Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How to Teach Creativity - Fluency

In creative problem solving, a fluent student is one who can list many potential solutions to a problem. Some potential solutions may just be idea fragments, or they may be too "out there" to be practical. In fluency, quantity is more important than quality, because students will later reflect on their responses and decide which ideas are worth keeping.

In creative problem solving, impractical ideas are valued just as much as practical ideas. Solutions come from unexpected sources, and students should be encouraged to look at all possible sources in the initial stages of solving problems.

Students are ready to understand fluency and use it in basic problem solving in elementary school, but they need to be able to write or type for 10-15 minute stretches. For this reason, fluency may be a good activity for 4th and 5th graders rather than earlier elementary, but like so many things in gifted education, it depends on the student. It is important that students understand why they are being asked to write in such great quantities... teaching fluency might be as simple as giving students a topic and asking them to list possibilities.

For example, ask students to list things that are green. One word answers are fine. The students should give as many answers as possible in the given amount of time, perhaps 10-15 minutes. It is important that teachers tell students spelling is not an issue. They are simply recording their ideas and writing them to avoid repetition.

Middle school students love the game Scattergories, and it is an excellent introduction to the concept of fluency. To understand how fluency relates to problem solving (as opposed to idea-generation for brainstorming), students should be given a simple problem and asked to fluently list all the possible answers.

Spelling, grammar, and mechanics are not priorities at this stage, because the goal is idea generation, and pausing will hinder progress toward the goal. Middle school students tend to be competitive and this is a good activity for competition if the question provides a level playing field.

A question such as "Why do cats have claws" will generate a lot of ideas and it is a topic on which everyone can contribute answers. Sometimes students are tempted to hide behind repetition, because those words will fill lines on the paper. For example, using the cat-claw question, a student taking refuge in repetition might write:

1. The cat can climb an oak tree.
2. The cat can climb an elm tree.
3. The cat can climb a tree in the backyard.

These lists are really just one answer - the cat can climb a tree. These answers are common in gifted classrooms because gifted students like to be playful. Unless it seems like the listing of repetitive answers is keeping students from making real progress, it is all right to allow students to make such lists at first.
Grading Fluency

Being able to provide a coherent answer to the question is one strategy for evaluating answers, but it is not the goal in the first stage of learning fluent thinking. Students should be able to say, "Cats have claws in case they need to climb trees." It is a coherent answer to a simple question based on idea generation.

It is tempting to have a partner just check off answers as they are said instead of writing them down. Unfortunately, that makes it tricky to avoid repeating ideas and the work is then unable to be re-used to teach flexibility and frequency. However, if students have ideas listed, the lists can be used later in other creative problem solving activities.

When teachers move on to the next step in teaching creative problem solving, flexibility, the students will see that their fluent answers did were inflexible and could not fit into many groups. In fact, the student was being fluent in generating types of trees, not generating reasons why cats have claws.

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