Image by Denise Krebs https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/7149966049

Are creative people really different from the rest of us? Can creativity be taught?

The answer seems to lie in how standard cognitive representations and operations are used in idiosyncratic ways. Or in others words, it’s how individuals use information in unusual and different ways.

So what is going on with people who are thought to be creative? Sternberg (1988) found that these people:

  • Lack conventionality. They tend to make up their own rules and deviate from the norms. From an educational perspective we can see that too many rules can stifle an individual’s creativity. We need to create safe practise fields for students to deviate from the norm, to experiment, prototype and fail forward.
  • Integrate and intellectualise. These people are good at making connections between disparate ideas. This is yet another reason to move to a cross-curricular approach. The more connections that can be made between disciplines and ideas, the better students will be at building on existing connections.
  • Aesthetic taste and imagination. This is about having the knowledge to know what is beautiful in a particular area. Knowing a masterful piece of music when you hear it or knowing that something will work well in one circumstance and not another. How do we cultivate this in schools? Perhaps this is where we need to slow things down and allow enough time for students to try multiple ways of immersing themselves in a subject or topic. Do we rush from topic to topic, piling more and more on before there has been time to reflect?IMG_5263
  • Decision making skill and flexibility. Decision making is deliberate and rational, but agile and able to change methods and pivot on failure. This is knowing when to let go and change direction and when to persist. Worksheets and over prescribed instructions will give no opportunity for students to change methods and pivot on failure because they are learning to follow one pathway to an outcome. This is where I think the design thinking approach is invaluable in schools as it teaches students to develop multiple approaches and practise letting go when they need to.
  • Perspicacity: This refers to a person being perceptive, insightful, discriminating and shrewd.
  • Motivated and focused. This is where persistence comes into play. How many hours do you think Divinci spent on his inventions? To create the famous last supper it took him 3 years, sometimes working night and day – the Mona Lisa four years. While historians might squabble over exact time frames, the point is that creativity isn’t always flashes of insight followed rapidly by a product or piece of work. Sometimes it is deliberate and slow.

Given the right conditions we all can be creative, granted not all of us can or want to be the next Divinci, but we need to move away from the mindset of “oh I am just not the creative type” Creativity can be taught!

Constraints

Experiments have shown that where participants have more constraints, they show more creativity (Finke, R et al. 1992). This has implications in an educational context when we are trying to teach creativity. Rather than giving students a blank canvas and saying go for it, a better way might be to give them a limited number of materials and get them to use those materials in different ways to create something new. This also can help overcome a limitation on our thinking called functional fixedness (a cognitive bias that limits us to only use an object or material in traditional ways).

References:

Finke, R.A., Ward, T.B., &  Smith, S.M. (1992). Creative cognition: theory, research, and applications. Cambridge, MA

Sternberg, R.J (1988). The three facet model of creativity. In RJ Sternberg (ed.), The Nature of Creativity. New York: Cambridge U Press.

 

 

Taupaki School core values

Taupaki School core values

Teachers, principles and even students reflect on their practice and make changes as a result of those reflections. How often do we as boards stop and reflect and make changes? I have been giving this some thought over the holidays and wanted to get some of my thoughts written down to help clarify my thinking.

What things have worked for us as board?

A shared vision

The first thing that comes to mind is our vision. Our vision was created by our community around 10 years ago and it still helps to guide our thoughts and actions. Our goals and strategic planning fall out of the vision and decisions we make in all areas are linked back to the vision. One of the things I love about having a shared vision is that it is not mine or yours, it is OURS – we all own it and are in it together. It is not created by one person, it is created by everyone in the community. Bill Martin hits at the heart of what a shared vision brings to life and work of a school “Shared vision brings alignment, commitment and accountability to organizational culture as it is born out of the lived lives of the vision-creating community. “(Martin)

Alignment

Alignment has been key to making sustainable change for us. How can we possibly make change when we are all going different directions? Alignment takes a lot work and holding people’s feet to the fire. It is easy to get sidetracked, make excuses and get caught up with the everyday events in a school. We all do it, but being committed to questioning, challenging and supporting each other when needed is a vital part of pushing through when things get difficult.

