What hinders creativity | Inquirer Opinion
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What hinders creativity

Imagine being invited to participate in an experiment where you need to watch a video of six people passing several balls around. The task you had been given was to silently keep track of how many passes the people in white shirts made. In the middle of the video, a “gorilla” enters the screen, thumps its chest in front of the camera, and then leaves. Will you notice the gorilla?

If your answer is an absolute yes, you might be wrong. When the experiment was conducted among participants from Harvard, around 50 percent did not see the gorilla at all. According to the cognitive psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, the invisible gorilla study illustrates a phenomenon called “selective brain attention.” When our minds are overly focused on one thing, we can easily overlook something else, no matter how vivid or distinctive. The invisible gorilla experiment shows that preconceived ideas about how the final answer should look impair our ability to consider other possibilities.

I was reminded of this experiment last week when the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) announced that the Philippines had the second-lowest creativity score among 64 countries. The 15-year-olds who took the test obtained a mean score of 14 points—statistically significant below the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average of 33. Is our approach to teaching our students impairing a more innovative way of thinking?

Creativity thrives on exploring, experimenting, and embracing the unknown. However, teachers dealing with large classroom sizes often resort to long lectures where students are expected to just receive and absorb information without being given a chance to actively engage with the material. This approach, while seen as the easiest route to keeping a class contained, leads to rote memorization of information and you get students who are trained to just focus on achieving the “right” answers. In contrast, classrooms that employ active learning techniques participate in various activities such as Socratic debates, role-playing, experiments, and simulations of real-life situations that enable learners to develop their creative problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

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The overemphasis on correctness over curiosity also stifles creativity because students learn to prioritize conformity and avoid taking intellectual risks. The fear of being judged for their mistakes becomes a hindrance to their embrace of inquiry and exploration. Students start to think that success is about getting it right the first time rather than about the iterative process of trial and error, which is where creativity often flourishes.

This is consistent with the findings of psychologist Carol Dweck, who theorized that people often have two mindsets: fixed or growth. Those with a fixed mindset see their talents and abilities as finite, leading to a fear of failure because any mistake is seen as a reflection of one’s limitations. As a result, individuals with a fixed mindset are less likely to take risks or try new things, fearing that failure would expose their perceived inadequacies. In contrast, those with a growth mindset see that innate abilities are not static and failures could lead to feedback and improvement. By embracing the process of learning and growing, people with a growth mindset can innovate and develop new ideas without the paralyzing fear of failure.

Educators must actively foster a growth mindset in their classrooms. This involves creating an environment where curiosity is encouraged, mistakes are seen as learning opportunities, and putting in the grit and effort to constantly improve is valued over the talents that one is born with. Teachers can nurture this mindset by praising the learning process rather than the outcome, inviting students to ask questions, and encouraging them to embrace challenging tasks. By doing so, they can help students develop the confidence and courage needed to step out of their comfort zone and embrace creative thinking.

Sample questions from the Pisa creativity exam showed how students need to make thematic connections, contextualize ideas, and understand complex comparisons. Each test item includes detailed instructions on what is being asked. Given that the Philippines also scored among the lowest in reading comprehension, it is crucial to recognize that even if the students who took the exam are capable of thinking creatively, their inability to understand the questions is a significant setback. Like the invisible gorilla, we might become too focused on the symptom rather than addressing the actual problem. It is clear that we are failing our students at their most basic needs, including failing to equip them with a strong foundation in reading literacy. No amount of creative teaching interventions in their later years will be enough if we continue to ignore the fundamental issues.

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TAGS: Eleanor Pinugu, opinion

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