Today we hear from Dr. Rush Cosgrove, Research Fellow and Historian for the Foundation for Critical Thinking. Rush holds a PhD from Cambridge University, where he wrote his dissertation about how to improve the teaching and learning of critical thinking in higher education. We interviewed Rush a few weeks ago at the 33rd Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform in Berkeley, California. Here is what he had to say about teaching creativity through critical thinking:
Many people think of creativity and innovation as something that is spontaneous and ephemeral. But what we find when we actually look at “geniuses” and people who have produced masterpieces, we find that they’re not just “doing it.” They have become skilled through the performance and continual critique. So, at the very least, Leonardo had to practice how to use the brush or mix the colors to get the exact color he wanted. You can’t just go into the store and say “I want the color of the sky in the evening over Paris.” He’s mixing colors himself and asking, “Is it more red? Or, more blue? Is that it?” It’s a process that we can jump into and teach to students.
This is a central insight of critical thinking: wherever human skill is relevant, wherever it’s important that there is a difference between skilled performance and unskilled performance, we can look at the qualities that make that performance skilled. Why do we call that masterful? What are the components? We can make those explicit and then design pedagogical strategies that allow students to practice these skills and spend time using these skills in a controlled way, in a comfortable and open way. It allows the students to fail and experience that failure publicly, even, and be okay with it because they are improving.
One of the possible ways of viewing education is just slowing things down. Life comes so fast — someone asks you a question or the light turns green or the light turns red — and you have to just react. And many people can’t react quick enough, so they fail. And they may fail again and again and again because they aren’t ready and as soon as they’re ready it’s over. In education we want to take these situations and slow them down to take our time and think about them, think about exactly how we are reacting. We can stop and think before we move, and re-think our moves before going on. We can give students the pacing that allows them to understand each aspect of a complex process before they have to put it all together later.
Thanks, Rush! This commentary makes me wonder: How can we slow down the creative process in our classrooms so students can practice the individual components? How can we create a classroom environment where students take risks within a controlled, comfortable structure? How can we teach students to think critically about their creative endeavors — to constantly question and monitor their own performance?