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Why Does it Take Me So Long to Read Some Books?

By Heather Miller

The other day I was reading an interesting book by Joey Reiman, Thinking for a Living, when a statement he made jumped out at me. Discussing creativity, he commented on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's question.... "Where is creativity?" Not what, but where. Csikszentmihalyi's book Creativity is one of my favourites, so as soon as I read the statement off I went on one of those tangential thinking sprees I seem to indulge in lately.

Suddenly I was back in the Renaissance, that fertile period in history -- in such contrast to the so-called "dark ages" that preceded it. What always strikes me about Italy in the 14 and 1500's, is the nature of the social milieu in cities such as Florence, for instance. It's not as if it was an easy time. Change was the order of the day. Many people must have experienced the same kinds of emotional turmoil we are feeling today, and yet human creativity was at its peak. As Joey Reiman says, "What changed was the field -- the sociocultural environment in which they lived that suddenly provided ways to fund, nurture, spark, and reward creativity." P.56

During the Renaissance an educated person was expected to be competent in music, art, drama, dance as well as languages, mathematics and science. Pondering this, lead me to acknowledge that for some reason I have experienced a significant convergence of thought this year. It seems as if everything I've been exploring in education, creativity, the arts and brain research has suddenly gone CLICK! Everything fits.

The catalyst is no doubt Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences. His theory makes sense of what happened during the Renaissance. The idea that we all have at least eight intelligences fits with the research that shows we can actually grow a bigger, more productive brain.

In their book, Magic Trees of the Mind, brain researcher Dr. Marian Diamond and science journalist Janet Hopson show how actions, sensations and memories shape the way our brains grow and function. A stimulating, enriched environment literally grows brain. What kinds of things enrich the environment? Interestingly enough, the same things Gardner says are necessary to activate all of the intelligences; books, music, art, physical activities, quiet time, nature, numbers, logic, and interesting challenges involving things and people, stimulate brain growth.

These ideas fit with my own experiences as a teacher/principal eight years ago. In our wonderful primary school we were implementing a vision of teaching through the arts. Teachers shared their ideas, resources and skills so we could learn from each other. During the four years I was at the school, I tracked parent satisfaction, staff morale, academic achievement, and school tone. Each year was better than the preceding one. Although I was the principal, I found time to teach and began working with grade two and three students, presenting an art program rich in language and higher- order thinking challenges. What happened astounded me.

The students seemed to crave instruction, soaking it up like a sponge. They were at a stage where they needed to develop new skills to be able to create what they could envision. Their ability to discuss art using correct terminology seemed to occur effortlessly. I kept giving these eager youngsters ever more challenging activities, some I had even done with OAC students years before. The children always rose to the challenge, creating beautiful, thought-provoking art works that expressed their personal understandings. They articulated ideas about their own work and the works of others in a mature and meaningful way. Not only were they becoming confident artists, they were developing habits of quality thinking and speaking. It was one of the most joyful times of my teaching career.

These thoughts fit with my current project. I'm busy creating a series of CD-Roms for teachers. Six years ago I wouldn't have predicted that I'd be doing this. At that time I was a busy administrator, learning alongside my colleagues and students. Then, as things seem to happen in life, an opportunity came along that I just couldn't resist. The role of art consultant had been one I always wanted to try, and five years before retirement I just had to do it.

My thoughts jumped to how this experience seemed to round out my understanding of the importance of art education at the elementary level. I realized that teachers see the value of the arts, especially now that we have so much information about brain development, multiple intelligences, creative thinking and the importance of the arts. Teachers sincerely want to deliver a challenging art program. What many teachers told me, however, was that they simply did not know how to do that.

This final thought reminded me of why I'm creating the Teach Art CD-Rom series - - tools that will help teachers get started teaching art. Of the Teach Art 3 CD-Rom, one teacher said, "It's kind of like having your own personal consultant on a CD." That description really fit with my intentions for these CD's. They have everything teachers have asked for -- long range plans, daily plans for the whole year, tracking sheets, video and slide demonstrations of lessons, rubrics, letters to parents, information about thinking skills and multiple intelligences, Canadian art, many language activities. All the things I learned during my 32 years of teaching have come to rest in thess CD's.

At this point I realized that my eyes were looking at the printed page, but I was not reading. Isn't it interesting how one little passage in a book could take me on so round a journey? That's what I love about books. They allow you time to ponder other people's ideas in relation to your own. No wonder it takes me so long to read some books!

References:

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York, New York: Harper Collins.1996

Diamond, Marian and Hopson, Janet. Magic Trees of the Mind . New York, New York: Penguin Putnam Inc.1998

Reiman, Joey. Thinking for a Living. Marietta, Georgia: Longstreet.1998

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