Do you ever wish you were more creative? Research has shown that adults can be primed to become more creative simply by being asked to think like children. There are many kinds of creativity, including flexible thinking, elaboration of existing ideas, fluency of ideas, and originality.
For the purposes of the study, college students were asked to imagine and write about what they would do if school was canceled for the day. In the experimental condition, they were primed in advance of writing to imagine that they were seven years old. Merely being primed to think like a child resulted in the production of more original responses on a subsequent measure of creativity.
What Happens to Creativity as We Grow?
There are numerous benefits to being more creative. However in school, creativity is usually valued less than conventional thinking, whether you are a student or a teacher. It may be that formal education discourages divergent thinking, and that school may also coincide with a natural brain development shift in students from more impulsive and less self-conscious thought to less spontaneous and more rule-bound thought.
Since both ways of thinking are important (imagine if we were all child-like all the time), it is intriguing to think about interventions that would enable you to be more creative at least some of the time. You might try thinking like a 7-year-old right before you have to do something that requires original thinking.
Mastery Goals versus Performance Goals
Mastery goals are ones focused on helping a student see how well they are progressing when compared to their own previous achievement through learning, understanding and individual progress and knowledge, whereas performance goals focus on the importance of avoiding mistakes, outperforming other students, and meeting extrinsic objectives such as high grades, standards, and awards.
A focus on mastery goals tends to build intrinsic motivation and creativity, along with positive feelings about learning, more perseverance (think Grit), self-advocacy and curiosity, as well as higher academic engagement. A classroom with a mastery focus is also more student-centered and individualized, and its students attribute success to effort rather than just ability.
Most schools are structured around performance goals. Carol Dweck has found that everyone has one of two basic mindsets, the fixed (performance) mindset, where you believe that your talents and abilities are either something you have or don’t have, and the growth (mastery) mindset, which is characterized by knowing that abilities can develop over time with effort and practice. There is a range between fixed and growth, and understanding mindsets can be quite nuanced. Many teachers and school districts say they value the very things that a mastery focus develops. Yet schools are typically performance oriented, with data-driven goals for higher math and reading scores, in particular.
Are We Discouraging Love of Learning in Students?
It should not come as a surprise that classrooms with a performance goal focus have students who are more competitive with peers and less personally interested in learning, since the adults in such environments use extrinsic motivators such as grades, and they reward conventional responses. The current push to reward teachers for student performance uses the same approach. If supporting creativity encourages curiosity, and curiosity strengths like love of learning and perseverance help to predict GPA, it would make sense to nurture more divergent creative thinking.
I would argue that the best teachers are able to think like their students, anticipating that bumps along the learning road may either cause a breakdown or instead catapult students to new heights of learning.
Can you nurture your creativity? Many researchers believe so, and a simple writing intervention will let you try the approach for yourself. (And let me know if you try it with a beach day in mind…)