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How do creative and critical thinking interact in the classroom?

As a student of the International Baccalaureate, I have been asked to research this question for an essay. I think it is a fascinating question, particularly with regards to the differences between teaching staff and students: how do they use/consider creative thinking differently?

In my opinion, creativity is not only essential in research and innovation, but it must also be an essential consideration for teaching staff ("didactic" methods?) in order to inspire and draw interest to their subject. I have witnessed particularly a particularly strong drive in Mathematics: a subject which seems rather clinical and concrete at high school level, but remains very abstract in certain studies at university level. Teachers offer websites, word problems and games to tackle the subject away from constant textbook work in a way that apparently stimulates learning.

Meanwhile, students reason their problems both inductively and deductively, but the creative element in method is key to understanding the subject. Critical thinking may be needed to evaluate the purpose of the work, but creativity stimulates the study itself.

What do you think? Do you have any personal experiences/anecdotes to share on the subject?

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    Nov 14 2011: Kim,

    This is actually a huge, well traveled, and poorly defined topic, which periodically reverberates through our educational system.

    There are several levels:

    My daughter has a common cognitive issue known as dyscalculia, which is essentially a limited neurophysiological capacity for seamlessly moving between abstract and concrete constructs. She is brilliantly creative. She is an excellent critical thinker. But she is almost incapable of translating a map to a physical place, a real-life situation to an equation, a sheet of music to a song, a new language that she speaks fluently to a list of verbs. At their best, creative and critical thinking are not binary modes. They are a parallel flow of interpretation, passing expressive control back and forth.

    Howard Gardner and many, many other researchers over the years have identified multiple cognitive styles, or intelligences, that collectively characterize any random group of individuals. That translates into fundamentally different ways that people most effectively transmit and receive information, such as kinetic motion, music, spatial patterns, language, or symbolic abstraction. Anyone who has worked in a classroom will immediately recognize this in practice. Teachers are no different than students in this regard. The challenge is to create curricula and learning environments that encompass and expand the range of cognitive styles. Curricula that focuses on any one style (symbolic abstraction, for example) will simply fail to reach most students, or be taught effectively by many teachers.

    This last point is at the heart of the current education wars. The solution is curricula that draws on the vast array of best practices that we have learned over the last couple of decades, that reaches out to multiple "creative" and "critical" styles, and that develops teachers who are participants in, rather than arbiters of, the learning process. Where we are going right now instead is "teacher-proofed" schools.
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      Nov 14 2011: Great response Kevin.
    • Nov 16 2011: Kevin.......This is an aside but perhaps applicable to your daughter's issue. Bear with me while I make the point. I have seen Charter schools and Montessori schools where ADHD virtually did not exist. My son had a "learning disability", which as I discovered (not the school or the shrinks) was an inability to relate visually to letters. Once I wrote the letter on his hand the problem in a very short time was resolved and he was reading the equivalent of run spot run (he was in the first grade at the time). Here's the, physically, emotionally, mentally and sexually all grow up at different rates. Schools address and define the average as opposed to a more effective teaching method I responded to elsewhere). If you put all these thoughts together (and I did not do any research on your daughter's condition) I would suspect the possibility she may grow out of it exists. Using this ADHD diagnosis that is rampant as an example two questions come to mind.......where were they when I was that age (and discipline existed) and what happened to them. if they did exist? While I can subscribe to illnesses of many kinds the tendency today appears to be make drug companies richer only. If the problem was as big as the "stats" say it is (check it out) civilization will crumble with the next generation.
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        Nov 16 2011: Stephen,

        It's interesting that you mention this. My daughter is a Montessori kid, and ADD/dyscalculia (different issues, often associated) didn't show up until she transitioned to a conventional school, where it appeared with a vengeance. I think that Montessori served her exceptionally well in many ways. She is tenacious about working around her learning issues to succeed, and refuses outside help or accommodations. She'll be fine because she happens to be emotionally intelligent, and because she's part of an engaged and supportive family that values education as a critical part of being an engaged adult. She's lucky.

        But she doesn't get what she needs from her high school, which happens to be a well-regarded public charter. The focus is on college prep, and the script for college prep everywhere is heavily tilted towards a pedagogy that probably only works for maybe a quarter of the kids that assume they are going to college, and which has already weeded out kids that could and should be going to college. That script rewards creativity (expressed as symbolic abstraction), but it doesn't teach creativity across cognitive styles, and rote memorization is a perfectly acceptable alternative to actually understanding.

