Fostering Academic Creativity
in Gifted Students
ERIC Identifier: ED321489
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Author: Torrance, E. Paul - Goff, Kathy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA.
WHAT IS MEANT BY ACADEMIC CREATIVITY?
Academic creativity is a way of thinking about, learning, and producing information in
school subjects such as science, mathematics, and history. Few experts agree on a
precise definition, but when we say the word, everyone senses a similar feeling. When
we are creative, we are aware of its special excitement.
Creative thinking and learning involve such abilities as evaluation (especially the ability
to sense problems, inconsistencies, and missing elements); divergent production (e.g.,
fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration); and redefinition. Creative learning is a
natural, healthy human process that occurs when people become curious and excited.
In contrast, learning by authority requires students to use thinking skills such as
recognition, memory, and logical reasoning--the abilities most frequently assessed by
traditional tests of intelligence and scholastic aptitude. Children prefer to learn in
creative ways rather than just memorizing information provided by a teacher or parents.
They also learn better and sometimes faster.
Three questions illustrate the difference between learning information provided by an
adult or textbook and creative learning:
CREATIVE BEHAVIOR OF YOUNG CHILDREN
- In what year did Columbus discover America?
(The answer, 1492, requires recognizing and memorizing information.)
- How are Columbus and an astronaut similar and different?
(The answer requires more than memorization and understanding; it requires students to think about what
- Suppose Columbus had landed in California. How would our lives and history have
(The answer requires many creative thinking skills including imagining,
experimenting, discovering, elaborating, testing solutions, and communicating
Young children are naturally curious. They wonder about people and the world. By the
time they enter preschool, they already have a variety of learning skills acquired through
questioning, inquiring, searching, manipulating, experimenting, and playing. They are
content to watch from a distance at first; however, this does not satisfy their curiosity.
Children need opportunities for a closer look; they need to touch; they need time for the
We place many restrictions on children's desire to explore the world. We discourage
them by saying "Curiosity killed the cat." If we were honest, we would admit that
curiosity makes a good cat and that cats are extremely skilled in testing the limits and
determining what is safe and what is dangerous. Apparently children, as well as cats,
have an irresistible tendency to explore objects, and this very tendency seems to be the
basis for the curiosity and inventiveness of adults. Even in testing situations, children
who do the most manipulating of objects produce the most ideas and the largest
number of original ideas.
CREATIVE BEHAVIOR OF SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN
Until children reach school age, it is generally assumed that they are highly creative,
with vivid imaginations, and that they learn by exploring, risking, manipulating, testing,
and modifying ideas. Although teachers and administrators sometimes believe that it is
more economical to learn by authority, research suggests that many things (although
not all) can be learned more effectively and economically in creative ways rather than
by authority (Torrance, 1977).
WHAT CAN TEACHERS DO?
Wise teachers can offer a curriculum with plenty of opportunities for creative behaviors.
They can make assignments that call for original work, independent learning,
self-initiated projects, and experimentation. Using curriculum materials that provide
progressive warm-up experiences, procedures that permit one thing to lead to another,
and activities that make creative thinking both legitimate and rewarding makes it easier
for teachers to provide opportunities for creative learning.
The following are some things caring adults can do to foster and nurture creativity:
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
- We can teach children to appreciate and be pleased with their own creative efforts.
- We can be respectful of the unusual questions children ask.
- We can be respectful of children's unusual ideas and solutions, for children will see
many relationships that their parents and teachers miss.
- We can show children that their ideas have value by listening to their ideas and
considering them. We can encourage children to test their ideas by using them and
communicating them to others. We must give them credit for their ideas.
- We can provide opportunities and give credit for self-initiated learning. Overly detailed
supervision, too much reliance on prescribed curricula, failure to appraise learning
resulting from a child's own initiative, and attempts to cover too much material with no
opportunity for reflection interfere seriously with such efforts.
- We can provide chances for children to learn, think, and discover without threats of
immediate evaluation. Constant evaluation, especially during practice and initial
learning, makes children afraid to use creative ways to learn. We must accept their
honest errors as part of the creative process.
