Kids need to be creative. To understand how creativity works in the brain, we must first understand the difference between convergent and divergent thinking. Then, we must address the lack of divergent thinking in education.
Divergent and Convergent Thinking
Convergent (Stickman) Thinking
Early Academic Push
Skill & Drill
So many schools prey on our deepest fears and goals for our kids telling us that if we don’t prioritize academics, our kids will be “behind.”
Except the basic assumption is incorrect.
Pushing academics does not equal learning. Knowing facts does not translate into being able to problem solve.
Children do not learn best in a “tell and show” method (aka. teacher tells them what to learn, kids show they learned it.) Sure, kids’ll learn something, but they won’t become thinkers, learners, creative problem solvers. Ritchhart, R., Church, M., Morrison, K. Making Thinking Visible (2011)
Linear thinking, or convergent thinking, is about learning facts, follow instructions, and solving problems with one right answer. Certainly it has it’s place. Math is an example of convergent thinking. Standardized tests are convergent; so is an IQ test.
A friend’s 5-year old son, David, took the IQ test and did poorly; he wasn’t a convergent thinker. He got this question wrong: What color is a banana? The “right” answer was yellow. David answered white and got the question wrong.
Like a 2-D stick figure, the Way of the Stickman is when children start ignoring the possible answers in favor of one “right” answer. In Making Thinking Visible, the authors call this surface learning. They add, “When a worksheet is being filled out, the amount of interaction is reduced and the focus becomes doing the work rather than the learning.”
Possible End Results:
learning disabilities (Healy, Jane. Different Learners, 2010)
passivity towards learning
poor problem solvers (Michnik Golinkoff, R., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Eyer, D. Einstein Never Used Flashcards, 2004)
inability to think (Kamii, 1984)
behavior problems (Semrud-Clikeman, Margaret)
Remember that revealing study I mentioned yesterday about creativity from Land and Jarman from their book Breakpoint and Beyond which Sir Ken Robinson cited in this presentation? It showed how children at age five start their schooling as geniuses in creativity, problem solving, and divergent thinking (the opposite of convergent thinking) but lose this natural giftedness with each year in school. Each year they become more like stickmen.
Divergent (Chimera) Thinking
Divergent thinking is generating unique solutions and seeing various possibilities in response to questions and problems. (Watch Sir Ken Robinson’s speech on Changing Education Paradigms.) Doesn’t a chimera remind you of seeing the various possibilities?
Creativity and divergent thinking are interrelated — you must be able to think divergently to be creative.
Children become creative thinkers when they’re in learning environments that use a constructivist approach. Constructivist learning happens when kids construct their own learning by building on background knowledge, experience, and reflect on those experiences. Highly-skilled teachers facilitate the child’s learning knowing exactly what the child knows and what learning comes next for him or her. Lev Vygotsky says the learner becomes “a head taller” when the teacher “scaffolds” learning.
- In Making Thinking Visible, the authors explain that teachers are not delivering curriculum to a passive group of students but actively engaging student with ideas then guiding their thinking about those ideas. They call it deep learning.
- “Learners are given the freedom to think, to question, to reflect, and to interact with ideas, objects, and others—in other words, to construct meaning.” Brooks and Brooks.
- The highest-level executive thinking, making of connections, and “aha” moments are more likely to occur in an atmosphere of “exuberant discovery,” where students of all ages retain that kindergarten enthusiasm of embracing each day with the joy of learning. Willis, Judy Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning: Insights from a Neurologist and Classroom Teacher (ASCD, 2006)
- In Anne Flemmert Jensen’s paper, What do Children Need to Learn to Become Powerful Players in the World of Tomorrow?, for LEGO Education, she writes “children enrolled in preschools based on constructivist approaches do better in school in the long run (Miller & Bizzell, 1983; Marcon, 1992).” Loads of research support this finding. (See bibliography in Einstein Never Used Flashcards.)
Together At Last
But, before you run off and demand an end to all convergent thinking, don’t. We actually need both convergent and divergent thinking.
“Creativity requires constant shifting, blender pulses of both divergent thinking and convergent thinking, to combine new information with old and forgotten ideas. Highly creative people are very good at marshaling their brains into bilateral mode, and the more creative they are, the more they dual-activate.” The Creativity Crisis by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
We just need MORE divergent thinking and much less convergent thinking in education.
Download my free "Can't Put 'Em Down Books for Kids" e-book for ages 2 - 18.
Also, I'll send you a bonus "23 Reasons to Read" printable poster!