Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
A complaint I often have and often hear is that students lack creativity. The solution I have heard myself and others offer to this is to simply tell students to use their imaginations and Be Creative.
As if that’s something anyone can just turn on at will and only refuses to do out of sheer stubborness or something missing in their brain.
I’ve fished the internet in the past for Creativity Techniques and come up with very little. It appears that the big fish are hiding behind expensive corporate training courses which I’d have to become an employee of IBM to be sent on. Here are the sprats in my catch:
The problem with the first two is that they need some level of ideas in the first place to either storm or map. This is the part students are generally struggling with.
Reversal, however, now this is scaffolding. Example, instead of asking someone to design a new kind of restaurant/island/anti-pollution poster and expecting them to come up with something you don’t have to pretend to be interested in, you ask them to describe the worst possible restaurant/island/anti-pollution poster. Once you’ve got that, you reverse all the negatives which unlocks all sorts of creativity.
It made sense to me so I tried it in a first, get to know you, class with three Spanish bankers. I always do a thing where we all write questions for each other and can ask anything we like. Students always write “Where are you from?” “How old are you?” yawn etc yawn. I put down whatever comes into my head “What do you know about English food?” “What’s the worst thing about your job?” The cards go into the middle and we take it in turns to ask questions at random, saved, every time, from the dullest hour ever by my questions.
So I tried Reversal first. We brainstormed all the most boring, predictable questions you can ask a new person, boarded the usual suspects, I put a big cross through them and banned them for the next activity. And, in possibly a creative way around not being allowed to be boring, the three of them came up with slightly differently worded versions of the tedious questions on the board. In fact all three of them came up with more than one question that was identical to the other two’s.
I despaired. To be fair to them, two of them had neither heard of nor could conceive of a cake made with bananas so there was a lot of work to be done to launch their creative selves. Simple Reversal wasn’t going to do it.
But then what was going to be enough? How do you unlock creativity?
Ken Robinson would have it that education stunts this ability we’re all born with. There’s a jaw dropping part of this fantastic TED talk, about 8 mins in, where he explains that 98% of Kindergarten children in a study of 1500 children displayed genius level at coming up with the number of ways of using a paperclip (a test of divergent thinking which he sees as a pre-requisite for creativity) and then how the percentage tailed off as they got older and school killed it. Watching it, I considered how much story writing I did at Primary School, how that was replaced entirely by analysing the creative work of others and how it’s taken me 2/3 of my life to get back a raw ability I had until about age 12.
I was inspired by that talk but still unable to think of ways to get adults back to this Kindergarten advanced level. I went to TEFL conferences and attended talks on creativity which gave me lots of buzzwords about the kind of environment to foster but only a couple of concrete ideas (the What if…? questions which actually form many a writer’s basis for a story. Try this quiz to see how many films you recognise from the What if…? questions at their heart). I searched the internet again and got more wishy washy articles about allowing the mind to declutter or taking a dry marker pen into the shower.
What I want are actual activities or techniques not conditions under which creativity can be allowed room to breathe. Most people’s, I’m sorry to say, is in a life time of stasis, it doesn’t need more air, it needs a heart massage.
My list so far, can add these two TEFL thinkers ideas, no bad start.
Jo Cummins has lots of activities for starting the wheels turning with Creative Writing and Fiona Mauchline‘s talk at TESOL Spain was full of ideas for getting away from the limits of students’ daily lives.
But does anyone have any techniques aimed at a wider idea of Teaching Creativity?