        This is a problem. In almost every field that I know of which requires creative flexibility to solve new and unfamiliar problems, from public policy to engineering, there's nobody coming in behind an extraordinarily talented generation of people who are going to be retiring over the next decade. Financial services seem to have soaked up the bulk of the 20 and 30-something creative talent, and focused that creativity on destroying the global economy. We need people with skills, who excel at solid innovative thinking. Our collapsing public education system is producing people who excel at taking standardized tests.

        Watching my daughter, I realized that today I would have been diagnosed with ADD as a child.There's less flexibility in schools now.
        • Nov 17 2011: Kevin.....very interesting commentary. The first thing that struck me was the vengeance it manifested when she hit (lack of discipline) public schools (the same with ADHD kids regardless of whether or not they were privileged enough to go to a M school. That might bear some research by (joke) the Department of Education.

          As for the educational system here are my thoughts...First in yesterday's world the majority of knowledge actually came from industry. It took schools around Silicon valley more than just several years to start asking for people from the industry to teach new classes as an example. Today with technology a major subject and research being done on campus in many areas plus the Internet that has changed.....BUT.....changing people, particularly academia is a much more difficult task. AS a pointed criticism why is the master apprentice teaching method (the most effective possible) non existent when technology allows the lecture but have the professor available as the mentor (and why not have the best presenter or professor give the lecture....once recorded it). To further embarrass the academic elitists go to the Internet and do a simple query. How do students learn? Two hours later you will discover (with the exception of going to sites on primates) very little is known. II this an assumption that what exists is best(?) or an entire industry that is very slow to improve and only very recently has even started to use the Internet for Education....despite it's being around for 20 years. Nor does it question it's methods (In industry no improvement = failure). Sadly white papers of any substance are missing and that was with 9 hours prowling the net and college papers. To ultimately embarrass them ask the simplest of all questions.....what is the purpose of school? If you get back anything other than "to learn to think" they are from possibly not "sapiens". (part of this was cut off but you can find the rest under my name on TED)
      • Nov 17 2011: i completely agree to much of previous on both of your dialogues. I am 26, and always seemed to have ADHD. Not until mid 20's was it diagnosed. I don't feel this is merely a result from the horribly rigid classroom structure today. I also feel it reflects a shift in generations, the internet, television, cellular phones, et cetera. We have such quick access to a world of information now. Of course drug companies are reaping benefits here, mine being aderrall. Which is ADHD specific(purportedly) but after 3 years of taking this compound, my creativity has suffered as well as my generation of lateral thinking. I believe this ADHD issue is the direct result of the changing technology era. The children of today do not often go out and create their own games among peers to pass time, nor do they read or draw for hours on end(always exceptions). There is so much more readily available stimulus through TV, Gaming systems, internet. I have read much into cognitive development and learning after having experienced a TBI 4 years ago. At certain ages, this over stimulus can slow the development of brain maps associated with patience, creativity, and some forms of social interaction. Children can share any thought, story, message to their peers through text. But when in person, they often lack the same confidence or openness in communication as compared to digital versions. I feel we have not used technology as ideally as it could be. I would limit my own child's use of tech until their brain maps were more developed. Allow them the stimulus and advantages it has to offer, but not until they can function without seeking the easier wikipedia or similar answers. Tech has a definite place in our society, and will only grow more so. But we shouldn't create a digital crutch, hampering their generation of innovative problem solving abilities. It should ideally supplement their learning, not become an outlet for escaping reading, drawing, physical play. They should solve, not web find
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    Nov 14 2011: Hi Kim,

    I've felt that curiosity, combined with passion are often pre-requisites for creativity. Curious people, whether teachers or students, are always looking for new ways to do things. The passion is the driving force, and master teachers certainly have plenty of that! I don't think any subject lends itself to less creative techniques than others. It is up to the dynamic relationship between student and the teacher. Agreed, at university this can be much less dynamic when the teacher becomes a lecturer, but it certainly shouldn't be the case in K-12 schools.

    Also, have a look at Erica McWilliam's writing on the concept of the teacher as 'meddler in the middle'

    Professor McWilliam has spoken at two IB conferences now, so she's very much in line with your IB studies!

