Robert L. Fielding speaks to fellow educators, students and parents, as well as those responsible for the decision making in education; creativity is the key to unlocking future problems and ensuring that everyone who lives a life in which a passion to create meets a talent, and finds an opportunity to develop.
If creativity is the ability to create new ideas that are of some value, and comes about, chiefly, by combining different disciplinary ways of looking at the world – looking at a problem from a scientific angle and then an artistic one and so on - the so called ‘Leonardo Effect’ seems an idea worth using in the classroom.
Deirdre Robson, Head of Art at St Mary’s University College Belfast, maintains that, “Children should be free to explore and experiment with colour and light without limiting their imaginations with labels of art or science.”
The key concept here is surely ‘limiting the imagination’ – perhaps that is what teaching does when it compartmentalizes a child’s world into boxes – after all, boxes have sides – in much the same way that faculty buildings have walls. Walls keep some things out and others in – walls limit our free movement and our ways of thinking.
Named after the great inventor and artist, the Leonardo effect, takes its inspiration from the similarity between the arts and the sciences; synchronizing art and science - investigating, exploring, experimenting, imagining, developing ideas, and creating are processes of equal relevance to both disciplines, say art and science St Mary’s' lecturers Ivor Hickey, Mary Flanagan and Deirdre Robson from the initial teacher education college that has pioneered this new approach to teaching art and science at primary schools.
Speaking as someone who had to go to a different classroom for both subjects, the notion that the two are similar doesn’t grab me – why should it? after all, I am a product of education with walls.
However, the effects have been striking; pupils who were not normally engaged in science classes and art classes – they started wanting to do homework – unheard of in my day. Using this combination also helped pupils who had learning difficulties. This seems to tie in with Howard Gardner’s notion that we all have multiple intelligences – not just in literacy and numeracy, but also musically, spatially, kinesthetically, and in intra and inter personal ways too – pupils understand in individual, ways special to them.
This emphasis on the child and her abilities is radically different from the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach we have all previously been used to. One size does not fit all.
Pupils working creatively and being encouraged to explore and investigate something in its wider sense is the essence of the Leonardo Effect; in this way, they gain first-hand experience of the thing they are studying, rather than the more traditional way, through the vicariousness of the teacher’s senses.
In Sunderland, UK, the ‘Spark’ Project took 15 volunteers who worked with senior staff from T-mobile and worked through ways of lowering their carbon footprint. The project hopes that increased awareness of social issues – and the confidence and ability of young people to express their opinions – will encourage the participants to become active members of the community.
In both these projects, what becomes clear is that if confidence is shown in pupils’ abilities and skills, and if the reins are loosened on what they can do, children benefit – their creativity increases with their confidence and they ‘think outside of the box’ – which is what children do anyway. More traditional ways of teaching can actually discourage those things.
There are many myths about creativity; here are just a few.
• Creativity is confined to the arts
More and more evidence from projects like the Leonardo Effect and in areas such as Mathematics have shown teachers that bringing in seemingly unrelated skills and ways of seeing things pays dividends.
The formal ways in which mathematics is traditionally – and usually taught, employs abstract symbols that children do not and often cannot relate to.
Using graphics and encouraging pupils to ‘see’ numbers as aspects of their own reality, rather than a facet of an arcane system known initially only by the teacher has paid massive dividends in schools. As one teacher says, “Children need to make sense in their own ways rather than colouring-in ours.”
• Knowledge transfer across domains is unproblematic
What we already know about how the brain works is sufficient to tell us that we all have the ability to draw knowledge from the different ways we experience our world; dividing knowledge up into different, compartmentalized sections goes against our true nature; we use all our senses to inform us what to think – and educating us as if we don’t is counter-productive.
• Creativity is an elite trait, restricted to a few very talented individuals
Every child has amazing amounts of creativity; children are willing to have a go even when they know they are wrong. Being wrong is not being creative, but the willingness to be wrong is vital in the steps to being creative.
4th grade slump
Instead of growing into creativity, there is a lot of evidence to show that we are educated out of it. There is much evidence that by the 4th Grade, children have lost much of their spontaneity and impetus to be creative – pressure of exams and pressure exerted by teachers ensures that making mistakes in school is the worst thing a student can do. We run our educational curriculums this way, and many of our companies too.
Wouldn’t you say that now, more than ever in the Earth’s history, with global issues like climate and financial meltdown taking centre stage, creativity is more in demand than it has ever been.
“It is perhaps ironic that within our culture we insist that we place such value on creativity and then blatantly try to steal it away from children in the contexts of their educational experiences and their upbringing.”
The so called ‘creativity killers’ have been defined as:-
Risk taking takes a dive when pupils feel they are constantly being watched.
Making pupils constantly aware of how they are doing rather than what they are doing inhibits creative expression.
Systems that continually reward or punish demean pupils interest. If they are constantly given either prizes or detention, any intrinsic value an activity might have had is lost.
Exams put pupils in a win-lose situation in which only one person can come out top. This negates a child’s need to work at his or her own rate.
• Over control
Too much instruction can take away a child’s initiative.
• Restricting choice
On the face of it, choice sounds good, but forcing students to choose either science or arts at critical times in their lives can prevent them from finding the thing they might have excelled in.
Linking a teacher’s expectations with that of a children’s can rob them of direction – their own true direction, not the teacher’s.
Summarized from: Goleman, Kaufman and Ray (1992) The creative spirit, 61-62
If, as Sir Ken Robinson says, “In the coming years, creativity will be as important as literacy”, then the Leonardo Effect and other initiatives like it being used and encouraged in schools in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, will go a long way to achieving that – and will bring education into the modern era – equipping young people to cope with the future – an as yet unknown quantity.
Robert L. Fielding