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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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Secrets of a Creative Producer

Scott first came to me with the idea to start his own Lego robotics club during open house.

In a very matter of fact way~ he said. I know what I want to do for my research project this year.

He went on to explain how his brothers had competed in Lego robotics~ and how he wished they offered the program at the school for his age group. He said his goal was to establish a team for fourth and fifth graders~ so he could compete.

Since then~ Scott has gone after his goal with gusto. He has researched the requirements to form the club and presented his plan to the schools principal~ securing her blessing. He has also obtained an educational grant~ which will fund half of the equipment costs for the club. Now~ he is working with the schools Parent Teacher Student Association to hold a fundraiser to raise the remaining funds.
Students like Scott continue to fascinate me and cause me to ask these questions: Why is it some students are highly creative and productive? How can you have two students~ in my case gifted with equally high I.Q.s~ and one out performs and produces so much more than the other?

This question has me continually searching for answers. Think about it. In a country revered for its innovation~ the future of our gifted students lies in teaching them to be creative and productive with their ideas and abilities. Test scores may play a role in todays educational system~ but high test scores will not guarantee a cure for disease or a new technology that will make life easier or novel or film that inspires.

Theoretically~ Dr. Joseph Renzullis Three-Ring Conception has helped me better understand my more creative-productive students. His theory holds that creativity productivity and gifted behavior is the result of three factors coming together: above-level ability~ task commitment~ and creativity. For instance~ a child with above-average smarts becomes passionate about an idea or area~ thus developing commitment~ and uses his or her creative powers to bring a product or service to fruitionthat ideally has value for others.
Another way I have learned about creative productivity is by observing and interviewing my students. When studying them~ these students tend to have a number of things in common~ such as:

1. A passion or fascination (almost obsessive) with a topic.
It may be horses or dogs or in Scotts case~ a Lego robotics team. The student wants to spend time working on this topic or project~ sometimes having a hard time focusing on other things. I am reminded of the legendary chess player~ Bobby Fisher. In his biography~ End Game~ author Frank Brady details how Fisher obsessed over chess~ wanting to spend virtually every minute studying the game or playing it~ so much that Fishers mother sought counseling for her son. I am by no means recommending this extreme approach to life; however~ I think Fishers example drives home the point about having task commitment.

2. The Problem is Personal.
As Renzulli has discovered in his research~ for creative productivity to happen~ the student must face a problem or topic that has personal meaning or relevance. In Scotts case~ I remembered when I asked him why he was working so hard on his project~ he said he loved the feeling of being in a Lego robotics club and wanted to create that feeling for himself and other students. He deeply cared about the project. It wasnt just another assignment.

3. Risk-Taking
Creative productivity involves some measure of risk. I believe this step results naturally from task commitment. Once a student commits to a plan or idea~ they move forward~ even if it involves coming out of his or her comfort zone. I remember Scotta high-achieving~ straight A student- saying to me one day Ive never done anything like this before. This project had forced him from being a text consumer to a creative producer.

4. Guidance and Support
Even if children display above-level ability~ task commitment~ and creativity~ they still require varying degrees of support from teachers and parents. They are still children and will need to be taught certain skills such as how to interview adults~ write an e-mail~ or apply for a grant or scholarship. They need a guiding hand. Even though Scott had the necessary drive~ he needed my help in applying for an education grant to fund his club.

5. An Audience
As Renzulli has said~ creative producers work with an audience in mind. Students will work much harder and develop task commitment if they know they are presenting their work to an authentic audience. If we want them to develop into creative producers~ then we must challenge them to share their work outside the classroom. That may mean presenting work to the school administration (which Scott had to do to get permission to form his club)~ experts at the local university or the school board.

The above five points have taken me lots of reading and years of experience working with gifted children to pin point. While not an exhaustive list~ I do believe these are some major keys to helping students transform into creative producers. I urge you to apply these concepts with your students through projects and lessons. I think you will be happy~ and at times~ very impressed with the results.

Thank you~

Steve