Gregg, Thanks for taking the time to be apart of the post2post book tour on the Idea Sandbox blog. When I saw your book on the upcoming list of books, I jumped at the chance to be apart of it because of how much I enjoyed Jack’s Notebook.
1. At one point in the story, one of the characters suggests that a test students could be given is to make a long list of possible solutions to a problem. What is the power of “the list?” Why is list making such a valuable tool for students today?
List making is a simple way to encourage divergent thinking and imagination. The power of doing it is a person spends more time than they normally would in divergent mode, and as a result thinks of more options for the challenge in front of them. List making becomes even more effective when coupled with the principle of non-judgment. Without mental breaks on you really get into an imaginative flow. Generally, people do not separate divergent from convergent thinking, and this has the effect of a lot of stop-start thinking, which is not effective. Think of driving a car with the brake on and accelerating at the same time – it just doesn’t work.
2. When you were in school how much thinking did you do about your own thinking?
To be honest, not so much. I was somewhat aware that I was not typical. I was frequently reminded to stop “wool gathering” and I was so bored with school much of the time that I had a pretty rich fantasy world going. A lot of my thinking early on was comparative to others, like, why can’t I do art as well as Sandy? In college I did begin to wonder how I might be more creative. I was faced with school projects that required creativity and it was a mystery to me that sometimes I would “come up with something,” and sometimes I would be stumped. Due to the frustration of not being able to always do the very creative thing, I ended up believing in many of the classic creative myths. Those would be that you were either creative or you were not (and I felt the jury was out on me), that a creative “aha” was elusive and not much could be done to get one, etc.
3. What sort of things did you have to un-learn from your education?
I had to learn how to get out of critical-analytical mode all the time. Our educational training – in western culture -- tends to lead you to believe that you can “figure out” anything with logic and analysis. So, by the time I became a young adult I was prone to analyzing the heck out of everything. The truth is one does not figure out complex situations purely through logic. Sometimes it requires a bit of intuition and imagination to see the solution, then you “back out” the logic of why it works. Great scientists are well aware that the imaginative leap is something that happens in the process of making big discoveries. When I learned brainstorming/creative problem solving it was an eye opener to me that a person can be deliberate about asking the mind for spontaneous thought. As I practiced divergent thinking, I got better at it. Perhaps a better way to say that is I was able to turn the faucet on, the capacity was always there. I also took improvisation training which was very helpful in trusting my spontaneous thought.
4. Why is deferring judgment so powerful and so necessary?
Because it’s what stops you from being open to your own ideas and the ideas of others.
Everyone has ideas, good ideas. We tend to judge them harshly and quickly and never give them a chance to live. Nor do we routinely write them down. So, deferring judgment is a way to maximize the ideas you have, and, you leave the door open for our mind to suggest more.
5. You describe how powerful it is to restate problems with the phrase, “In what ways might we.” So, in what ways might we in education include the CPS technique into teaching students?
This question requires a very long list of answers! I’ll give you a start here, and wouldn’t it be great if people added onto it in your blog:
IWWME include CPS in teaching students:
• Honor divergent thinking when it happens
• Respect the concept of multiple solutions, multiple options for any given challenge
• Have students practice the elements of CPS -- problem exploration, ideation, and action planning
• Teach and practice the concept of deferral of judgment
• Teach and practice the concept of separating imaginative from critical thinking
• Teach and practice problem framing and show how perspective shift can lead to solutions
• Teach and practice list making and other ways to diverge
• Model the behavior you seek and show transparency in your own thinking; show them how CPS, or even simply showing them the various options you thought of before you decided to do some thing in the classroom
• Put activities back in to the curricula that encourage imagination, like the arts
As an educator, I was, of course, struck by this quote from the book. “I feel sorry for teachers; they have the toughest challenge there is. They are forced to teach for the test, the one right answer, and well, most problems in life have many right answers, not just one. Training kid to be really great at getting one perfect answer does them the disservice of not training them to think about all kinds of answers, all kinds of options.”
