Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Creatively Gifted Children

       Stories abound of the child who never seemed to find his or her place in the school system – until in high school the child attended a school for performing and/or visual artists.  Then, the child flourished, released from the confines of the academic box that held him.  In fact, Goertzel and Goertzel found (1960) that “60% of eminent creative people had serious school problems.”  Their round pegs simply did not fit into the square holes of traditional education.  Edison and Tesla’s energy, Virginia Woolf and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s talking, Robert Frost’s daydreaming and Frank Lloyd Wright’s inattentiveness landed them in trouble with their teachers (Cheney, 1981, Cramond & Kim, 2007).  Yet, it is those very characteristics that served them well in becoming the eminent individuals they became in their fields.
Schools for the Performing Arts are filled with students whose parents wondered if they would ever “be normal”
The question is, then, how do we best serve these creatively gifted children?  Do we ask already stressed teachers to expand their repertoire to include more arts-based learning options?  Do we assess a child’s artistic talent at a young age and put the child on an arts track, similar to many Eastern European and Asian schools?  Do we accept the differences in the creative soul and provide a welcoming and supportive environment in the traditional classroom?  Do we provide increased assessment options in the gifted classroom that would allow the artistic child to present knowledge on his or her own terms instead of through test-taking, rote memorization, and regurgitation of the teacher’s lessons?
If we could only identify these children at an earlier age and allow them to spread their creative wings, embracing their gifts and teaching them in ways that acknowledged and celebrated their artistic bent.  More often, teachers tell the child who has an amazing talent for drawing that her pictures are pretty, but it ends there.  The musical child who drums or hums in class is consistently reprimanded instead of being allowed to utilize that talent and interest.
        Ideally, I would like to see school system personnel opening their minds to the possibility of offering opportunities for the creative child to shine.  Through teacher training, teachers could learn to encourage their talents.  A few simple suggestions:
1. Art contests for yearbook covers, newspaper cartoons, bulletin boards, etc.
2. Debates on controversial issues in class
3. Journal of “Great Questions” kept by students or teacher to validate the creative thoughts and questions – not just the “right” answers
4. More game-playing and role-playing with literature, history, etc.
5. What if? time each day to encourage those with creative minds to think of possibilities relating to subject matter being studied
6. Morning greetings led by students – acceptance of silly, creative types of greetings
7. Ask dancers to teach class a dance that could be performed as an interpretation of a story
8. Ask artists to draw a “theme of the week” picture to be hung in the room and to which the teacher would refer several times during the week
9. Allow two minutes of “silly discussion” when talking about assignments
10.Occasionally ask students for their ideas for changing classroom systems
11.Offer writing opportunities for students who enjoy creative writing and story-telling.  Ask them, perhaps, to write a story each week to replace the morning story read by the teacher (lower grades).
        Given the prevalence of research and writing on the topic of creativity, I believe that it is significant in the scheme of things gifted. It would be beneficial to the debate if educators could decide what they mean, though, when they speak of creativity.  Are they referring to the generic, schoolhouse or living life type of creativity wherein a person consistently discovers new ways of doing or being, or performs ordinary tasks in unordinary ways?  Or are they referring to the artistically creative individuals who have a prodigious talent in visual or performing arts?  
My thought is that educators are referring to the former and not to the latter, although it is these individuals who have immense talent to create works of art who feel frustrated in the traditional school setting.  They doodle and tap their pencils, stare out the window and hum.  They wiggle in their seats and draw in the margins of their papers, react melodramatically and pretend.  They wear “different” clothes and hairstyles.  These are at-risk students who just have a need to create.  Because they don’t fit into the traditional program, though, teachers often perceive their actions as disruptive, rude, and antagonistic.  “I told you not to draw on that paper, Johnny!”  “Jane, if you can’t pay attention, you may go to the principal’s office.”  “PLEASE stop tapping (or rapping or bamming or humming . . .)!”  
Perhaps teachers could use some training on how to constructively embrace their talents rather than stifle them.  Do you have any suggestions as to how we can better serve these children?

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