New Study Finds Student Creativity is at Risk at School

New Study Finds Student Creativity is at Risk at School

Education September 12, 2017 / By Kathryn P. Haydon
New Study Finds Student Creativity is at Risk at School

A recent study found that there is a gap between student creative expression at home and at school. Find out which types of students experience this gap and how to help them thrive.

As parents and teachers, we are like gardeners when it comes to kids. They have within each of them the seeds of creative potential and we are responsible for providing the necessary elements so that they may fully grow and blossom. Creative potential is defined by what is possible for that individual, not necessarily by their current performance at home or at school.

Are we allowing kids to realize their full creative possibility? 

It is well-known that research over the past seven decades has shown that creativity does not usually flourish in school. This is especially hard for those highly creative spirits among us for whom creative expression and problem-solving is like air, sunlight, and water. We have seen highly creative kids shut down, resist rote work, and lose their joy in learning when their creativity is not put to use. The atrophy of their creativity muscles can look like behavior problems or learning issues. Gratefully, a new study by Runco, Acar, and Cayirdag gives us new insights on how to support these at-risk students. 

The study’s primary finding was that students in general are indeed more creative outside of school than in school. The researchers underscored the importance of recognizing that the pattern of declining creativity in school is not getting better. This phenomenon is still as present as it was in the 1960s when Torrance published his study on the topic as it was when Kim wrote her follow-up in 2011 . 

The good news is that the study went further to help explain the reasons behind the creativity gap. 

When you’re planting a garden from seed, the seed packet will tell you how tall to expect that plant to grow. While we all know kids don’t come with instructions, the researchers in this study were able to understand more about students’ individual creative potentialities by giving them a series of measures. The most significant findings came from the Self Report of Creativity Traits (SRCT), the Creative Attitudes and Values (A & V), and the With Whom Are You Creative? (WWAYC) surveys. 

To put it simply, student responses on these three measures tell us: 

- the prevalence of the person’s creativity traits (how creative they are)

- the degree to which the person values creativity (how important creativity is to them)

-the person’s social preferences for creative behavior (Are they more apt to be creative alone, with one or two other people, with a group, alone and with a group, or never?)

The study found that the more a student values creativity and expresses creative behaviors, the greater the discrepancy between their creative expression at school and outside of school. In other words, highly creative kids are more likely to express a lot of creativity outside of school and less creativity inside school. 

Much of this creative potential gap can be explained by social preference as measured by the WWAYC. The higher one’s creativity, the more likely they are to prefer being creative with just one other person, or by themselves. 

Highly creative kids prefer being creative with one other person or when they are alone. School is about the group, so it’s easy to see why their creativity is likely to decline in this setting. 

What can we do to help highly creative kids use their creativity more of the time? How can we make school and home better for them? 

As always, we begin with empathy. The desire to work alone or with one other person is a personal preference, not a deficiency. 

In school, let’s not penalize kids for not wanting to do group projects. We place a lot of emphasis on “group work” but as this study showed, it is normal that highly creative people don’t prefer doing creative work in a group. Give students the option to work alone or with one like-minded partner, or provide solid group creativity training so students have the skills to work together. From a general classroom standpoint, provide breaks throughout the day when a student can go off on an errand to the office, or sit with a book in the library. 

At home, don’t over-schedule kids in after-school classes. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t want to have a playdate every day. Find a special “me space” where your child can do his or her creative work, free from interruption from siblings or parents. 

We don’t need to constantly worry about a kid who enjoys doing creative work alone. This is common for highly creative people, as the study reported, and it doesn’t mean that he has no social skills or is a loner.

On my packet of tomato seeds, it says to plant them every 24 inches. Highly creative thinkers, like tomato plants, need their space to leaf out and grow. Only in this way will they bear fruit.

As an administrator, parent, or teacher, In what ways do you support highly creative students’ need for alone time? 

Read the author's quick-start guide to creative thinkingCreativity for Everybody!

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