Category Archives: Book Reviews
What is the mysterious talent that creative people possess? Tina Seelig answers this question in inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity. To some, creativity is an elusive characteristic that is difficult to acquire. But Seelig defines creativity as an innate ability within each person that can be refined, sharpened, and made into a tool. Much like the scientific method, Seelig provides a set of variables that can increase one’s natural creativity.
Seelig initially observes that in today’s world the focus is on being prepared for the future, instead of living in and exploring the present. She suggests that innovative people live in the present, are mindful, and do not fear nor dismiss any new idea. Seelig’s approach, called the Innovation Engine, is centered on six basic concepts looped together with purposeful steps within each concept. Each of these aspects can be cultivated and nurtured.
Three parts of this model reside within any one person: knowledge, imagination, and attitude. Teachers have abundant opportunities to build up knowledge, provide activities for imaginative thinking, and be role models of positive, explorative attitude to help foster creative work in students. With low pressure and high creativity, work is seen as an exciting expedition. Teachers can construct learning expeditions by cultivating engagement and inventiveness within the scope of their lessons. The feedback teachers provide will promote creativity and show that it is valued, thus improving mind-set and attitude.
Three complementary components lay outside an individual: resources, habitat and culture. This habitat design is particularly important for teachers because, as Seelig points out, over the years classroom environments become less inspiring for students. Imagine a kindergarten classroom full of opportunity to create and explore compared with a high school classroom full of bare walls and rows of desks. Teachers have control over these habitats to develop opportunities for innovation by providing resources and establishing an encouraging classroom culture. On a grander scale, these strategies can also apply to administrators whose faculty works on curriculum design or pedagogical strategy. Seelig provides countless examples on how to arrange spaces to bring about inventive, collaborative brainstorming.
Full of anecdotal stories, inGenius provides real life examples of how to implement the Innovation Engine as it lays out concrete steps adaptable for any environment. Seelig also shares an informal bibliography consisting of motivating books on everything from gaming to writing to venture capitalism for those interested in further study.
inGenius instructs leaders how to liberate their own creativity, as well as advance creative evolution in others.
In Why Don’t Students Like School? Daniel T. Willingham bridges the gap between isolated, laboratory research and busy, chaotic classrooms. He takes a systematic and sympathetic approach to addressing educators’ concerns about daily classroom activities. He sees the responsibilities that educators have to undertake and directly speaks to today’s realities of standardized testing, time constraints, and varying levels of ability in the classroom. Willingham not only provides teachers with current findings in neuroscience, but also validates their own activities and lesson plans. Additionally, there are real action plans that educators can apply in the Implications for the Classroom segment provided at the end of every chapter.
Each section begins with a relevant question that could be asked by teachers, principals, school psychologists, specialists, and classroom aides, for example: “Why Is It So Hard for Students to Understand Abstract Ideas?” (Chapter 4), “How Can I Help Slow Learners? (Chapter 8).” He then links the neuroscience research with the question at hand providing a multitude of examples and explanations.
Willingham introduces Working Memory and Long-term Memory and, like an effective teacher, he scaffolds these ideas into more complex concepts over the course of the book. He discusses how the mind is not made for thinking because the connections are not yet in the brain to solve a problem presented to a student. So each child must think and connect the dots, and therefore the neurons! The next few chapters build upon each other to explain how introducing factual knowledge is necessary for building a foundation before higher order thinking skills can be asked of students.
Willingham goes on to reveal why background knowledge, a.k.a. prior knowledge, is fundamental to critical thinking, reading comprehension, and improving memory by connecting new material with prior knowledge. He covers a multitude of important topics such as forgetting, mnemonic devices, discovery or group learning, teachers’ personal style, practicing drills, and transfer to underscore a few. Particularly useful is the discussion of the visual-auditory-kinesthesia theory as it addresses the ever-popular multiple intelligences from a cognitive viewpoint.
While Daniel Willingham does not have years of personal K-12 classroom experience, his analyses and suggestions for educators are pragmatic and profound. He successfully reaches his goal of providing fundamental cognitive principles that are true in the laboratory and the classroom. Additional resources on a plethora of topics from Daniel Willingham can be found online at: http://www.danielwillingham.com/daniel-willingham-science-and-education-blog.html.
Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham, published by Jossey-Bass, 2009.