Five Thirty Eight, the data driven journalism website, had a really interesting article a few weeks ago called Stop Trying to be Creative. It was a really interesting piece and the author, Christie Aschwande’s basic argument (I’m paraphrasing) was that the more you go into a project with the goal of being creative, the less creative you will be. Moreover, if you start a project with a particular end result in mind (i.e. I want to draw a really cool car) the less creative the outcome.

This has had some interesting connections in both my class lesson design and my professional efforts outside of class. For instance, I have been asked to be a keynote speaker at this year’s Annual State DAR Convention. This is my first big keynote address and I began by setting aside a few hours to write and had a set of outline points that I wanted to hit. The results were not great. I couldn’t write at all for the first half of the time and when I started the results were unspectacular. It did start the process but I think I was trying too hard to get to the big climactic ending I had in mind. Since then I’ve tried writing a little every day and haven’t followed any set outline; I’m writing pieces that might eventually fit in the middle somewhere instead of getting bogged down in the introduction. The results so far have been much better.  I am a burgeoning writer… is this normal? 

The article also  got me thinking about classroom creativity. There is a delicate balance between freedom and structure in class creativity. As a gamified educator I believe that creativity comes from working within a rules structure. Picasso was a creative artist but because he was classically trained, new the ‘rules’. His cubism was a result of trying to capture multiple perspectives within the limits of a 2 dimensional medium. Micheal Jordan would not have had to have been so creative on the basketball court if he could have just picked up the ball and run through defenders. We want students to have enough freedom to feel Autonomy and Free Exploration but unlimited freedom can also have a paralyzing effect. Too much structure often comes in the form of a heavily prescribed rubric. At some point the rubric becomes a recipe to follow rather than a structure to work within. The constant struggle is to provide a rubric that balances guidance and freedom.

I’ve been attempting to offer more opportunities for creativity in the form of Independent studies – both in the more structured National History Day Competition projects and through my more open ended Rogue Missions. The end goal of course is not just student creativity but the self expression and autonomy aids in student engagement with the content and historic skills.