Autonomy, support, evaluation

Autonomy, support, evaluation

.“For creativity to flourish, people need to be autonomous, they need support, and they need to not be judged. Really these areas are interdependent.” In reference to my observations video (part 4 in the series), in this post I’ll discuss in detail why these elements are so crucial and how they affect one another.

.    Creativity is fragile. I say this from firsthand experience; I make art, and I teach it, and in either situation it is not always easy to manifest that coveted spark. The research supports the notion that it takes certain circumstances to promote creative development. While these circumstances are often referred to in isolation, I’ve synthesized together a set of interconnected conditions from the research and based on what I’ve experienced as an artist/researcher/teacher as prerequisites for fostering creativity. These are autonomy, support, and no evaluation. How well these three tandem conditions are met determines how well the opportunity for creativity is maximized.
.    The first in the triad of conditions is autonomy. Creativity is based in imagination, discovery, experimentation, and play; therefore autonomy matters, because without a sense of freedom to explore ideas and a sense of power to execute ideas, creativity doesn’t stand a chance. As my Master’s research (Codack [Zak], 2010) demonstrates, creativity can suffer when the activity is not learner-centric, whereby learners are limited by regulated objectives and/or time constraints. Gatto (1992) warns that students’ lack of control can produce “intellectual dependency,” which is antithetical to creativity (p. 8). Holt (1989) also warns, “teaching that the learner has not asked for is likely to impede and prevent his or her learning” (p. 28). Likewise, Harrington, Block, and Block (1987) find in their study that children’s creativity can flourish when adults relinquish control and promote a sense of freedom instead. Csikszentmihalyi (as cited in TEDtalksDirector, 2008) finds that self-direction and freedom make a situation conducive to “flow”—the trancelike state of having lost consciousness of one’s whereabouts to the creative impulse. Upitis (2005) observes that teachers who are practicing artists understand the value of “flow” yet find it nearly impossible to evoke this phenomenon within their students due to the unfavourable conditions of the mainstream school structure.
.    Though providing autonomy and providing support are not the same thing, it is nonetheless generally true that where autonomy is granted to a learner, support is also, because the two go easily hand-in-hand. Support does not necessarily mean direct teaching; rather support can span from unsolicited encouragement and trust (e.g., leaving learners alone, granting autonomy) to solicited facilitation (e.g., providing the appropriate materials or environment) to solicited instruction. In any situation, genuine support isn’t possible without autonomy. As was stated previously, unsolicited instruction (i.e., outward control) can discourage creativity. Holt (1969) observes, children are sensitive to what adults value; therefore learners who receive support will be more likely to pursue creative ventures.
  Finally, evaluation. It would be quite difficult to feel supported and autonomous if ultimately someone else were to have the final word on one’s output. Amabile (1996) demonstrates that the expectation of evaluation decreases creative activity. Eisner (2003) also recognizes that the process of discovery is undermined when a heavy value is placed on outcome. Even seemingly positive evaluation such as an A or a gold star has been shown to diminish creative performance (Kohn, 1993). Freed and Parsons (1997) argue, “grades perpetuate the notion that the teacher is the absolute authority” (p. 125), which is in contrast with the inclusive pluralistic sensibility of art and creativity.
   The mainstream system where I teach is a prime example of how these conditions are interconnected. In traditional schooling, lessons are derived from provincial curriculum by the teacher and usually delivered with an attempt to engage learners. Students are expected to complete all assignments regardless of whether or not they want to or find the topic interesting. Teachers are available to support student learning with regard to the assigned work. Ultimately student work will be evaluated by the teacher and typically given a grade or a level (which is the same thing) and/or formative feedback. Oftentimes the evaluation tool (e.g., rubric, checklist) will be made available in advance of students beginning to work on their assignment, which is meant to direct students towards the expected (fundamentally uniform) outcome. In this model, the threat of evaluation looms over students from the outset, autonomy does not genuinely exist, and support is conditional. If this were to change and just one of these three conditions were consciously provided, the opportunity for creativity would increase by virtue of the interconnection between autonomy, support, and evaluation. For example, if evaluation were omitted, students would be freer in theory to follow their intuition, curiosity, and play instinct without fear of being punished. If control were relinquished to the learner, then students would likely feel supported and could again follow their inner drive and allow their intrinsic motivation to guide them, which could supersede other considerations (like a rubric). If support were bolstered in genuine ways, then autonomy would also flourish through cause and effect, and the impact of evaluation would be reduced to a minimum because it would be interpreted as being of lesser importance. Because these three conditions affect each other, the opportunity for creativity to prosper is within an all-or-nothing context. Creativity is either challenged or it’s given its best chance to thrive. My goal with this research is to establish what can be done to transform every learning occasion into one that fosters creativity.

 

 

References

Amabile, T. M. (1996). Creativity in context. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
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Codack [Zak], R. (2010). Portrait of the artist/researcher/teacher: A reflection on the nature of
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.       learning. Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning, 4(7), 89–145.
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Eisner, E. W. (2003). Artistry in education. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 47(3),
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.       373–384.
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Freed, J. M. A. T., & Parsons, L. (1997). Right-brained children in a left-brained world.
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.       New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
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Gatto, J. T. (1992). Dumbing us down: The hidden curriculum of compulsory schooling.
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Harrington, D. H., Block, J. H., & Block, J. (1987). Testing aspects of Carl Rogers’s
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theory of creative environments: Child-rearing antecedents of creative potential in young
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.       adolescents. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology52(4), 851-856
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.       doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.52.4.851

Holt, J. (1969). How children learn. New York, NY: Dell.
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Holt, J. (1989). Learning all the time. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
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Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s,
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   praise, and other bribes.
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TEDtalksDirector. (2008, October 24). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to
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happiness.
Retrieved March 25, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXIeFJCqsPs

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Upitis, R. (2005). Experiences of artists and artist-teachers involved in teacher professional .
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  development programs. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 6(8), 1–11.

Posted by Rebecca Zak

Categorised under observations
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