IMG_4667An example of working towards alignment comes from one of our initiatives to embed maker culture in our school. Taken first from our vision “We aim to give students experiences so that they can learn by doing, making sure that these experiences are relevant, purposeful and realAnd then included in our Annual plan, maker culture is planned and resourced for. There is involvement at every level of the school from board members to our caretaker who has been involved in creating an interactive rubbish bin with the students, teachers and parents at Make Club. 

Learning conversions

A critical part of alignment and change for us has been how our principal and teachers involve the board in learning conversations. Operating in silos as individual agents is counterproductive to enabling change in schools. The conversations we have had helped us create a shared understanding of the life and work at Taupaki. The board is always invited to learning conferences and this has helped with alignment and allowing us to meet as people not positions.

Systems and structures

Systems and structures have helped make the cogs move more efficiently. For example:

  • having a governance manual for clarity of governance verses leadership team roles
  • a work plan to guide our work
  • using a modified version the BAS (Board Assurance Statements) from ERO (Education Review Office) as part of our self-review
  • using forums for pre meeting questions and discussions so our meetings are decision focused.

All of these systems and structures help to free us up for more of the strategic thinking and planning aspects of board work.

IMG_0373People 

I notice that our board members talk about how much they ‘enjoy’ being on the board. It seems to come as a surprise to them, but I think it is an important point as working together isn’t always easy. Having fun acts as sort of social glue that bonds us, creating common ground. A mantra that I have on loop is to be hard on the issues and soft on the people. This is much easier said than done and we all make mistakes, but it is how we respond and move forward from those mistakes that makes the difference. We are after all, human, and when all is said and done schools are all about the people and the relationships between them.

What hasn’t worked and what are we struggling with?

Governance as inquiry was meant to be a deeper way for us to review ourselves as a board and deepen our practice. The biggest challenge has been finding time to do this work. Meetings are full with compliance work and board members are busy people with day work. The challenge this year will be ensuring we spend enough time in strategy, big picture thinking and reflecting and refining our work, as well as making sure all the compliance boxes are ticked. It is also election year along with an ERO visit around the same time. So as we reflect on what is working and what is not, the question of how we stay focused on future thinking while working through significant events, is firmly at the forefront of our minds.

Collaboration is a familiar word in education and business circles and is seen as an important activity to amplify learning, problem solving and  change. But what does good collaboration look like?

Bot and teachers working together I remember going to the International Conference On Thinking a few years back and coming back with a new word in my vocabulary called coblabberation. Coblabberation refers to groups working together ‘collaborating’ but little substance comes from all the talking. Or another words getting together and doing a lot of collegial talking with no meaningful change or outcome as a result.

Rebbecca Sweeney in her masters research showed that successful collaboration is more than just getting together and sharing ideas. She suggests that an important ingredient of successful collaboration is also being able to critique the ideas and practices being shared.

This view is also reflected in Patrick lencioni’s work around a conflict continuum. At one end of the continuum we have artificial harmony where groups will not critique or challenge ideas for fear of conflict and upsetting other group members. The problem with artificial harmony is that little change or improvement in practices can occur in this space.

Lencioni(1)

Construct from The Advantage. Redesigned with permission.

At the other end we have personal attacks. This is where there is a lot of challenge and critique but it’s done in a destructive way attacking the people rather than critiquing ideas. In this space relationships break down thus crippling change improvement and any movement forward.

The ideal space is somewhere in the middle, keeping an acute awareness that the group doesn’t slide to far left or right of the ideal conflict point. In order to work effectively the group must have a high level of trust and shared understanding that it is ok to disagree, critique and challenge each other’s ideas (but not the person).

One of the rules we have on our board is that it is ok to disagree, but we must never become disagreeable. Challenge and questioning is invited and while we might disagree on some matters we are one mind, one voice – we are a team who don’t take each other too seriously, but take our work very seriously.

We talk about collaboration a lot, but how often do we stop and question how effective we are as a group – are we just coblabberating? Do we explicitly talk about how we will work together or question what types behaviours are needed for effective collaboration to happen? How are we talking to our students about critiquing ideas respectfully when collaborating?

