The importance of flow in creativity

We recently attended the #EveryoneCanCreate educator workshop hosted by Apple. The focus of this workshop was on creativity and grappling with the perpetual problem of “how do we teach creativity?” 

We were asked to pick our focus questions for the session and given these example driving questions :

What would your diriving question be?

What would your diriving question be?

I picked the closest question that related to my curiosity about creativity, “Can you learn to be more creative?”

Our table engaged in some healthy debate about whether creativity is measurable, should be measured and is adding a value (ie grade) to creativity countering its authenticity? 

I realised as the session progressed that my viewpoint on fostering creativity in education is about building dispositional skills and mindset to be creative rather than do creativity. 

Let me explain, we find ourselves embroiled in these types of workshops to find ways to fit creativity into our classrooms, to make it work well with our subject areas and ask the questions “How can I be creative in Maths or Science?” 

I pose the question:  “How do I know I am being creative?” 

At the workshop, we participated in a series of mini breakout sessions where Apple distinguished educators led us through their #EveryoneCanCreate iBooks activities on Focus areas of Music, Drawing and Video.

I found my definition of creativity and the dispositional traits I attributed to being creative kept bringing me back to the feeling of flow - essentially when I forgot the technology was there. It’s about the embodiment of creativity, what do I feel, think and do when I am being creative? Here’s a great video examining the effect of flow in learning.  

For example, in the intial drawing activity where we had to illustrate our own emoji using a specialist drawing app, my flow was stilted; I was repeatedly erasing my sketch, looking at the work of others and lacking confidence in my own abilities. In the second drawing activity where we were asked to “bring an inanimate object to life”, we took a photo, used Markup on our iPads and started sketching. I took a photo of the Apple water bottle we were gifted and transformed it into a monster. Instantly, I was engaged in the process, I didn’t question my vision of my “monster” (see image below) and found it effortless. I was lost in my own creative flow.

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The same thing happened when we were asked to remix a song using the GarageBand app. We were given simple instructions, a short demo and then left to explore, play and discover. With my headphones on, I was believing that I was a musician, a DJ and feeling flow. I needed little guidance and actually felt some disappointment when the session was over.  

This all brings me to question, are we looking at creativity the wrong way? Are we designing learning to be superficially creative and instead, should we examine and explore with students, how do you feel when you’re creative? or how do you know when you’re in flow? 

Heres a list of the feelings I attribute to creativity : 

  • flow / immersed

  • courage

  • confidence

  • open

  • safe

  • curious

  • independent

  • clarity

  • purpose

  • vision

What would yours be?  

I also realised that the second drawing activity and the music activity had common elements. The structure of both of those sessions were very similar.

Keeping my list in mind, I would structure learning experiences to have shorter instruction (teacher talk), a quick demonstration, a preview of an end product and then ample time to play.

When we can recognise our own definitions or feelings of creativity, we can look at how to design experiences to engage students to develop it within themselves. 

Kim Maksimovic