvin, L. & Grigorenko, E. L. (2009). Teaching for wisdom, intelligence,creativity, and success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

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