“However, it seems that by directly instructing children—giving them the answers to problems, then testing them on memory—we are inhibiting creative problem solving, to quite a significant degree.” – Andrea Kuszewski
My thoughts have been in a bit of a muddle today. I blame Andrea Kuszewski, a researcher with METODO Social Sciences Institute. She offers a couple of hypotheses in her blog post for Scientific American called The educational value of creative disobedience which really got me thinking. I’ll tackle just one today!
Hypothesis One: “Teaching and encouraging kids to learn by rote memorization and imitation shapes their brain and behavior, making them more inclined towards linear thinking, and less prone to original, creative thinking.”
In support of her hypothesis Kuszewski cites work by Dr. Alison Gopnik of UC – Berkeley who asks, “Shouldn’t very young children be allowed to explore, inquire, play, and discover, they ask? Perhaps direct instruction can help children learn specific facts and skills, but what about curiosity and creativity—abilities that are even more important for learning in the long run?” Everyone nodding their heads? Fans of Montessori feeling pretty good? It is easy to agree with after all, nothing is less-glamorous in the education world than rote memorization. It seems so Little House on the Prairie.
Well the study she cites is not one about memorizing math facts but rather learning a sequence of actions leading to the activation of a toy. Dr. Gopnik writes, “When [the researcher] acted clueless, many of the children figured out the most intelligent way of getting the toy to play music (performing just the two key actions, something [the researcher] had not demonstrated). But when [the researcher] acted like a teacher, the children imitated her exactly, rather than discovering the more intelligent and more novel two-action solution.” The conclusion drawn seems to be that a clueless but curious adult model is better than an instructive adult model when it comes to teaching “what matters most.” But what about the carefully scripted Montessori lessons? A mom teaching her daughter to tie her shoes?
While this research certainly has important implications, I think the analysis offered is ultimately a bit too binary. A child may not need to know the definition of a haiku to write a poem but they need at least a basic vocabulary. It seems to me that direct instruction, errorless learning and rote memorization are particularly well-positioned to teach that “vocabulary.” Arguably they give children bricks with which they can build homes of their choosing.
I think it would be interesting to compare the “creativity” of children with varying prerequisite skills taught through imitation or rote memorization. Is there an ideal level of prerequisite learning? Anyone seen any work like this out there?