    Best of luck,

    John Switzer
  • Nov 9 2011: To simplify the subject (for all teachers and those who are or will become parents) perhaps the simple questions of why and why not (as applied to almost any thought) might be a more generic approach. You may also want to add who, how and when. Applied across the broad world of education this does the one thing most important....'to learn to think". Something not as prevalent as one might imagine.
  • Nov 4 2011: Here is a neat site on critical thinking:

    Here is a neat site on the theory of multiple intelligences:

    Critical thinking is an aspect of Critical Decision making. Strongly recommend looking at a book on critical decision making to see how critical thinking is used as part of the decision making process and how gaining the adherence of decision makers is a goal.

    Creativity is good, but you need to be more than just creative. Perhaps being creative with a purpose to communicate your message is a good way to look at things, in whatever medium you wish to use. Seems like there is a lot of adaptation, change in viewpoint or perspective, imitation of nature, or problem solving using bits and pieces from different ideas in what some call creativity.

    Museums, libraries, the Patent Office, nature, are all repositories of creative works. The general challenge is one of knowledge management, finding, adapting or being inspired to create what you need to achieve your goal.

    Also, be on the look out for serendipitous creative solutions to problems. Here is a link:

    Penicillin, the yellow sticky notes, the slinky and silly puddy were all serendipitous discoveries.

    Good Luck with IB. It is a lot of work.
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    Nov 3 2011: It happens daily with all students (in my experience).

    The only problem is that most traditional forms of assessment are blind to it because it is not something that those assessment methods are geared to easily detect or measure. Also, much of these interactions are 'invisible' in the context of a national curriculum delivery system. We're still stuck on measuring outcomes and chunks of retained knowledge than the processes behind them (mostly due to convenience, I think).

    If you are talking about making this interaction explicit, then it's about identifying when, how and why it happens and dissecting this interaction with the students. This requires an aware, empathetic teacher/facilitator who is prepared to step away from the 'prescribed' classroom programme.

    Personally, I think there's only so much benefit to be gained by making the learning/creative/critical thinking process explicit, but the benefits are important.
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    Nov 3 2011: I am not sure how much help you should seek from people on this rather than thinking it through. This was not part of the picture when I was a child, as we would not have had experts at our finger tips to short cut our work as kids do now.

    When words are hard to define, or distinctions are hard to understand, could it be that you should consider a continuum?
    • Nov 3 2011: You're absolutely right. Technology and resources such as TED should be used in moderation, and only after some careful thought and personal reflection. I will work through this one myself, and only seek guidance from experts when absolutely essential to stimulate my thought process. After all, I am the one writing the essay, am I not? The personal element is critical towards the success of this paper. Nevertheless, your suggestion on continuum is thought-provoking and incredibly helpful. I look forward to exploring the concept. Thank you for your kind support and suggestions.
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      Nov 7 2011: Using TED and other people as a resource is a creative approach to the lesson. It can open up avenues of thought you would not have considered on your own. I don't see this as a short cut unless you (falsely) assume that experts and other people are always right. Just be sure that while you are finding creative links in the different responses, you are critically considering the pros and cons of individual comments, including mine.
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    Nov 3 2011: One thing you might research as part of your assigned paper is the creative process. Most of the research on the creative process identifies typical steps (though they don't happen as linearly as the word "steps" might suggest). Some steps involve mostly what is called "divergent thinking," while others involve mostly "convergent" thinking. Evaluation of ideas, for example, involves a lot of "convergent thinking."

    I think this route might give you ideas for your writing assignment.

    If you were my student, I would advise you to do something like this- getting clarity on what creative thinking and critical thinking mean- as part of forming more of your own ideas before collecting other people's answers to your teacher's question.
    • Nov 3 2011: Thank you very much! Your contribution is absolutely spot on in terms of my personal ambition, especially since terminology is one of the most important elements of the course I am currently studying. In terms of the creative process, I will most certainly be looking into convergent and divergent thinking. Thank you for your suggestions.

