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A Need to Develop Creativity, Not Just Test Scores

By Jess Hench & Xian Xu
A Need to Develop Creativity, Not Just Test Scores

Critics from the business sector suggest that current forms of education fail to promote the kinds of creativity, risk-taking, and ingenuity needed for the future economy. People tend to have the misconception that creativity is mastered by a small, select group of individuals; it is associated with art or other special activities, and it means setting the children free without any teacher control (Azzam 2009). In reality, nurturing creativity in the classroom takes disciplined and purposeful processes that require knowledge, skill, and control, and it should be practiced daily.
Research shows that the creativity quotient scores of Americans have consistently inched downward since 1990, particularly for students in K–6 grade (Bronson & Merryman 2010; Kim 2011). Yong Zhao (2009, 2012), an international scholar specializing in the implications of globalization and technology in education, notes that standardization and conformity might be harmful to society. Zhao and others (Tienken & Mullen 2014) also note that countries whose students achieve stunning performance on international standardized assessments (e.g., PISA, TIMSS) too often are constrained in their innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurial capabilities.
Research also reveals that teachers play an important role in providing an environment conducive to creative learning. Teachers who show a humanistic philosophical orientation, have developed their own creative competencies, and who implement specific creative methods and techniques in their classrooms are more effective in enhancing students’ creative abilities than teachers who follow more traditional instructional approaches. Creativity is teachable, and well-designed creativity training can enhance students’ divergent thinking abilities and problem-solving skills.
One study found that association instruction (the teacher uses numbers, pictures, or music to guide the students to link seemingly unrelated items through contrasting, approximation, and analogy) can increase students’ poetic creativity (Cheng, Wang, Liu, & Chen 2010). Another experimental study found that blended teaching in science (integrating two or more learning methods or media tools, such as traditional instruction with technology) could significantly increase student creativity in multiple ways:
• Enhancing students’ creative character traits, such as imaginativeness, originality, flexibility, and motivation;
• Improving students’ abilities in the creative process, such as data collection, integration of new and old knowledge for innovative ideas, and further concretizing and verifying ideas;
• Augmenting students’ final product design skills, such as the abilities in completing creative work that is valuable and effective; and
• Constructing an environment suited for creativity (Chung, Dzan, Shih, Tsai, & Lou 2012).
In reality, teachers often have inaccurate ideas of what creativity is and, therefore, have bias against classroom behaviors demonstrated by creative students (Aljughaiman & Mowrer-Reynolds 2005). One study noted that teachers tend to equate creative thinking with divergent thinking—the ability to generate new ideas—but fail to notice the importance of convergent thinking—the ability to organize and connect ideas (Liu & Lin 2014). Another study indicated that teachers tend to negatively view personality traits associated with creativity (Westby & Dawson 1995). They prefer traits that seem to run counter to creativity, such as conformity and unquestioning acceptance of authority.
Additional research shows that teachers’ perceptions of teaching for creativity are influenced by a number of factors, such as self-efficacy, environmental encouragement, societal value, and student potential (Rubenstein, McCoach, & Siegle 2013). Denise de Souza Fleith (2000) examined teacher and student perceptions about attributes of a classroom environment that either enhance or inhibit the development of creativity. Findings indicate that both teachers and students believe a classroom environment that promotes creativity provides students with choices, accepts different ideas, boosts self-confidence, does not impose ideas on students, and provides students with opportunities to become aware of their creativity. In a creativity-inhibiting classroom, students cannot share ideas, mistakes are not tolerated, teachers are controlling, and teachers use excessive structured drills.
As schools and even entire nations are reforming their educational systems, and as they aspire to elicit better student outcomes as measured by international standardized assessments, it is also important not to lose the focus on innovation and creativity within classrooms. Besides the ability to find the correct answer to test questions, students need skills to address problems that have not yet emerged in the 21st century.

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