Archive for the ‘Sternberg Response’ Category

Sternberg’s view of creativity as a choice, and not a genetic trait is one that gives hope to those who think inside the box. His radio interview on KERA, in which he admits that he was a poor student, who did not show signs of “genius” when tested, shows us our desire to understand creativity, and intelligence should not lead us to label others as having less potential than we sometimes do. Sternberg’s views on creativity and intelligence is one that is apparently  colored by his religious beliefs. His Triarchic system is definitely adapted from the Christian trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. In place of these three, Sternberg defines intelligence as practical, analytical, and Creative. Creativity as choice is also a parallel of the doctrine of Free Will. One is left to make their own determination of what they are, to define oneself by an active choice, and avoid the labels that are given to them by others. I am not a religious person, but I certainly recognize the Christian trinity as a model for Sternberg’s “Triarchy”.

While I am unsure that creativity can be taught, Sternberg does not share my cynicism. He relays the story of his fourth grade teacher, who believed in his ability to overcome learning obstacles, and eventually led him to overcoming his perceived (through testing) learning disabilities. In a conversation outside of class, I have discussed the possibilities of games (which would in ways be represented by Sternberg as creativity, or play) as an educational tool. My take on it is to have these educational games replace recess in public schools. In this way, the lessons from class discussions, and work in class and at home could be augmented and reinforced by the “play” period, in which the students are fooled into thinking they have a break from their school work. This would satisfy the need for our minds to have recreation, and reinforce the lessons taught in the classroom. The students would be allowed to play, be given positive reinforcement from the teachers (at least hopefully), and the whole experience could be assimilated into the brain during sleep. This would encompass all of Sternberg’s Triarchic intelligence requirements:  analytical, practical, and creative (through self discovery during “play”).


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Dr. Robert Sternberg defines creativity as something novel, and useful or good.   The essence of creativity is defined by him as those people who “buy low and sell high in the world of ideas”.  They are “value investors in the realm of ideas,” for “few people actually want to buy low and sell high whether they are novices or experts”.    His market analogy is interesting because it stresses the value in creativity.

Sternberg continues by defining creative people as, among other things, people who “sell solutions.”  If this is so, visual artists are not creating art for its own sake; instead, they are seeking approval from the market.  It is as if Adam Smith’s invisible hand is guiding the canonization of artists in the art world.  For instance, the works that will be preserved for prosperity in museums all over the world are ultimately, market driven.   I buy this because museums all fight over the same artists’ works.  When one looks at museum collections from anywhere, she can see that the market drives the museum world, for no matter what museum she is in, she is probably looking at works from the same artists.  Everyone wants what everyone wants.   The market driven quest for owning beauty squelches originality and uniqueness in the process, at least in terms of what people see when they visit museums.  But isn’t anyone’s creativity lessened by institutionalization?  Sternberg did say that “intelligence and knowledge both help and hurt creativity”.

Also, in Handbook of Creativity, Professor Sternberg discusses a study on the brain activity of creative and uncreative people.  While the “creative people exhibit defocused attention,” the “uncreative people focus their attention too much”   (142).  Is this also what he means when he talks about buying low and selling high?

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The point that Mr. Sternberg made that I most appreciated was that creativity or creative expertise is not an  ability or a skill, but rather a result of deliberate practice in a field, domain or medium. I believe this idea that creativity is an attitude not an in-born skill is very important to the educational system. Raising kids, and in many cases being in the teaching position, I hear from the students and teachers alike that ‘he/she is so lucky, they can draw, write, are good at math”. Never considering the hours and hours it probably took that individual to acquire and perfect that skill. I know I too suffered from this long standing belief about art – that someone is naturally artistic and therefore an artist. Slowly I have discovered how untrue and self-defeating this belief is. I have been using Dr. Sternberg research as proof of this concept of commitment and practice being the key to creativity to everyone I can reach.

Another topic I found very interesting during our morning session was the comment Dr Sternberg made about defining problems during his study of troubled marriages. His research found that that almost across the board on partner did not recognize the existence of a problem in the marriage, which led the couple to define the problem incorrectly and then waste a lot of time and energy on a problem that was not even there. I feel that this concept of not defining the correct problem and then creating solutions to problems that are not responsible for the core issue is at the heart of much wasted creativity in corporations, educational systems, and clearly family systems.

A third subject I found intriguing was Dr. Sternberg’s description of the role of knowledge in his investment theory. He states that knowledge can be a double-edged sword. Knowledge is necessary to advance an idea in a field.  But, knowledge can impede creativity by leading an individual to become entrenched or habitual in their ideas and or reactions. An individual can become so used to seeing things in a certain way that he starts to have trouble seeing them, or even imagining them, in any other way. The expert therefore may sacrifice flexibility for knowledge.

A perfect example from my life for this theory was the fact that at 24 I believed I had acquired enough experience and knowledge in my short career to start an advertising firm. Against the very strong advice of all the people important to me, I did start my agency, and 4 years later was able to walk away from the firm with considerable profits, advanced knowledge and more experience than I would have had if I had listened to all the wise and knowledgeable advisors. My stupidity, or naivety, saved me from giving up on my dream and having the opportunity to learn that sometimes you have to go with your gut.

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Concerning Dr. Sternberg’s lecture and reading, I was captivated by a few aspects of his theory of intelligence and its application to unconventional learning.  Firstly, he clearly identifies a creative method for learning that is outside the box for considering children’s intelligence, mostly based on his Triarchic theory of intelligence.  Unlike most intelligence models based on standard tests (which I do not do well with), his idea that three categories of intelligence exist–analytical, creative, and practical–redefines what we think of as intelligence, and this also must influence how we define the word creative.