      Meanwhile, if I may, to what extent do you think a comparative study can involve a link through the conceptual terms of "concrete" and "abstract"? I see the words both as essential to the discussion, and incredibly difficult to precisely define.
      • Nov 12 2011: I believe the previous contributions, should aim you mostly where you need to go as far as elucidating the differences between these two thought forms. I doubt I can provide a definite answer to your latest query, but. Concrete is an absolute, proven, logical, rational way of understanding or knowing. I believe my knowledge in things like math to be concrete. Abstract to me represents, the correlation of two things, as seen in art or creative connections between things that don't seem similar upon first mental evaluation. Like art, the simplest patterns of lines, or color arrangements, etc. Can be representative of much larger imagery. And you then mentally fill in the meaning and add layers of complexity. Abstract thought is not linear, not rational in the way of math or science disciplines. It involves making much larger connections between thoughts, systems, and information. I think these two should ideally interact in the classroom in such a way that students are given a problem, topic, or choice. Then given time to brainstorm possible solutions, and even various ways of getting to a solution. Create ways of analyzing, approaching, or solving the given situation. Once they have established many possibilities, then they should go about the deductive, rational, linear process of grooming their potential methods. Discerning what paths to take in a process, where they find dead ends, they fall back upon another potential way of approaching the topic. They should create all manner of ways to achieve a solution, and then go about a rational process of getting from the wider abstract field of approaches narrowing down the process until a workable strategy is generated. From association and conceptual, they should arrive at logic, reason, and rational ways of understanding or solving the problem or concepts
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      Nov 14 2011: I have to say that I think research is pretty useless, for the following reasons:

      1. It often regurgitates what is already generally (though informally) accepted.
      2. It tends to represent old findings in more up-to-date (trendy) lingo.

      Most often, there is no bridge between "research" and practice, which instantly renders research pointless in the field.
  • Nov 17 2011: Below is the rest of the piece on education (that was cut off)......figured I would save you the time. One point I would expand on is the master apprentice relationship....essentially meaning a child can go as fast as they can (emphasis on they) and specialized needs are focused on. This is absolutely possible in terms of teacher time. Imagine a world where the best of the best teachers gave the lectures (recorded videos) and other teachers supported the students. Out of a typical day suddenly we have at least 7 hours freed up (no lesson plans and that grind) so individual focus can be applied. This also allows the gifted to go as fast as they want (eliminate grades in the conventional sense) and those who need more time to master an area receive it). Extend this another couple of steps to interactive over the net and kids don't have to go to school full time. They can attend from home.

    Basics plus the Internet (the world's library contain everything you need fortunately does exist (less the mentor). Bottom line....academia in general is not progressive....tenure and security are goals...improvement eliminates jobs. States, the DOE and alumni can change this if you revolt if only for cost reasons alone. Education is an industry that has not had much competition and that is changing. Share the thoughts.. change i
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    Nov 16 2011: About 6 months ago I was at a Columbia dorm with two friends trying to fix the world with words,
    and we actually talked about this concern... the conclussion we reached was that the school (any level) is only a way to verify to the society how accomplished, responsible, punctual and have good memory, besides that, the classrooms does not have a real social and critical thinking function.
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    Nov 16 2011: In current certification system (the popular misnomer is Education system) I see very limited scope if at all for creative or critical thinking.

    Classes are for making student just stuffed with information , data, facts etc.....
  • Nov 14 2011: To be frank? Not very much anymore. Teachers in a high school environment have too many students, too little time, and too many deadlines to meet to actually have the freedom in order to come up with innovative ideas. It's not that they don't try or don't want to, it's simply because they aren't gods. It'd be simple to create fun, great projects for individual children; This kid is talented in learning this way, in this subject, so if we could present this other subject in a way which makes him approach it from that perspective, he should do well. But unless a parent gives their child a tutor instead of public schooling, that's not possible. I know in the USA, teachers have 30 students per class period up to 7 class periods a day. When you have to make sure said students have to pass standardized tests all at a certain time, you're not thinking about them learning in a way which is productive for them, but the fastest for both of you.

