Out of Our Minds by Sir Ken Robinson

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Book Review

Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative with Sir Ken Robinson

When you research creativity in education, it is impossible not to come across Ken Robinson’s provocative work. His book, Out of Our Minds, published in 2001, revised in 2011, is still fresh and powerful. In part a scathing critique of the factory model of education, Robinson supports individual educators, and acknowledges that many of us are working within the system to support student creativity.

Part of his work is a well-researched attack on academic hierarchy. While he champions literacy, Robinson asks why mathematics and Language should be considered supremely important, while drama and dance are treated like expendable extras. Unless the goal of all students is to become university professors, he argues, this approach is wrongheaded.

Threatened by global and ecological crises as never before, he says humanity is going to need creative thinking if we are to thrive and survive as a species. Globally, the rate of change of technology means children we teach today will work in industries that haven’t been invented, use tools we’ve never seen, and interact in ways we can’t imagine. The outsourcing of well-paid high tech work is only one reason I agree with Robinson’s arguments. As adults, today’s children will compete globally to earn a living.

‘Back-to-basics’ teaching focussed on rankings and standardized testing is not preparing students for employment. According to Robinson, business leaders want “thoughtful, creative, self-confident people… who are literate, numerate, who can analyze information and ideas; who can generate new ideas of their own and help to implement them; who can communicate clearly and work well with other people.”

Before you ask how writing poems is going to help with that, consider Robinson’s definition of creativity. He suggests we should recognize more forms of human intelligence than those measured by I.Q. testing or the SATs. For Robinson, these outdated tests only reinforce modern society’s harmfully narrow view of intelligence. He claims the unemployed high school dropout and the underemployed college graduate were both let down by the education system, because neither discovered their creative potential.

Human beings think and exert intelligence in diverse ways depending on the medium of our creative work.

When people find their medium, they discover their real creative strengths and come into their own. Helping people connect with their personal creative capacities is the surest way to release the best they have to offer.

Robinson calls for a celebration of diversity in human thinking which will alter societal attitudes to ability and disability; and also help humanity adapt to exponential population growth, unpredictable technological change and growing environmental concerns.

He calls creativity “applied imagination,” and “a process of having original ideas that have value.” This value cuts across all domains from pure science research to filmmaking.

Robinson’s chapter, “Being Creative,” provides practical tips on how to boost innovation through technique. All people are born imaginative, but this ability can be enhanced or squelched by one’s environment. Unlocking the “constant promise of alternative ways of seeing, of thinking and of doing,” is essential. Educators, parents and community leaders can do a lot to foster diverse talents, instead of feeding the myth that creativity is just for ‘special people.’

There is a saying among teachers in my school that ‘gifted teaching is just good teaching.’ Robinson’s book reinforces this idea. We must interact with all our students in ways that bring out their gifts and talents, and be open to exploring domains that allow them to think, whether they think best through drama, dance or mathematical equations. It’s a tall order and no educator can do it on his or her own, but informing our teaching practice with a philosophy that nurtures creativity is an excellent place to start.

Podcasting and Writing Plays

I have been less active on this blog lately because I’m starting a new podcasting project. I’m going to be podcasting my novel, “Marmalade, Cat Detective,” at my new Marmalade Cat Detective blog.

I also have a long-term plan for writing a book on how to write and produce children’s plays and videos.

I’ve had so much fun doing this over the years that I think it’s time to share.  I will always be grateful to Mike Taylor, a teacher who let me help direct some of his original plays. For me, many of the special projects teachers do have to be learned on the apprenticeship system. Working with Mike, I observed which elements of a show were crucial to successful school productions.

At first I was going to write a book about it. I even drew up a list of chapters and topics but the process seemed daunting. I work as a teacher-librarian, I’m a hockey mom and my first love is fiction. Where would I find the time to write a non-fiction book? Instead, I started a blog about the process of writing and directing scripts for kids called Dramafun. It seemed like a good way to share some of my tips and tricks with others.