Maybe this post raises more questions than it solves , but I think it is a worthwhile topic to explore deeper given the weight we give to the power of collaboration. What are some of the ways that you approach collaboration amongst staff, students and parents? What has worked well and what have you noticed doesn’t work so well? I would love to hear your ideas…

 

 

This is the last post in a series looking at behavioural psychology. It is a summary of the previous posts that looked at what behavioural psychology is, the research and implications.

pavlov

Ivan Pavlov

I have wanted to write a blog post on behavioural psychology for some time now, but every time I sat down the task seemed so epic. There is so much complexity in this area that one post was not going to get the job done. I have instead opted to do a summary post with lots of links to more detail around previous research, rhetoric and research findings that are relevant to education and beyond.

Behaviourism is (roughly) a branch of psychology that looks at how organisms learn through interactions with their environment. Historically the main principles of behaviourism are Classical and Operant conditioning. Both of these have been and are still used by psychologists and specialists to support positive change in behaviours. The problem that I have with these principles is that they are seen to be used in a very narrow way (namely students who fall at the outer edges of the bell curve or to modify/control behaviour in some way).

When thought of in this way, its not hard to see why there seems to be a prevailing view that behavioural principles are synonymous with extrinsic motivation and behavioural ‘management’ in the classroom (I address this term later on).

Current research being conducted at The University Of Auckland however paints a very different picture and has a much larger range of impact and scope than I believe is generally understood.

Current research

There are so many areas that behaviourists study, but I will just mention a few here. For more detail see this post.

  • A big area of behavioural research looks at addictive behaviours and relapse. One of the main findings is that contexts matters as they act as cues for certain behaviours. This area has significantly helped people with substance abuse and eating disorders.
  • Most people have heard of the marshmallow test which looks at delayed gratification. This is based on research in the area of Delay Discounting, which shows we often prefer smaller rewards sooner, than larger rewards later. What this tells us is we need commitment strategies for the larger later win to help reduce the temptation to give into that smaller, sooner reward.
  • We also know from extensive research that punishment doesn’t work and can have negative ongoing effects. This also casts doubt on the use response cost initiatives like time out. New research is suggesting that specific stimuli in the environment act as cues guiding our behaviour. We need to start thinking differently about how we deal with challenging behaviours.
  • The latest research around how we make choices (behave one way or another) shows that when our environment changes more rapidly, we get more change in choice behaviour. This has interesting implications because in these environments we can change negative contingencies quickly to positive ones. It also shows that unexpected events can cause big changes in behaviour (the same findings in cognitive science).
  • Other areas of study include concept formation, memory and even how we solve problems and reason (there is a ton more but am running out of runway here)

Mythbusters

There are quiet a few misconceptions around behavioursim, but one I firmly want to knock on the head is the idea that using behavioural principles is just about extrinsic motivation and manipulating behavior change.

Every minute, of every day, of every year, we are being shaped through interactions with our environment. I learn that when I touch a hot stove I get burnt. I learn that when I put effort into my studies I get good grades and that makes me feel good because I have worked hard and achieved something. That ‘feeling good’ is reinforcement and motivates me – but it is not extrinsic motivation. We are reinforced by many things – a smile, acknowledgment of work done or achievement or even scratching an itch! The smile, the grade, or the scratch, are no different to a sticker or other reward. It is still an environmental event that influences behavior. The difference is the MEANING that that environmental event has to a person.

The problem that this poses is substantial because what is reinforcing for one person may not be for another. A smile may make an autistic child feel uncomfortable; getting a good grade might mean alienation from your peer group. Also reinforcement can happen when a teacher thinks they are punishing a student. For example, a child that is sent to sit outside the principal’s office for playing up in Maths time is escaping from the painful experience of struggling through a subject they don’t like. A smiley face on the board might be reinforcing for some kids but not others. So behaviour is complicated and the very best thing we can do is to really know our learners.

