New Book Releases: Creativity and Critical Thinking

By Amy Wickner — March 04, 2013 4 min read
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A quick look back at some Education Week blog stats reveals that “innovation” was the K-12 buzzword of 2012. So much so, in fact, that educators are already expressing resistance to that term
and its kissing cousins, the phrases “21st-century skills” and “digital natives.” One major takeaway from the past year’s coverage of innovation in education is a renewed emphasis on critical thinking and creativity as important skills to cultivate among students and K-12 professionals alike. A suite of new releases explores what it means to build these abilities in the classroom.

  • Thinking at Every Desk: Four Simple Skills to Transform Your Classroom, by Derek Cabrera and Laura Colosi (W.W. Norton & Company, 2012). According to Cabrera and Colosi, critical thinking can be broken down into four basic ways of understanding the world: Distinctions, Systems, Relationships, and Perspectives. It’s hard to ignore the significant overlap between these categories; better to think of them as different lenses through which to view the same subjects. The book’s many illustrations suggest that tools for visualizing ideas are universally applicable, across subject matter and grade level. Teachers can use the same triangle diagram to dissect the art of Frida Kahlo and Jasper Johns, or the federal government. While this may sit uneasily with those of us who think and talk best in pictures, I suppose it’s true that most things can be broken down into groups of two or three. Simple, adaptable skills are both promised and delivered here.

  • Effective Questioning Strategies in the Classroom: A Step-by-Step Approach to Engaged Thinking and Learning, K-8, by Esther Fusco (Teachers College Press, 2012). The Questioning Cycle—a sequence comprising planning and asking questions, then following up—forms the basis for this approach to critical thinking in the classroom. Many of Fusco’s transcribed examples of actual classroom conversations lead directly into common core-approved close reading. She also provides overviews and literature reviews on several different questioning strategies, based on models like Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Costa Model. Effective Questioning Strategies addresses the “Why?” as well as the “How?” of using questions to guide classroom conversation.

  • Creativity, Critical Thinking, and Communication: Strategies to Increase Students’ Skills, by Melissa Goodwin and Catherine Sommervold (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2012). Goodwin and Sommervold are confident that each of the “3 Cs” in their title is measurable, although they decline to explain how this might work. The book’s appendix offers 12 lesson plan outlines across six subjects, half of which suggest the use of a common core standard as the measure of assessment. The remaining lesson plans provide sample checklists and worksheets for assessing student creativity in subjects not covered by the common standards.
  • Educating for Creativity & Innovation: A Comprehensive Guide for Research-Based Practice, by Donald J. Treffinger, Patricia F. Schoonover, and Edwin C. Selby (Prufrock Press, 2013). Treffinger, et. al., build this book around a definition of creative productivity called “The COCO Model":

    Adapted from: Treffinger, et. al. (2013). Educating for Creativity & Innovation. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press

    Not the most helpful acronym, surely. Awkward abbreviations aside, Educating for Creativity & Innovation is dense with citations, tables, and lists that lay out the many possibilities available to educators. A wealth of examples, models, and rubrics for teaching and assessment threaten to overwhelm the reader when read through one after another, but make this volume potentially quite useful as a reference book. Just as there are many forms of creativity, the authors seem to say, there are a never-ending variety of ways to teach it.

As educators’ attitudes on creativity slowly move from “nice to have” towards “absolute necessity,” can we expect to find the teaching and assessment of creativity ever more in debate? Earlier this month, Erik Robelen wrote about yet another proposed framework for measuring creativity, this one from the UK-based Centre for Real-World Learning. The perceptual shift lately seen—in that report, and in the books cited here—is from treating creativity as the result of unpredictable inspiration to treating it as the fruit of hard work and the fuel for solving tangible problems.

Cover image courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

For some more accessible takes on creativity, aimed at a student audience, teachers may also wish to pick up copies of the fictional Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett (Balzer + Bray, 2012) and the autobiographical Face Book by Chuck Close (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012). Extra Yarn, a 2013 Caldecott Honor Book, tells the story of a girl who uses a found box of yarn to knit colorful sweaters for everyone and everything in her grey, wintry town. The book, with its lively and expressive watercolor illustrations, showcases creativity as a generous impulse.

In Face Book, large-scale portrait painter Chuck Close answers questions from an imagined young audience, tracing his path through childhood difficulties and the emergence of a working method that he’s honed over nearly 50 years. Close emphasizes the labor of art-making, from detailing interesting elements of specific projects (a jigsaw puzzle of woodcut printing plates built on a concentric-circle grid!) to his belief that hard work is the heart of the craft. “‘Inspiration’ is a word you hear often,” he writes. “Inspiration is for amateurs. Artists just show up and get to work.” Students not intimidated by these words may find them, well, inspiring.

A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.