Well, I do feel sorry for teachers because of the way the system is oriented. I think most teachers know that teaching for the test is an artificial construct that can get in the way of real life problem solving efficacy. The answer is in teaching how to separate imaginative thinking from critical thinking. It’s important to note here there is nothing wrong with critical thinking, it’s necessary. I just feel there is no balance in the educational system today.
6. In what ways are we limiting our students by focusing on the “one right answer for every question” model?
You’re shutting down the imagination, the ability to diverge. Ironically, this actually makes them worse at getting the one right answer. Problem solving is done better when the problem is well explored. Problem exploration is typically not taught at all. Sometimes getting the one right answer means you are imaginative first to create a list of options, or possible answers. Then you use your critical-analytical skills to select the one that is most appropriate.
7. How might students benefit if education allowed students more time to think and build on each other’s ideas instead of driving through the curriculum so quickly?
They would learn the important skill of collaboration for one. I think there are ways this could be done even within the aggressive pace of the curricula. I’ll add that time works when people work alone as well – you can build on your own ideas.
8. High stakes testing doesn’t allow for much ambiguity. Why is tolerating ambiguity so valuable for students?
Because in life an awful lot of what we do, what we face, is quite ambiguous (vague, complex, etc.). We do children a disservice when we lead them to believe that the answer to complex issues should come quickly and as a crystal clear perfect answer. Sometimes, often really, solutions evolve as our thinking evolves and as we learn. We need to give our brain time to process all the factors. Our brains are quite good at doing this if we “stay open” to possibilities. Let’s face it, high stakes testing is, more or less, an IQ test in disguise. Nothing wrong with an IQ test inherently, but we need to remember that IQ isn’t everything, it’s not the only predictor of success in life. People with average IQ’s can do some amazing things, particularly if they allow their minds time to work on challenges. The need to come to closure on a challenge quickly works against coming up with truly excellent solutions. Tolerating, even embracing, this period of ambiguity makes a person more effective in the long run. It’s also worth saying that if a person learns how to tolerate ambiguity, they will face some complex situations without as much fear. Fear has us all making bad decisions doesn’t it?
9. “It occurred to him that being able to generate options—ideas on how to break through these walls—was a way to maintain hope. With hope, you are less likely to make poor decisions based on desperation” It makes me think about how many more of our students would stay in school and not drop out of school each year if they had hope. In your mind, has does creative thinking provide hope for students?
I do think it does, or at least it can. The challenge is how to give students a glimmer of insight, a bit of faith, in their own creativity. Historically, the arts has worked well in doing this, so it’s another argument for putting the arts back into schools. Still, even without the arts, any teacher can give students hope by having them do simple things like making lists of ideas for something. If a student “works” a list for a while a student will see there are more options than they originally thought. Invariably there is a breakthrough moment in a well-worked list. That “aha” is a real hope builder, a creative confidence builder. It’s hard to emphasize how powerful a simple notebook, with active lists of ideas about various things, can be to empower thinking and inspire hope.
10. If you could make the changes in education that you wanted, in what ways might education change in this country? What would you wish for?
• I wish for a system that honors the creativity in everyone.
• I wish for a system that teaches people the power of their own creative thought and is less concerned with comparing and putting people on an IQ scale.
• I wish for a system that would be more broadly self empowering, and I think creative training is part of that.
• I wish deliberate creative thinking would be taught as a thinking tool across the curricula, it’s not just an arts thing.
• I wish for more arts education, because it’s a good way to access your creativity.
• I wish teachers would be trained in deliberate creative process.
• I wish teachers would get creative thinking training because I believe it would be valuable to them as a way to address their own teaching challenges, and, it would enable them to teach the process to their students.
Thanks Rob for the interesting questions, I have a lot of heart for teachers – both of my parents were teachers – and I love dialoging about this topic. Best wishes to all your blog readers!
Thank you Greg for your great answers and your interesting take on Education.