Sunday, June 24, 2012

Structuring Creativity: The Literature Lens

Legendary graphic design artist Milton Glaser is quoted in Jonah Lehrer's new book, Imagine:  How Creativity Works, "...creativity is a verb, a very time-consuming verb."

Sign above the front door of Milton Glaser's studio on East Thirty-second Street in Manhattan
Creativity is hard work.  Many imaginative children do not realize how hard they have to work to be creative.  The work of creating is even harder if we do not help our students structure their creative process; giving them a map that shows the route from imagination to creation.

The classic model that I have used with many creative problem solving teams and class assignments is the Creative Problem Solving process created by Alex Osborn in 1953 and then further refined by  Sid Parnes (1992) and Scott Isaksen and Donald Trefflinger (1985).  The structure of the model allows for divergent and convergent thinking throughout the creative process; a balance of imagination and analysis.

Creative Model Solving Process
Students I taught were very productive using the Osborn Model.  But you can structure your students creativity in other ways.  By changing your academic lens or perspective you can take your content area objectives and revise student output using the structures of literature.

My sixth graders work on a lengthy creative writing project.  Before we start I give them a map to help them find their way; avoiding the pitfall of "I don't know what to write next."  The structure of the Hero's Journey allows students to remain productive while creating.

I am lucky to work with eighth grade teacher Troy Drayton.  He structures his students writing by having them create flash fiction.  Tell a story in 600 words or less.  Students have to analyze genre and content in order to meet the word count.

Next year we will push our students even further.  North Carolina Sixth Grade teacher Bill Ferriter has his students create 25 word stories.  Students have to be very mindful of word choice!

Ernest Hemingway has been quoted as saying the best story he ever wrote was in response to a bet that he could not write a complete story in six words.  He won the challenge.

“For sale: baby shoes, never used.”

This structure forces students to cut to the essence of their idea or story.  The nice thing about the 25 word story or six word story is the ease of sharing.  Both can be texted or shared on Twitter quickly.

Another great tool that helps to structure students ideas and thoughts is the Google Search Story.  Students synthesize what they know about a topic using search terms related to the topic they are studying in class.
Structure is vital to creativity.  Without structure students can get lost in their imaginations or overwhelmed; never actually creating anything.  

In her book, inGenius, Tina Seelig writes, "These constraints sharpen your imagination and enhance innovation...Constraints are a tool that can and should be modulated up and down to catalyze and compound creative energy." (p.76)

Literature offers many structures that can be incorporated into any content area.  Use the structures of literature to give your students a chance to create something new and innovative that captures the essence of your class.

Summarize the Theory of Relativity in a haiku poem
Write a love sonnet about Western Expansion
In six words tell the story of mitosis
Describe an equilateral triangle in a cinquain poem
Using the archetypes of The Hero's Journey describe the water cycle using water as your hero

Isaksen, SG and Trefflinger, DJ (1985) Creative Problem Solving: The Basic Course. Buffalo, NY: Bearly Publishing.

Osborn, A (1953) Applied Imagination. New York: Charles Scribner.

Parnes, SJ (1992) Sourcebook for Creative Problem Solving. Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Foundation Press.

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