Saturday, September 25, 2010

Creative Brains Tend to Work More Slowly - Good to Know for Educators

A post by the Drs. Eide points out research that shows the most creative brains work slower than other, less creative brains. There seems to be convergence of data and studies that show students who are creative, gifted, or who have ADHD or dyslexia, all have thinner prefrontal cortex patterns. The areas of the brain where, say, creativity depend, have numerous side-roads and neural branches that differ from pure intellectual pathways, that are described more as superhighways. The extended branching off of that 'superhighway' allows for a variety of different neural connections that can produce new thoughts and ideas. To me it seems like the situation where you are sitting in a meeting, very focused and engaged in the flow of information being presented (i.e. the superhighway of the brain is engaged with information flowing and being processed rapidly), but then for a few seconds or minutes you suddenly find yourself daydreaming or having new thoughts not related to the exact information of the presentation (i.e. taking an exit off the superhighway to some off-the-beaten path side-road). You find yourself 'snapping back' to attention to re-focus on the meeting. I suspect this is related to the model being proposed in this new research, where the daydream or new, distinct but unconnected idea comes from the off-road pathways in the brain.

The analogy then makes sense in terms of understanding why creative thought requires more time. It is quicker to travel on superhighways than going on side-roads.

Now put all this in the context of how schools are run. Our education system, more often than not, is focused on getting through content. Often there are fixed standards that need to be covered, or a fixed number of chapters in a textbook that have to be completed during the school year, and this is typically done regardless of the ability of the students to comprehend all that information. It is a race where not covering lots of material determines the losers of the race. But as a teacher, I am well aware of the effect of this - sure, lots of material is covered. But a good portion of that material is not learned. Many have questioned the logic of this approach in education: depth or breadth, which is more important? It is an endless debate.

With studies of creativity showing present students being significantly less creative than past generations of students, this may be a key step into understanding why. In our sprint to teach content, we are preventing young brains from having the time to take off-road excursions. Here is a case where we need to sit down, take a deep breath, and put all the various studies and research on the table to sort it out and determine how it all connects. What is the big picture brain research is trying to tell us when it comes to the education system? I don't think this has happened yet, but it absolutely must happen. I suspect there is a great deal classroom teachers can do differently to enhance and unleash creativity while still getting to content, but perhaps not as much content as we presently teach. In a world where creativity is one of the absolute essentials, educators need to get this right so students are prepared for their futures.

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