- We can establish creative relationships with children--encouraging creativity in the
classroom while providing adequate guidance for the students.
It is natural for young children to learn creatively by dancing, singing, storytelling,
playing make-believe, and so forth. One of the first challenges to creativity may be
formal schooling. By this time parents, as well as teachers, appreciate conforming
behaviors such as being courteous and obedient, following rules, and being like others.
While these are desirable traits to some extent, they may also destroy a child's creative
The following are some positive ways parents can foster and nurture the growth of
HOW ADULTS "KILL" CREATIVITY
- Encourage curiosity, exploration, experimentation, fantasy, questioning, testing, and
the development of creative talents.
- Provide opportunities for creative expression, creative problem-solving, and
constructive response to change and stress.
- Prepare children for new experiences, and help develop creative ways of coping with
- Find ways of changing destructive behavior into constructive, productive behavior
rather than relying on punitive methods of control.
- Find creative ways of resolving conflicts between individual family members' needs and
the needs of the other family members.
- Make sure that every member of the family receives individual attention and respect
and is given opportunities to make significant, creative contributions to the welfare of the
family as a whole.
- Use what the school provides imaginatively, and supplement the school's efforts.
- Give the family purpose, commitment, and courage. (Torrance, 1969, p. 59)
- Insisting that children do things the "right way." Teaching a child to think that there is
just one right way to do things kills the urge to try new ways.
- Pressuring children to be realistic, to stop imagining. When we label a child's flights of
fantasy as "silly," we bring the child down to earth with a thud, causing the inventive
urge to curl up and die.
- Making comparisons with other children. This is a subtle pressure on a child to
conform; yet the essence of creativity is freedom to conform or not to conform.
- Discouraging children's curiosity. One of the surest indicators of creativity is curiosity;
yet we often brush questions aside because we are too busy for "silly" questions.
Children's questions deserve respect.
Prepared by E. Paul Torrance, Alumni Foundation Distinguished Professor Emeritus,
University of Georgia, and Kathy Goff, Research Assistant, University of Georgia, and
author of innovative instructional material.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated.
This publication was prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Education,
Office of Educational Research and Improvement, under contract no. RI88062007. The
opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of
OERI or the Department of Education.
Torrance, E. P. (1969). CREATIVITY. Sioux Falls, ND: Adapt Press.
Torrance, E. P. (1977). CREATIVITY in the classroom. Washington, DC: National
Torrance, E. P., & Goff, K. (1989). A quiet revolution. JOURNAL OF CREATIVE
BEHAVIOR, 23(2), 136-145.
RESOURCES FOR PARENTS AND TEACHERS:
There are numerous textbooks, workshops, instructional materials, videotapes,
seminars, and other resources. for use in creative teaching. There are publishers,
magazines, and journals that focus on creativity and creative thinking. Some of them
include the following:
- Creative Learning Press, P.O. Box 320, Mansfield Center, CT 96250
- D.O.K. Publishers, P.O. Box 605, East Aurora, NY 14052
- Foxtail Press, P.O. Box 2996, La Habra, CA 90632-2996
- Good Apple, P. O. Box 299, Carthage, IL 62321-0299
- Opportunities for Learning, 2041 Nordhoff Street, Chatsworth, CA 91311
- Scholastic Testing Service, Inc., 480 Meyer Road, P. O. Box 1056, Bensenville, IL 60106-8056
- Teachers and Writers Collaborative, 5 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003
- Trillium Press. P. O. Box 209, Monroe, NY 10950
- Zephyr Press, P. O. Box 13448, Tucson, AZ 85732-3448
- THE CREATIVE CHILD AND ADULT QUARTERLY, 8080 Springvalley Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45236
- THE JOURNAL OF CREATIVE BEHAVIOR, 1050 Union Road, Buffalo, NY 14224
(Source: Torrance & Goff, 1989)
Menu Page |
Parenting the Next Generation