Last night I discovered Howtoblogabook.com. It’s ingenious! The idea is to write a blog which becomes a book. Written in small increments, even a long book shouldn’t take more than a year to write. Who knows, maybe once I’ve taught myself to podcast by podcasting my novel, I might podcast episodes about making plays and movies with children as well.

To self-publish or not

Focus is supposed to be the key to success, in art, business, hockey, anything. If you lose focus, you are bound to make mistakes. Lately I have been reading too many blogs, tweets and self-appointed online experts. They all say, follow the John Locke method. Publish an ebook. I even spent a couple of days reformatting one of my plays to publish on SmashWords. Is this procrastination? I should be polishing my manuscript, “Marmalade Cat Detective: The Astounding Vampire Dogs.”

Self-publishing is tempting, but not for the novel. I have a backlog of school plays that I know work because I have produced them. It’s fairly easy to see what works with an audience of 250 or so kids when you can observe directly. The problem is, children’s plays are notoriously difficult to get published, especially for someone like me who has not produced my plays in a professional venue.

The rational solution would seem to be self-publishing. It seems low-risk. My plays are written and collecting dust. I’m more interested in writing new plays than putting my old ones on in bigger venues. I do plays for the love of working with kids and the love of writing. I’m not interested in quitting teaching and going into theatre.  If I self-publish my plays, it will be virtually as a service to other teachers. I doubt they will make  a lot of money.

There is just one problem. I have a novel almost ready to send to agents. It’s a YA novel which might also suit an imaginative adult audience. This is where the warnings begin. I’ve heard that once you publish anything with an ISBN number, publishers and agents look you up every time you submit a manuscript. The first time I try to interest them in a manuscript, will they will look up my sales figures see my plays aren’t selling and take a pass?

Does it have to be a catch-22? I am pessimistic about publishing my plays through the usual channels because the demand for kids’ comedy scripts is small. I am optimistic about my novel because I have read many children’s novels and I haven’t seen one quite like mine. I think it might attract readers of Sherlock Holmes novels, and of Shane Peacock‘s excellent boy Holmes mysteries. My story is also a spoof on Gothic elements in mysteries, like James Howe but for older readers. Obviously, I’m not comparing the quality of my writing to these authors. I’m trying to give an idea of my story’s flavour.

Like any artistic hopeful, I believe in my ‘thing’ and hope other people will too. I just wish I knew what to do about it.

The Fiendish Plot of Doctor Cyclone

I had my 3 showings of my video, The Fiendish Plot of Doctor Cyclone yesterday. People seemed to enjoy it and it was a pleasure to see the cast get up and get some applause after all their hard work. Here’s the blurb:

The Fiendish Plot of Doctor Cyclone, a lunar comedy orbiting your funny bone…

You’d have to be crazy to raise kids on the Moon but when you work on a lunar base, what choice do you have?

When parents start acting strangely, it’s up to the kids to find answers:
Why doesn’t their teacher act like a teacher?
Is Shao’s father really a traitor?
Can they stop Doctor Cyclone from attaining total galactic domination?

I wrote the script in July, cast students in grades 6-8 in December. Since then we have spent lunch hours and after school rehearsing or filming three days a week. I had all my footage by the end of April which gave me time to edit and figure out how to use Adobe Premier Elements. Not a bad program for the price. I like having the ability to edit the sound clips and to use colour key editing. Most of my scenes are filmed with a stationary camera in front of a green screen. I had a lot of fun later, putting in backgrounds. The story is set on the Moon so I used lots of copyright free pictures from Nasa. It was fun, way too many hours of work to edit but I’ve learned a lot. Next time it’s going to be easier…

Breaking 40 000

40009 / 65000 words. 62% done!

To celebrate the rising word count, and to encourage myself to work a little faster, I decided to give myself a widget. I’m still a little disappointed with my daily word output this week but sometimes quality can’t be rushed. I’m edging up on a huge turning point in the story and I know I have to get it just right.

Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston

I met Lesley Livingston, author of Wondrous Strange, at the AD Astra SF/ Fantasy conference in Toronto. She launched the book there and took place in a couple of interesting panel discussions. My favorite of these was a discussion of fight choreography and fencing. Livingston is a principal performer and founding member of the Tempest Theatre Group.

Her first novel is a magical tale about seventeen-year-old Kelly, a risk-taker who has left her home to take a backstage job in a small New York theatre company. She gets her first break when the actress playing Titania in Midsummernight’s Dream breaks an ankle. Things are not what they appear, however, and soon Kelly is drawn into a faerie world which, around Halloween, threatens to spill out into Central Park.

This is a sophisticated YA novel which appealed to me both for literary qualities and for the sense of wonder. Our firsts always retain a certain glow in our memories and youth makes the whole world seem alive, almost supernaturally so. This novel, which involves feerie politics and changling romance is a light-hearted net in which to capture that youthful vivacity.

Jane Austen aside, this is the first book I’ve read in years where the “A” story was the romance plot. That’s right, I’m coming down in favour of a romance novel in the fantasy genre, both things outside my usual range of tastes. For a more thorough review, you might want to read The Book Zombie, who gives a complete plot synopsis. You can also see Livingston interviewed by her publisher on YouTube.

Happy reading.

I’m getting critiqued at Anticipation!

This week has been writing Nirvana with my son in camp but yesterday all that feel-good creativity ran up against crunch time. In the morning, I racked up a decent word count over 1 000 words but I had to dedicate the rest of the day and most of the night to editing.

The absolute deadline on the Anticipation (WorldCon 2009) website for writing workshop submissions is July 26, but to be fair, it also says “the deadline is now.” Uh, oh.

I emailed the organizer, Oz Drummond (Here’s her LJ) with a technical question. She warned me spaces were filling up fast and asked how soon I could submit. I promised her something by midnight but, as with most editing tasks, I underestimated the time it would take. I was up past 1:30 polishing my draft into something workshop-ready. The good news is, Oz replied that I got a “slot,” one of the last ones available.

I’m so excited not to have missed this opportunity. Getting feedback from a pro author or editor would make WorldCon for me. I can’t believe I got sidetracked by writing to the point where I almost missed my chance.

Today is the last I can dedicate to full-time writing. Let’s see if I can still make my average daily word count of 2500 words. My goal is to have a first draft done before Labour Day. Wish me luck.

Happy reading.

Progress, progress

I had a good writing day today, completing about 11 pages by 3:40. That brings my total to date up to 33 281 words or about 133 pages! I’ve passed the halfway mark.

Happy reading (or writing)

In pertinacia victoria! — So get back to work

You have to check out the latin motto generator . I like the way it makes me look sooo smart to title this blog in latin.

This motto is designed motivate. It means: in determination, victory.

Today, after a pre-lunch start of 1053 words (5 pages), I’ve been getting distracted by surfing for writing blogs and podcasts. It feels like I’m still working but I’m goofing off again.

In more hopeful news, my total word count is now 29812 or 112 pages.

Happy reading.

Novel Writing Update

I’m a big fan of I should Be Writing (ISBW), Mur Lafferty’s podcast and blog of the same name. The “Mighty Mur,” as she calls herself, has just released the first in a series of PDF episodes outlining her discoveries as a “wanna-be fiction-writer” who is now a published author. It’s been very encouraging to watch Mur gain success and publicity for her podcasts and share in every step of her publishing journey. Her rules-for-writing are sane, sound advice for fending off self-doubt, writers block and excuses.

My writing journey continued today with my son at canoe and kayak camp. I put him in this week-long camp with no guilt at all. It’s the kind of thing I would have loved as a child. When I picked him up today, two of the cool teen counsellors told me he’d already nicknamed himself “Bubbles.”

I put in a good writing day. I wrote 2786 words which is a little over 11 pages. That’s more than meeting a NaNoWriMo-type speed target but working on a manuscript I intend to revise for publication. The outline of the novel is written and has been revised a couple of times so I have a good chance of finishing by the end of the summer. 100 pages is about 1/3 of the way through if things go as planned. Wish me luck.

Happy reading.