Times-Dispatch: Jennifer Vermillion column: Finding your voice

By Jennifer Vermillion
Oct 10, 2019

Grab a piece of paper and draw a “creative” person. Go ahead; we’ll wait. What characteristics did you capture on paper? This is a task I have asked both elementary students and adults to complete. Young children often draw themselves. Adults often draw an artist. When asked if they consider themselves to be creative, most children will respond with a resounding “Yes!” Yet very few adults feel that they are creative.

In 1965, NASA asked researcher George Land to develop a test for vetting the most innovative candidates for engineering positions. The test was effective, and Land decided to administer his test to the same group of children over a period of approximately 12 years. He found that:
  • 98% of 5 year olds were measurably creative
  • 30% of 10 year olds were measurably creative
  • 12% of 15 year olds were measurably creative

Do you want to guess how many of these children were measurably creative as adults? Two percent.

As we grow, we learn to be more analytical, more aware of social judgment and more fearful of messiness. How often have you thought of a novel idea but been afraid to share it for fear of judgment? We learn that there is often one correct answer, and we might have fewer opportunities to imagine and to create. Incidentally, our creative confidence declines.

William & Mary scholar Kyung-Hee Kim published a study in 2011 called “The Creativity Crisis.” In her paper, Kim unpacks an alarming finding. Across all age groups, American scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) have been declining since the 1990s.

Creativity is critical for our children’s future. According to a recent survey by IBM of more than 1,500 chief executive officers, creativity was ranked as the single most important factor for future success. Human innovation is more imperative than ever. Our students will work in occupations that do not yet exist and will face some of the most complex problems in history.
How can we help our students retain and build the creative confidence critical for their future? At St. Catherine’s, our faculty nurture students’ curiosity. Our faculty bring fresh perspectives to challenges and teach students to solve problems in original ways.

We encourage critical and divergent thinking. Through our arts, athletics and academic programs we help students build courage and learn to persevere in the face of challenges. We encourage students to embrace mistakes as part of the learning process. With approaches including design thinking, we show students how to push past the fear of judgement and messiness that often inhibits our ability to identify novel solutions. Through opportunities like our Intensive Studies Program, we allow time for deep thinking and reflection across disciplines.

As teachers, we also develop our own creativity. I am continuously inspired by the innovative spirit of my colleagues who model creative thinking and problem solving for our students. We also design professional learning opportunities around creativity for our faculty and staff. In conjunction with our Girls Innovate event on Oct. 11, local artists Mica and Noah Scalin will work with our faculty and students to help us activate and strengthen our creativity.

Author and international educational adviser Sir Ken Robinson talks about the differences between teaching creatively and teaching for creativity. We must all strive to do both.

Jennifer Vermillion is the director of innovative teaching and learning at St. Catherine’s School. Contact her at jvermillion@st.catherines.org.

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