The Healing Benefits of Creativity

Issues that arise for gifted students often evolve between the gaps of their cognitive ability and social and emotional development. Often times our role as classroom teachers involves helping students deal with the challenges that emerge as a result of this asynchronous development. One way to address these challenges is to provide opportunities for students to practice social and emotional skills in the classroom, using creative strategies that help them to integrate their mind, body, and emotions. Such integration of self through creative expression can serve as a healing salve that allows students to make deeper connections between their inner thoughts and the context of their classroom. This psychosocial approach to learning and creativity draws from theories of creative problem solving, cognitive behavioral therapy, and play as an effective way of developing student’s intra- and interpersonal skills. Put simply, the act of creating can provide students with new points of view, a sense of ownership and control of their own learning, as well as ways to cope with their own development.

Students come into our classrooms with diverse needs.  There are those that struggle with a lack of rigor and some with trauma. There are some that are challenged by the nature of adolescence and some with the pressure to get into college. And then there are some that struggle to develop key interpersonal skills or worry about the stress they face as gifted students. Regardless of the issues at hand, creativity can provide a place for students to express thoughts and feelings, explore their inner world, develop greater self-awareness, and cope with stress. Students can develop creative ways to communicate their thoughts through images, symbols, colors, music, role playing or written expression.

Many therapeutic processes mirror that of the creative problem solving process. For example, Halstead’s (2009) process of bibliotherapy (identification, catharsis and insight), overlaps with that of Wallas’ (1926) Creative Problem Solving model (preparation, incubation, illumination and verification). With both theories, there is a connection made to the problem or material and then a moment at which the participant is changed in some way with new ideas or understandings. Because of their similarity, creative processes and therapeutic processes can be used in unison to provide a space for students to gain new understandings about themselves within a classroom context. Students who are able to connect with their class materials or content in a way that provides insight into their social and emotional lives are provided a rich context for making meaning.

One such creative strategy that provides the opportunity for students to practice social and emotional skills in the classroom is that of creative dramatics or sociodrama, sometimes called improvisation or role playing. Davis and Behm (1978) define creative dramatics as “an improvisational, non-exhibitional, process-centered form of drama in which participants are guided by a leader to imagine, enact and reflect upon human experience”( p.10-11). Creative dramatics are a useful set of strategies that are easily employed in any content area or grade as it stimulates thinking, problem solving, and imagination, while encouraging awareness and concentration, helps develop emotional self-control, strengthens self-confidence in speaking and performing, develops individuality, enhances knowledge and understanding, provides insight, relies on key content, and provides opportunity for informal formative assessment of student knowledge.

Take for example a 1st grade American History lesson where students are tasked with learning to identify and describe the lives and contributions of historical figures such as George Washington Carver. More specifically, how might students describe how the everyday life of George Washing Carver is similar to and different from their everyday lives today. Many of George Washington Carver’s inventions and innovations resulted from his awareness and concern about the problems of other people. Neighbors often complained to him about their plants dying and Carver would invent new ways to treat the plants and nurse them back to health. The teacher can ask students to listen for two or three days to the complaints and problems of their own neighbors, families, and classmates and compile a list of them. The teacher can then combine all of the lists, and help the students to classify the complaints and problems in order to identify the most frequent or most important ones. Students are then asked to invent something to solve one of the selected problems and then to develop and dramatize a scene in which one of these problems are solved, taking into consideration the connotations of words, the tone and imitate body language as if they were an inventor, such as George Washington Carver, interacting with neighbors today.

Students who are offered learning places where they are able to bring together their social, emotional, cognitive and creative selves are able to experience a type of learning that acts as a balm or salve to a growing complex world. 

This article appears in the February 2020 issue of Teaching for High Potential


References

Davis, J. H., & Behm, T. (1978). Terminology of drama/theatre with and for children: A redefinition. Children’s Theatre Review, 27(1), 10–11.

Halstead, J. W. (2009).  Some of my best friends are books:  Guiding gifted readers (3rd ed.).  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Wallas, G. (1926).  The art of thought.  London: J. Cape.