    Although fresh out of college teachers tend to have very inspiring ideas. I know I had a french teacher by the name of Monsieur Stump who was one of those innovative teachers. M. Stump, being fresh out of college, had a love of Harry Potter. He loved it so much, he decided his french classes should be divided into four groups: Ka, Allegra, O, and La Nouba. These groups were decided by a "Which Harry Potter house should you be in?" quiz the students took at the beginning of the year. Throughout the year, students in these groups would play games against all of the other groups for points. Whoever had the most points at the end of the year wouldn't have to take finals. In addition, whoever had lead at the time of tests and homework wouldn't have to do a certain amount of problems. While it did spark up some politics, it was all in good humor. I respected that teacher very much.
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    Nov 14 2011: dear kim
    whatever the purpose your teacher in assigning this topic, it is more or less worth researching and understanding more about. yet i believe you're quite right in thinking that this critical attitude must be mutual and the teachers themselves mus have some more critical approaches and ideas in the class and during their teaching course.
    hop you success
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    Nov 14 2011: Hi Kim, creativity is from an internal source and needs a nurturing environment to be born and exist in. It is vulnerable and beautiful but extremely sensitive to critical thinking from the "external". And contrary to what the external observer may or may not see or understand, creativity already involves a great deal of exercising critical thinking on part of the creative mind producing it. Thus, like a new seedling that may seem like a weed at first, when you provide the right nurturing, one day it will be a great strong tree, that will contribute beauty, health, shade and support to your world.
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    Nov 14 2011: It’s good 2 get views on Ur Assignments in TEDX.But if it turns in2 copy-Paste; that’s whn the problem starts and creativity ends. It destroys the very essence of the question asked. I always believe there is no particular way that help U becom success. I know there are books that teach U how; but it is just their experienc of gettin success not necessarily it works 4 U. U know the rules of the game just apply Ur own plan. Now that’s creativity.
    Just an example: I want 2 remove all the empty soap packages that get 2 the end of the manufacturing unit.
    Rules: Good ones should not be harmed.
    Aim: Be cost effective, Less Labor, quality result.
    I can go all the way 2 put up an x-ray machine 2 scan and then creatin a mechanical arm that removs all the empty packages.
    OR I can do the same thing by placing a fan across the end 2 blow away the empty packages.
    What I am tryin 2 say is there is no particular way U can solve Ur problems. It’s Ur creativity that can provide U new ways 2 solve the same problm.
    And I feel young brains can answr ths much better then expernce guys; because experience guys have already read of certain ways 2 tackle situations and so they generally apply those rather thinkin about new ones. But whn U don’t know a particular answer U try 2 find a new one instead of applyin an old one.
    Just an example was whn I askd som of my friends "Why Are manholes made circular? Most of thm replied becaus it is easy 2 transport and U can roll them and most of thm had read the answer be4 so they didn’t even think what could be the answer. While trying 2 find a new answer I got someone who had never been asked this question and he thought 4 a long time and said Its because diagonally they are symmetric so the lid wud not fall in and if were rectangle they could have fallen in as diagonally the length is more than the sides. I am sure this answer too must have been written somewhere but my point is whn U don’t know an answr it’s much easier 2 com up with a new answr.
  • Nov 8 2011: Hi Kim,

    This is an interesting question. While teaching Strategic Management, I come across this question every semester and I found that the best method to accomplish this is to give student lots of exposure to what form of communication is available in the market or what has been done previously.

    Last week, I've divided my class into six groups and gave them six controversial products/services (Condoms, Guns, Lingerie, Abortion Centers, Tobacco, Alcohol) to sell in the Bangadeshi Market (which is Pro Islam, very conservative and Price Sensitive).

    Each group had to determine their SWOT and conduct a PESTLE analysis in par to the psychography of their target audience. I imposed group wars among each other where one group could ask one question to trap the other group to gain bonus marks.

    I was quite happy with the result as it involved an array of touch points (creative) and beautiful execution of their game plan (critical thinking).

    So in essence, I provided the tools and my students combined textbook theories and practical implication of the sustainability for their product/service.
  • Nov 5 2011: I think,creativity is such a thing that will not improve till the basics is learnt nicely and critical thinking develops from modifications of things.for instanse for developing the creativity students should be taught in a practical way so that they realises the application of these in real life.addition ,multiply are things that can be taght by making them memorise the table but it wont help the.rather it wud decrese their creativity.wen they are taght practically like one object and other object means two objects and the method we think is addition.
    Again making them to do it practical applications like making them to do cakculations by taking them to market wud help them develop their critical thinking.
  • Nov 3 2011: They generally clash. Creative thinkers see options.Critical ones see ego, always think they have the only true answer. Creative thinkers like myself seem a little more vauge, as though there are differing directions of thought / problem solving... The vaugness began and ends.
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      Nov 15 2011: Alex,

      Critical Thinking ( which is integral, holistic, independent thought) feeds and nurtures creativity..they are not opposite.

      It is certainly not the same as the "creative process" and doesn't emphasize intuitive processes of art itself . As practiced and taught perhaps it doesn't encourage enouh inclusion of intuitive processes..but critical thinking is creative original integrative thinking.