Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Harnessing Creativity and challenging thinking

  Peter Taylor and Jeremy Szteiter have brought out an interesting book which
presents frameworks and tools to help you become more engaged in research and writing.  Here Peter talks about Critical and Creative Thinking.

"I direct an unusual graduate program called Critical and Creative Thinking (  I think we do quite well in achieving our goal, which is to provide our mid-career or career-changing students with "knowledge, tools, experience, and support so they can become constructive, reflective agents of change in education, work, social movements, science, and creative arts."   Before explaining my sense of creativity, let me explain why critical thinking is combined with creative thinking and also, ‘though it is not in the name, with reflective practice.

Critical thinking, creative thinking, and reflective practice are valued, of course, in all fields. In critical thinking we seek to scrutinize the assumptions, reasoning, and evidence brought to bear on an issue-by others and by oneself; such scrutiny is enhanced by placing ideas and practices in tension with alternatives. Key functions of creative thinking include generating alternative ideas, practices, and solutions that are unique and effective, and exploring ways to confront complex, messy, ambiguous problems, make new connections, and see how things could be otherwise. In reflective practice we take risks and experiment in putting ideas into practice, then take stock of the outcomes and revise our approaches accordingly.

Against this backdrop, my thinking is that creativity comes not out of individual inspiration, but from borrowing and connecting.  The more items in your tool box—the more themes, heuristics (rules of thumb), and open questions you are working with—the more likely you are to make a new connection and see how things could be otherwise, that is, to be creative.  Yet, in order to build up a set of tools that works for you, it is necessary to experiment, take risks, and reflect on the outcomes.  Such reflective practice is like a journey into unfamiliar or unknown areas—it involves risk, opens up questions, provides more experiences than can be integrated at first sight, requires support, and yields personal change.  We might then say that creativity is part of what happens to “journeying inquirers.”

As an educator, I like to play with the 3Rs (only one of which actually starts with an R).  Here (from page 257 of the book) are the many Rs that journeying inquirers might pursue—sometimes focusing in, sometimes opening out—in their personal and professional development as critical, creative, and reflective practitioners.



    Reasoning w/ respect to evidence & alternatives

        Relationship w/ oneself (moving towards autonomy)

                 Reflection & metacognition


     Relationships w/ peers & allies (dialogue & collaboration)

               Risk & experiment


                     Rearrange, adapt & create

       Reception: being Read, heard, & Reviewed

                 Relationships w/ authority (negotiate power & standards)

                                Revision (incl. dialogue around written work)


                     Research & evaluation (learning from the work of others & your own)

             Respect (explore difference)

                          Responsibility (concern w/ aims, means & consequences)


      Recursion & practice (address same concern from many angles & in variety of settings)

   Reevaluation (of emotions at root of responses) so as to better take initiative

                       Reconstruction (personal/organizational/social change)"

Peter Taylor:
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he directs the Graduate Program in Critical and Creative Thinking and the undergraduate Program on Science, Technology and
Values. His research and writing links innovation in teaching and interdisciplinary collaboration with studies of the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context. This combination is evident in his 2005 book, Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (University of Chicago Press).

Jeremy Szteiter:
Jeremy Szteiter is a 2009 graduate of the Critical and Creative Thinking program and now serves as the Program's Assistant Coordinator. His work has centered around community-based and adult
education and has involved managing, developing, and teaching programs to lifelong learners, with an emphasis on a learning process that involves the teaching of others what has been learned and
supporting the growth of individuals to become teachers of what they know.

Title: Taking Yourself Seriously: Process of Research and Engagement
Format: Print & Ebook
Genre: Personal & Professional Development, Research, Writing Skills
Publisher: The Pumping Station
Released: February 2012
Purchase Link: or regular online retailers
Link to Tour on Main Site -

A field-book of tools and processes to help readers in all fields develop as researchers, writers, and agents of change A wide range of tools and processes for research, writing, and collaboration are defined and described-from Governing Question to GOSP, Plus-Delta feedback to Process Review, and Supportive Listening to Sense of Place Map. The tools and processes are linked to three frameworks that lend themselves to adaptation by teachers and other advisors:

 ñ  A set of ten Phases of Research and Engagement, which researchers
move through and later revisit in light of other people's responses
to work in progress and what is learned using tools from the other

 ñ  Cycles and Epicycles of Action Research, which emphasizes reflection and dialogue to shape ideas about what action is needed and how to build a constituency to implement the change; and

 ñ  Creative Habits for Synthesis of theory and practice.

Researchers and writers working under these frameworks participate in Dialogue around Written Work and in Making Space for Taking Initiative In and Through Relationships. These processes help researchers and writers align their questions and ideas, aspirations, ability to take or influence action, and relationships with other people. Bringing those dimensions of research and engagement into alignment is the crux of taking yourself seriously. The tools, processes, and frameworks are illustrated through excerpts from two projects: one engaging adult learning communities in using the principles of theater arts to prepare them to create social change; the other involving collaborative play among teachers in curriculum planning. A final section provides entry points for students and educators to explore insights, experiences, and information from a wider world of research, writing, and engagement in change.

1 comment:

The Pumping Station said...

Another kind of virtual book tour:
As well as the cafe tour, Jeremy and I are also doing a world tour of sorts. We have asked different people to find 5 or more people and a time they can all be called by us (using skype). During the hour we introduce a piece of the book for 5 minutes and then run a "dialogue process" where each participant gets to connect what they hear with their own work (more details here). The first two virtual book tour events were with facilitators associated with the Institute of Cultural Affairs ( The format wasn't perfect--some people wanted visuals to help them listen--but the discussion was appreciated. Indeed, the second group wanted us to meet with them monthly for "getting deep into issues." For more feedback, see
We learned a few technical things as well--remind people who haven't accepted skype calls from you, start bringing in people on skype before the scheduled start time,etc.