His example of the native Alaskan children that were able to navigate across the frozen land at night is ideal for describing practical intelligence.  This is probably the most stark example that argues against simple written tests and other methodologies that do not take into account the “real” aspects of intelligence, those displayed in the function of day-to-day living.  This was also spoken of in Guns, Gems, and Steel by Jared Diamond when he equated Australian aborigines to possible being more intelligent than their European counterparts, mostly on this idea of practical intelligence (though he did not use this term).

These three types of intelligence measures give rise to a social intelligence order that is more dynamic and creative, but also introduces creativity as a function of each of the three orders in Sternberg’s model: namely, they could be identified as analytical creativity, practical creativity, and creative creativity (hopefully not a tautology); all three of which function in his intelligence model.

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I found Robert Sternberg to be one of the more engaging speakers this semester.   His manner of presentation and sense humor maintained my interest during his lecture and morning discussion.  Much of the information from the article I came across during some of my undergraduate classes, specifically the different learning styles.  In my secondary education classes, my professors frequently stressed the importance of addressing all the students’ learning needs, whether they learn visually, kinesthetically, spatially, or any of the other methods Sternberg addressed in his article.  Furthermore, in the classes, my professors also taught about using Bloom’s Taxonomy, the hierarchy of questions an educator asks in the classroom, ranging from knowledge to synthesis.  For years, the education milieu has concerned itself with how to address these needs.  Sternberg, I believed, regards these issues critical in our public schools.

This is not the first time this concern has come up in our seminar class.  I feel all of our speakers, with maybe the exception of Crewdson, consider how creativity can benefit the contemporary student in the classroom.  As a consensus, I imagine most would agree with Sternberg’s claim that No Child Left Behind does not do enough to foster creativity.  I agree with this claim.  Standardized testing, while useful for accountability of the schools and districts, only perpetuates the lower level Bloom’s Taxonomy.  The problem we all face is how to create that balance between the obligation of accountability of students and educators while promoting creative/analytical thinking.

I do not know whether the public school environment will ever be able to cultivate creativity.  I fear that claim may be overly pessimistic, but my years as an educator has introduced me to various roadblocks that our society needs to overcome.  Issues such as classroom size, training for teachers, resources for teachers, politics, and cynicism towards the education system all contribute to creativity’s absence in the classroom.  Furthermore, how does an educator evaluate such a subjective aspect as creativity?  I know when grading a student’s creative work, be it a short story, poem, or project, I tread carefully when assigning a grade to it.  I never want to deter a student from pursuing any form of creativity.  Even with President Obama’s current plan to revise No Child Left Behind, I do not know if a student’s creativity or analytical thinking is crucial in the administration’s proposal.  Now with the trouble of the economy, art classes are always some of the first choices school board officials consider to eliminate from the curriculum.  In the current state of education, creativity seems to be fading even more.

I wanted to ask Sternberg this question in our morning session, but we ran out of time before I had the chance.  I am curious what other people think regarding this issue.  Is there any possibility of creativity becoming teachable in the classroom?  What options do public school teachers have in the current state of things.  I am curious to hear other’s opinion on the matter. 

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          I am very impressed by Dr. Sternberg’s knowledge, intelligence and humble spirit.  When I asked him what are the differences and commonalities that scientists and artists have in terms of creativity, he said he did not have an answer and asked me what I thought.  After reading some of his articles, I cannot help noticing that it is almost like his style to leave a research with an open ending.  Like his research on the correlation between intelligence and creativity, his conclusion is, despite a substantial body of research, the psychologists still have not reached a consensus on the nature of the relation between the two. That is a very unique, creative and clever research style.  I believe this kind of style would invite more continuing research on this topic rather than criticisms. 

          I especially like his optimistic attitude towards creativity.  He believes that creativity is a decision.  In his evening speech, he illustrated the keys to developing creativity in children and adults.  I think I found part of the answer I was looking for regarding the commonality of scientists and artists when he talked about formulated vision of creative people.  He stated, whether it is in arts, literature or science, creative people like investors, are able to “buy low and sell high” in the realm of ideas.  They are creative “value” investors.  Buying low means pursuing ideas that are unknown or out of favor but have growth potential.  According to this investment theory, creativity requires a confluence of a few resources.  He later talked about series of actions to bring about creativity such as to define problems, to sell solutions, to take sensible risks, to overcome obstacles, to believe oneself, to seek creative environment and so on.  To me, it seems that he summarized two phases of creativity: vision and action.  The prerequisite of creativity is to have creative vision.  Without a creative vision to begin with, there will not be any meaningful creative actions.  Having creative vision requires the synthetic skill “to see problems in new ways and to escape the bounds of conventional thinking”, “the analytic skill to recognize which of one’s ideas are worth pursuing and which are not, and “the practical–contextual skill” to know how to sell.  Csikszentmihalyi looks at creativity as a source of happiness.  He seems to emphasize the experience of being creative.  But Sternberg’s theory emphasizes more on the purpose of being creative.  It starts clearly with a creative vision or goal, and then follows with a series of actions to sell the value of creation, and to fulfill the goal.  This is a whole new aspect of looking at creativity.  It is more comprehensive and macro in a sense.  If the value of creativity is not sold, then the creativity may not have a value.  Therefore, the creativity may never be reviewed.  This is why action is so important for creativity.  Without action, no matter how creative a vision is, it can never become true.  Action will unlock the potential of a person’s creativity, release one’s gift, and fulfill one’s vision.

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