Critical Creativity in the Classroom
The INTENTION behind INTENTION
We (Dan and Amy) talk a lot. Actually, we don’t talk so much as regularly pepper one another with ideas, suggestions, collaborations, notions, nuggets, morsels, tastes, and promises of something peculiar, whimsical, or otherwise inspiring. We traffic in ideas the way eleven-year-old Dan consumed semi-sweet chocolate chips: with great aplomb and little regard for personal health until the belly hurt or Mom got home, whichever came first.
Of course it isn’t “Mom” who taps on the brakes in respect to all the idea consumption, but the responsibilities we have to our respective jobs, families, friends, and commitments. Like Dan’s sweet mom, those are all good things, but they also mean that, sometimes, the ideas have to wait until we can sneak off for a quick Twitter binge or Instagram snack.
Fortunately, we have both had classrooms where we could turn many of those ideas into action. What we’ve found, much to our delight, is that these ideas actually push students toward deeper learning and meaningful understanding. What might seem like flights of fancy with hashtags and doodles, mash-ups and portmanteaux, cardboard and construction blocks, can become pathways for students to use creative expression to demonstrate content knowledge, critical thinking, and the problem solving that will serve them best no matter what their futures may bring.
We call this CRITICAL CREATIVITY.
Not only are we convinced that creativity is the most essential skill for success in an increasingly unpredictable world, and therefore, “critical,” we also know from experience with our students that rich critical thinking happens in the process of designing and making.
Critical creativity is students using creative expression to demonstrate deeper thinking and the nuances of understanding content.
When students make connections, transform knowledge, articulate the reasons behind their creative choices, learning becomes more sticky, meaningful, and authentic.
That articulation of creative reasoning is the secret behind the title of this book: INTENTION.
We believe in the power of explanation, rationale, and intentionality to elevate our classrooms into places where students shift from passive riders of the rails to active travelers on a quest. Formal education has long been driven by a “because I said so” pedagogy: Authority rests with the few, embodied in the teacher or bound in a textbook. Our current world challenges that hierarchy—we now live in a truly participatory culture. Our access to information and ability to create and play with media democratizes the learning landscape. While a classroom of researchers, experts, publishers, and creators may be unfamiliar territory to most, it may actually be a return to our natural inclinations as learners.
We might, as media theorist Marshall McLuhan quipped, “be marching backwards to the future,” to a world of empiricism, experimentation, DIY, and remix. How might we gain knowledge through questioning and critical thinking, such as the students under the olive tree at Plato’s Academy? How do we make sense from what we take into our senses—tinkering, tugging, and prodding our way to understanding like the master of inquiry-based learning, Leonardo da Vinci? Just as the worlds of work, communication, and information have evolved, our approach to teaching and learning must become one with a greater purpose, mindfulness, and intention. There should be
LESS TESTING, MORE QUESTING
LESS DIRECTION, MORE DISCOVERY
LESS PLAN, MORE PLAY
LESS REGURGITATION, MORE REFLECTION
Challenging students to think in terms of achieving a goal or solving a problem rather than completing an assignment or “getting it done” takes time and persistent patience. It will not happen overnight. There’s a culture to be built, one where students will come to expect the learning targets and cognitive skills (the “So what?”), the learning process and products (the “So how?”), and the big takeaways and enduring understandings (the “So why?”) to be self-evident.
In the meantime, we make our thinking as clear to those learners as possible through our own transparency and deliberate choice making. We follow author and artist Austin Kleon’s chief principle of process: Show your work. We fail with our students, work alongside them to revise the experience, and treat both teaching and learning as a constant exercise in iteration.