Mark A. Runco
There are several reasons to be optimistic about the creative potential of at-risk and disadvantaged students. One reason for optimism is simply that creative potential seems to be very widely distributed. Thus some students who earn only moderate grades or have difficulties in school may very well have high levels of creative potential. As a matter of fact, except in extreme cases, a student’s creative potential cannot be inferred from his or her grades, IQ, verbal ability, or academic performance. Optimism is also warranted because of the significant role played by motivation in creative performances, and because creativity is expressed in such diverse ways. Because creativity is in part motivational, educators can do quite a bit with it simply by manipulating incentives and rewards. They do, however, need to ensure that they do not undermine the intrinsic motivation of students. This is one reason the diverse expressions of creative expression are so important. Children can be creative in many different ways, if they are allowed to follow their interests. Unfortunately, there are also several reasons to be concerned about the creativity of at-risk students. These are also noted herein, the assumption being that if educators, counselors, and parents are aware of the problems they can work to avoid them. One problem is that the traits which seem to be associated with creative potential (e.g., nonconformity, independence, persistent questioning) may not be all that easy to tolerate in the classroom. Not only should such traits be tolerated, encouraged, and rewarded; they should also be modeled. In other words, educators should themselves demonstrate independent thought, spontaneity, and originality.
Fourteen specific recommendations are offered at the end of this paper. Six of these describe behaviors to avoid (e.g., relying on verbal materials, communication, and rewards; over-emphasizing structure and curricula with predictable outcomes; prejudging students who are nonconforming and find their own way of doing things; and suggesting-even implicitly-that one’s own way of doing something is the best or only way). The other eight recommendations describe objectives and suggestions (e.g., follow students’ own interests part of each day; encourage independent work; discuss creativity with students; tell them why it is valuable; and be explicit about how and when to be original, flexible, and independent; monitor expectations; remember that the best creative thinking is at least partly unpredictable; work to valuate and appreciate what children find for themselves; give both helpful evaluations and supportive valuations; inform parents what you are doing, and why; read the creativity literature; and recognize that creativity is multifaceted and requires divergent and convergent thinking, problem finding and problem solving, self-expression, intrinsic motivation, a questioning attitude, and self-confidence). The rationale for each of these recommendations is discussed, and the conclusion of this paper describes why some of the recommendations apply to all students and why several apply most directly to disadvantaged students. Keeping in mind that the target population is economically disadvantaged, the most directly applicable recommendations are those focusing on (a) stimulus rich environments, (b) nonverbal materials, and (c) independent and small group assignments.
Creativity as an Educational Objective for Disadvantaged Students
Mark A. Runco
- Avoid relying on verbal materials; use a variety of materials; tap various domains (e.g., music, crafts, mathematics, language arts, physical education).
- Avoid relying on verbal rewards. Concrete reinforcers may be best for many disadvantaged students.
- Avoid over-emphasizing structure and curricula with predictable outcomes. Ask questions that allow students to follow their own (potentially divergent) logic and thinking, even if unpredictable. Plan to follow students’ own interests part of each day.
- Avoid prejudging students who are nonconforming and students who find their own way of doing things.
- Avoid suggesting (even implicitly) that your own way of doing something is the best or only way.
- Avoid going overboard.
- Allow independent work, and not just where it is easy (e.g., while working on crafts or art projects).
- Discuss creativity with students; tell them why it is valuable. Be explicit about how and when to be original, flexible, and independent.
- Monitor your expectations; and be aware of potential halo effects.
- Recognize the multifaceted nature of creativity.
- Recognize that creativity is a sign of and contributor to psychological health.
- Work to appreciate what children find for themselves; give both helpful evaluations and supportive valuations.
- Inform parents of what you are doing, and why.
- Read the creativity and educational literature and work with others who study and value creativity.