Implications and what’s possible

  • Creating positive environments and interactions between students, teachers and classroom activities is critically important for learning.
  • Know thy learner. It is so important to know the students learning and personal history and current situation. If we don’t have this understanding then not only can we not empathise with our students, but we can’t make changes to set up positive contingencies for them.
  • We need to know what the antecedents are (what is triggering behavior). What specific thing is causing the behaviour. Is it something in the classroom or something that happened at home? A good question to ask is what is it that the student needs. Going back to the example in an earlier post of the student who misbehaves during writing, the need to is to escape the situation. Knowing this we can change the contingency to make it a positive experience for them. If we can change the antecedent, we can change the behaviour.
  • Punishment doesn’t work as a behavior management tool. Instead give the students the responsibility to do the right thing and reinforce efforts towards good behavior. See table below for a differential on behavioural science for learning and classroom management.
  • Because punishers can become associated with particular stimuli we need to make sure those contingencies don’t stick. For example, a child repeatedly failing a Maths test will come to associate Maths with a negative bad feeling. Giving students opportunities for effortful success can change this contingency.
  • We also need to rethink contexts in classrooms. What does stimuli signal? What do the areas and objects and events in your classroom signal to the learners? Is this a quiet area, an area where we collaborate or work individually? Where are my safe spaces? When we change contexts we can change behaviour.
  • New research in choice behaviour suggests that we get faster changes in behaviour when the environment changes more rapidly – hypothetically this could reduce negative contingencies and allow faster adaptation to change*. This seems to support the idea of Individual learning plans where students plan when and how they achieve the set tasks. It also supports the idea of cross-curricular work as students are not locked into one genre for set periods of time.

*Two very important caveats for the last point (a) Emphasis on the ‘suggests that’ as this not been tested outside the lab yet. (b) There is a difference between using behavioural findings for understanding how we learn and classroom management. See this more below on this.

Behavioural management, I believe, is a misguided term to use; we are not managing behaviour, we are developing it. We are learning to understand how the environment shapes and guides our learning and behaviours. The more we learn and understand, the better we get at helping our students, ourselves and each other regulate behaviour for more positive outcomes. I think in education behavioural principles are often used to increase certain behaviours and decrease others and to enforce rules. These two applications often become muddled and so I have created a guide below to tease out the different meanings and applications. I hope that we can start to think about using behavioural principles beyond managing behaviour, to deeply understanding student’s needs and setting up environments to support their well-being and learning.

New 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really feel like this is just the beginning of a conversation around how behavioural research can inform areas like education and help us to understand and improve our own behaviours. I think to get better at this Behavioural Analysts need to spend some time with schools and people to get a better understanding of exactly what their issues are and what support is needed. I have started a GDoc where you can leave suggestions for Dr Sarah Cowie who is part of the behvioural science unit at The University of Auckland. We would love to hear from you!

 

References

See previous posts for all references.

This is the second post in a series that looks at what behavioural psychology is, the research and some implications.

This post explores some of the rhetoric around behavioural principles and then talks about some new research findings and the implications of research from behavioural psychology. For the first post that looks at what behavioural psychology is and areas of research click here.

The rhetoric:

One I have heard a bit goes something like this: Using behavioural principles such as reinforcement to change behaviour is manipulative and encourages extrinsic motivation (which is bad because we want people to be intrinsically motivated).

Reinforcement

Image credit:  opensource.com

Image credit:
opensource.com

Every minute, of every day, of every year, we are being shaped through interactions with our environment. I learn that when I touch a hot stove I get burnt. I learn that when I put effort into my studies I get good grades and that makes me feel good because I have worked hard and achieved something. That ‘feeling good’ is reinforcement and motivates me – but it is not extrinsic motivation. We are reinforced by many things – a smile, acknowledgment of work done or achievement or even scratching an itch! The smile, the grade, or the scratch, are no different to a sticker or other reward. It is still an environmental event that influences behaviour. The difference is the MEANING that that environmental event has for a person.

The problem that this poses is substantial because what is reinforcing for one person may not be for another. A smile may make an autistic child feel uncomfortable or getting a good grade might mean alienation from your peer group. Also reinforcement can happen when a teacher thinks they are punishing. For example, a child that is sent to sit outside the principal’s office for playing up in writing time is escaping from the painful experience of struggling through a subject that they think they can’t do. A smiley face on the board might be reinforcing for some kids but not others. So behaviour is complicated and the very best thing we can do is get to know our learners inside out and backwards.

Punishment

In many countries we have moved on from using physical punishment as a way of stopping certain behaviours. This is a good thing as research shows that punishment doesn’t stop unwanted behaviour and only has unwanted negative effects. But we still widely use time out and other response type punishers. New research shows that this is problematic and unwanted behaviours still return in most cases. We need to look for different ways to encourage appropriate behaviours.

