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Gifted & Creative Education: Developing Talents of Children in Schools (March 2018): Creativity and Problem Solving

By Stephen T. Schroth and Kimberly McCormick

Creativity and Problem Solving

For reasons that are chiefly historical, creativity and problem solving are often categorized as a subarea of gifted- and talented education programs. This has meant that much of the research and theoretical work on intelligence, definitions of giftedness, and curriculum and instruction for highly able learners has been done by the same group that writes about creativity and problem solving. The field can be looked at as comprising two distinct but related components: first, theoretical work that examines definitions of creativity and other related concepts and that explores and tests such constructs and operations; second, practitioner-oriented work that seeks to explain ways to encourage and enhance children’s creative and critical thinking skills and to provide teachers with materials to assist them in doing so.

Examinations of creativity, and the related concept of problem solving, often begin with a definition. That a variety of definitions exist, some at direct odds with others, is fortunate or unfortunate, depending on one’s perspective. Perhaps the best examination of the many different perspectives related to creativity can be found in Handbook of Creativity, edited by Robert Sternberg, which comprises twenty-two essays examining different facets of creativity. In their classic Changing the World: A Framework for the Study of Creativity, David Henry Feldman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Howard Gardner look at precisely which behaviors exhibit creativity, which do not, and why. Howard Gardner’s Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi explores patterns that drive an individual’s creative processes. In this landmark study Gardner uses his multiple intelligences theory to examine the lives of creative exemplars. Those seeking an examination of ways to promote creative thinking and problem solving among teachers and students will find Scott Isaksen, Brian Dorval, and Donald Treffinger’s Creative Approaches to Problem Solving: A Framework for Change useful because it outlines the characteristics of environments that support creativity and leads readers through the steps and protocols for creative problem solving. Similarly, teachers and administrators seeking to promote understanding of effective practices relating to creativity and innovation will find Donald Treffinger, Patricia Schoonover, and Edwin Selby’s Educating for Creativity and Innovation: A Comprehensive Guide for Research-Based Practice of great use. And those looking for a reference work, a textbook, or activities for groups and individuals will be well pleased with Mark Runco’s Creativity: Theories and Themes: Research, Development, and Practice

Some dispute that creativity can be measured, but many have tried to identify and measure levels of creative thinking. The best-known and most influential assessment of creativity is the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), developed in 1966 by psychologist E. Paul Torrance. An excellent overview of Torrance’s work may be found in M. K. Raina’s The Creativity Passion: E. Paul Torrance’s Voyages of Discovering Creativity, which examines Torrance’s work and impact. For those interested in the best ways of assessing creativity, James Kaufman, Jonathan Plucker, and John Baer’s Essentials of Creativity Assessment provides a terrific introduction to the various types of assessment available, and which are appropriate for given children and situations. For a broader diversity of opinions, Theory and Practice of Creativity Measurement, edited by Eunice M. L. Soriano de Alencar, Maria de Fátima Bruno-Faria, and Denise de Souza Fleith, explores the multiple dimensions of creativity, the types of assessments available, administrative concerns, and various diagnostic uses of such measures and appropriate interventions based on their findings.

Many teachers, gifted-education specialists, and administrators are concerned with developing the creative and critical-thinking skills of the children with whom they work. For this reason, a variety of materials have been developed that purport to assist with this purpose. As one might expect, some of the programs are better than others. Perhaps the best-known and most popular of these programs is Creative Problem Solving (CPS), which was developed forty years ago and is backed by a strong research base. Donald Treffinger, Scott Isaksen, and K. Brian Stead-Dorval’s Creative Problem Solving: An Introduction (first published in 1985 and now in its fourth edition) provides an excellent starting place for those interested in exploring the CPS program. The authors explain the process and provide templates and tools for setting up a CPS program. Those interested in practice problems will find them in Treffinger’s companion work, Practice Problems for Creative Problem Solving. Those who want to build the creative and critical thinking skills of younger children will find Igniting Creativity in Gifted Learners, K–6, edited by Joan Franklin Smutny and S. E. von Fremd, an excellent resource of strategies and approaches appropriate for all content areas. 

Works Cited