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Habits of Mind: Creativity

posted: 6.1.12 by archived

To continue my tentative course design inspired by “Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing,” we’ll move from asking questions to writing text, from the ghost-essays that exist perfectly formed (maybe) in the writer’s mind to the dribble or flood of words that move across the page. Like so many adolescents who lose the joy of drawing they all felt as children, many of my students seem paralyzed by fear that keeps them silent or limited to brief outbursts. For this students, my goal is more basic than an introduction to academic writing: to give them the confidence that they can write and to have them see a value to writing on a personal level, an appreciation of the discoveries the writing process can enable and a sense of pride at what they can produce. (A disclosure: with a background in creative writing rather than comp-rhet, I prefer teaching students how to juggle rather than how to understand the physics of projectile motion.)

Thinking about creativity (or, to paraphrase the Wizard, you had the power all along). I might start by asking students to consider in what ways they are creative, not just traditional art forms but also cooking, carpentry, gardening, make-up or tattoos. Is making something always a creative act? Does a creative act always produce an object of some sort? Can there be creativity in science or in sports? What would that look like? I would encourage students to theorize based on their examples: what are the elements of creativity? how can creativity be a habit? what inspires or inhibits creativity? in what ways is it useful (or not) to judge creative acts, and how does one make those judgments?

Some additional sources. I’ve been collecting these up over the past few weeks, in the adrenaline rush that comes at the end of semesters. There’s Sir Ken Robinson’s oft-cited TED talk on how schools kill creativity, of course, but also Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, Michael Michalko’s Thinkertoys, James L. Adams’s Conceptual Blockbusting, and Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine. The Atlantic had a great series last year on the creative process of nearly twenty artists from Chuck Close to Tim Burton to Frank Gehry, titled “How Genius Works.” This might work as an introduction to invite students to brainstorm other “creative geniuses,” and then to do their own research to find what these people have said or written about their own inspirations and work habits.

Exercises. I use as a model my (limited) understanding of how art classes work: the sketch as a low-stakes way to test out a composition, the responsibility of the instructor to provide a subject—landscape or still life or naked body.

  • Visualizing. I normally don’t do more than mention the option to use graphic organizations as aids to brainstorming, but I’d like to try them out more in class (inspired by the iPad app iThoughts I recently downloaded). Also I’ve been interested to read in Jody Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole about asking students to draw “visual representations of the processes they employed while producing a work of their own” (58).
  • The collage. A basic “form” of creativity involves assembling smaller pieces into some whole, so I’d ask students to play with some fragmentary writing (cf. Peter Elbow’s “Collage: Your Cheatin’ Art” ). As a sample of a fragmentary literacy narrative, see John Walter’s response to his own assignment: “The Making of a Technorhetorician.” Priscilla Long’s “Genome Tome” is another example that comes to mind; in the documentary genre, I’ve also shown students Errol Morris’s documentary Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, which is a challenging exercise in making connections.
  • Fitting to a form. Whether it’s trying to write a sonnet or a blog post, I’ve been convinced for a long time about the generative power of form, so I’d like to give my students the opportunity to experience that through exercises of some sort, which might evolve into more finished work.
  • Analogies. I’d like to develop some analogy-exercises that show students how to move from that first creative leap of metaphor to a more analytical consideration of how and why the analogy works (or doesn’t). What other activities are like writing? How? Is a school like a factory? Should it be?
  • Multimodal possibilities?  I’ve assigned a photo essay the past two semesters as a companion piece to a more traditional argument; I’d like to further explore possibilities of incorporating words, sounds, and images, which I think might help to introduce an element of play and to break down some of the fear-factor.

One question has occurred to me this past week or so: could this approach I’m playing with be in some sense an adaptation of Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs’s WAW curriculum? Can I convince myself it’s not, to be politically incorrect, “dumbed-down” WAW?

As always, I’d welcome any suggestions, whether of resources that might fit this approach or questions about whether this framework is appropriate or workable for FYC.

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Categories: Holly Pappas, Uncategorized
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