New research

Behavioural Momentum theory tells us that behaviour that has had a very rich history of reinforcement persists for a very long time. While this can be a negative for removing unwanted behaviours, it has a positive side also. Experimental research has shown that not only will organisms orient their attention to the stimulus that has a higher rate of reinforcement, but also attention persists longer where there has been a richer history of reinforcement. Take for example a student who loves Art but hates writing. The act of creating a piece of art makes the student feel good which is reinforcing a love of the subject and the attention that may come from the work produced from teachers, parents and peers. But imagine writing! The art subject has a larger history of reinforcement and so there will be more persistence in behaviour in this area. This has important implications around helping students to persist in areas that they struggle with.

Image by Paul L Dineen

Image by Paul L Dineen

Choice behaviour looks at why we choose to do one behaviour over another at any given moment. The newest research on Choice Behaviours using Local Analysis is very exciting. What this research has shown is that behaviour is not just emitted based on where a person got their last reinforcer, but where next one is likely to come from. This calls into question Thorndike’s strengthening argument and has some interesting implications. For example one of the findings is that choice changes more rapidly in environments that change more frequently. More rapidly changing environments could be a way to change or deter negative contingencies forming with certain contexts or subjects. It also would equip students with the ability to adapt positively to change. An example of this is teachers who use Individual Learning Plans. Students know what they need to complete in the week and then they work out when, how and with whom they will complete the tasks. This changes week to week and adaptations can be made along the way.

We also have found that regardless of the rate of environmental change, reinforcers from the lower-rate alternative tend to produce larger changes in choice than do those from the higher-rate alternative. It’s almost as if unusual events are ‘surprising’ and produce a bigger change in behaviour. Interestingly this is exactly the same finding from cognitive science that novel events produce more engagement.

So What? What does all this mean and how can it inform us?

  1. Creating positive environments and interactions between students, teachers and classroom activities is critically important for learning.
  2. Know thy learner. It is so important to know the students learning and personal history & current situation. If we don’t have this understanding then not only can we not empathise with our students, but we can’t make changes to set up positive contingencies for them.
  3. We need to know what the antecedents are (what is triggering behavior). What specific thing is causing the behaviour. Is it something in the classroom or something that happened at home? A good question to ask is what is it that the student needs? Going back to the example in an earlier post of the student who misbehaves during Writing, the need to is to escape the situation. Knowing this we can change the contingency to make it a positive experience for them. If we can change the antecedent, we can change the behaviour.
  4. Punishment doesn’t work as a behaviour management tool. Instead give the students the responsibility to do the right thing and reinforce efforts towards good behaviour. See table in this post for a differential on behavioural science for learning and classroom management.
  5. Because punishers can become associated with particular stimuli we need to make sure those contingencies don’t stick. For example, a child repeatedly failing a Maths test will come to associate Maths with a negative bad feeling. Giving students opportunities for effortful success can change this contingency.
  6. We also need to rethink contexts in classrooms. What does stimuli signal? What do the areas and objects and events in your classroom signal to the learners? Is this a quiet area, an area where we collaborate or work individually? Where are my safe spaces? When we change contexts we can change behaviour.
  7. New research in choice behavior suggests that we get faster changes in behaviour when the environment changes more rapidly – hypothetically this could reduce negative contingencies and allow faster adaptation to change*. This seems to support the idea of Individual learning plans where students plan when and how they achieve the set tasks. It also supports the idea of cross-curricular work as students are not locked into one genre for set periods of time.

*Two very important caveats for the last point (a) Emphasis on ‘suggests that’ as this not been tested outside the lab yet. (b) There is a difference between using behavioural findings for understanding how we learn and classroom management. See this more in this summary post on this.

 References:

Cowie, S., Elliffe, D., & Davison, M. (2013). Concurrent schedules: Discriminating reinforcer-ratio reversals at a fixed time. Journal Of The Experimental Analysis Of Behavior, 100, 117-134.

Shahan, T.A & Podlesnik, C. A. (2006). Divided attention performance and the matching law. Learning & Behavior, 34 (3) 255-261