creativity & curiosity

curiosity

Why do babies and young children seem to lose much of their curiosity in school? One reason, I believe, is that school undermines their autonomy and competence, which, according to self-determination theory, decreases intrinsic motivation and curiosity.

Kashdan and Fincham's book chapter, "Facilitating Curiosity: A Social and Self-Regulatory Perspective for Scientifically Based Interventions" (pdf), states that curiosity accounts for about "10% of the variance in achievement and performance outcomes." That's quite a bit. In their conclusion, they write,

Central to developing successful curiosity interventions is the enhancement of task curiosity, such as positive affect, feelings of self-determination, performance enhancement, and the acquisition of skill and knowledge.

One implication I take away from what the authors are saying is that we need to move away from breadth and more to depth. Constant cramming of meaningless facts doesn't give the time needed to develop competence in an area outside of memorization and grades. And constant cramming is usually a result of teacher-directed instead of student-initiated activity. Not that teachers don't need to direct at times and not that "knowledge" is not necessary. Rather, to nurture curiosity, students need the time to delve into concepts and practices so that their competence can develop, and they need to exercise self-determination by having a voice in course objectives and activity.

Much of what teachers need to do is to create environments that stimulate curiosity, the development of competence, and "authentic" self-determination. Rather than memorize ideas to be regurgitated on exams, students need "idea environments" in which they play with ideas, bounce them back and forth among themselves and others, and actually use them.

Related post: Engagement and Flow

Much hype is given to social networks on the internet and collaboration in the classroom. But, as Kathy Sierra comments on the differences between "Collective Intelligence and Dumbness of Crowds":

"Collective intelligence" is a pile of people writing Amazon book reviews.

"Dumbness of Crowds" is a pile of people collaborating on a wiki to collectively author a book. ...

"Collective Intelligence" is about getting input and ideas from many different people and perspectives.

"Dumbness of Crowds" is blindly averaging the input of many different people, and expecting a breakthrough.

(It's not always the averaging that's the problem it's the blindly part) ...

It's the sharp edges, gaps, and differences in individual knowledge that make the wisdom of crowds work, yet the trendy (and misinterpreted) vision of Web 2.0 is just the opposite--get us all collborating and communicating and conversing all together as one big happy collborating, communicating, conversing thing until our individual differences become superficial.

"It's the sharp edges, gaps, and differences in individual knowledge that make the wisdom of crowds work" (Kathy Sierra).

Sierra's post brings me back to a series of posts by Konrad Glogowski (see in Related Posts below) on disliking group work with young students. In his last post, he sums up his position:

In addition, Eric MacKnight e-mailed me some time ago to tell me that he had discussed my entry on group work with his students and encouraged them to respond. I read all their entries and was impressed by how well they articulated their thoughts. Their responses show a wide range of opinions. Some argue that group work has a very positive impact on all group members. Others contend that working in groups is alienating and ineffective.

All of these texts once again led me to a realization that I prefer communities where everyone can contribute while retaining their own sense of individuality and independence. In such communities or networks, individual learners can still link up if they choose to and can achieve the goal of what Gordon Wells and Mari Haneda (.pdf) call “purposefully knowing together.”

For me, both Sierra and Glogowski have pointed out that "differences" need to be valued. We don't learn from those who think like us or who know only what we know. Rather, we learn from those who think and know differently because it is differences that clarify, challenge, and expand our thinking. Groups, or crowds, can stifle thinking and creativity, while collective networks can facilitate learning.

Practically, this perspective means we need to give careful consideration to building structures into our classes that promote a networking community as opposed to collaborating groups. Wikis, for instance, can become a classopedia to which students contribute and see who else has the same interests. If students are blogging, they should be subscribed to their classmates. And so on. None of these practices are new, of course. What's important in using them is to avoid the dumbing down effects of group work. That is, have students share, discuss, and bump ideas off each other but create their own individual works. In this way, the class can expand both its collective intelligence and individual learning.

Related Posts:
» Authentic Multiculturalism in Medieval Spain
» Learning: A State of Dissatisfaction
» On Commenting and Readerly Voice (Konrad Glogowski)
» To Ungroup a Class (Konrad Glogowski)
» They Begin to Build Bridges (Konrad Glogowski)
» Students Reflect on Group Work (Konrad Glogowski)
» Groups vs. Networks: The Class Struggle Continues (Stephen Downes)

Anne Fisher ("Be smarter at work, slack off," Fortune Magazine) writes,

In a world of too much work and too much multitasking, the best way to beat the competition may be to do less.

Although talking about businesses remaining competitive in a global economy, Fisher's article is pertinent to any endeavor. That is,

it's really, really hard, if not impossible, for the human brain to come up with fresh new ideas when its owner is overworked, overtired, and stressed out.

Fisher quotes Peter Drucker,

The late Peter Drucker agreed. He wrote in The Effective Executive (an eerily prescient 40 years ago), "All one can think and do in a short time is to think what one already knows and to do as one has always done." Gulp.

Moreover, in Drucker's view, simply working longer and longer hours won't help. "To be effective, every knowledge worker, and especially every executive...needs to dispose of time in fairly large chunks," he wrote. "To have small dribs and drabs of time at his disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours."

Fisher cites a study by University of Michigan psychologists that shows that multi-tasking leads to inefficiency ranging from 20% to 40% due to the time needed to redirect and refocus one's attention. Other psychologists have found that

The unconscious mind is a terrific solver of complex problems when the conscious mind is busy elsewhere or, perhaps better yet, not overtaxed at all.

Despite the research and common sense behind the notion that having free time leads to more productivity and creativity, consider the work schedules of medical interns, untenured professors, and students who maintain a full course load (and more) while working full time. Any solutions?

In my previous post, I discussed foregoing the term "passionate learners" for "enjoying learners." I'd like to take it a step further and talk about "curious" learners. Actually, most people are curious; they just aren't that curious about school subjects. As Csikszentmihalyi states:

It is not that students cannot learn, it is that they do not wish to.

Perhaps students do not wish to because teachers transmit information instead of engaging students in creating knowledge. Perhaps they do not wish to because school subjects are disconnected from their own communities and societal activities. And perhaps they do not wish to because they do not have the experiences to make connections to school knowledge.

Then, again, am I myself really curious about everything I come across? I remember considering majoring in math and I signed up for two classes (geometry and diff eq). I read the first few chapters before the class, went to class the first day, and thought to myself: Boring!! I had no experience to see any relevance to this dry subject. And that ended my math major.

Turning to writing, I like it much more. I especially enjoy playing with words and tweaking sentences to make them more rhetorically effective. That natural (?) interest in language may be the reason I enjoy teaching ESL and studying languages. Still, I have to say that learning languages is frustrating when I try to communicate unsuccessfully. So, I can sympathize with the overwhelming majority of my students who say that they do not like writing, especially in English. When speaking, many "mistakes" go by unnoticed or unremarked upon. Writing accompanied by teacher comments, however, stares them in the face with the fact that they still have not mastered English, a process that will take probably ten years or more. Of course, giving students more control over the topics and genres of writing helps. But that's not enough for a long lasting curiousity in learning to write better. What else can help?