Monday, October 19, 2015

Divergent thinking

Recently I facilitated a workshop about children’s literature and divergent thinking for undergraduate-teachers-to-be.  I didn’t start out with the idea of divergent thinking per say.  I was thinking more along the lines of books that both promoted creative and critical thinking but also books that were clever (‘divergent’) in and of themselves.  The divergent thinking element came from a book recently added to the Doucette Library collection titled Creativity and children’s literature: new ways to encourage divergent thinking by Marianne Saccardi. This book helped me coalesced my ideas for the workshop into a coherent and practical session.

I think this is a book that is well worth a look if you’re big into using children’s and young adult literature in the classroom. 

It provides lots of suggestions for recent books (though classics are found here too) with examples and ideas for classroom activities and teaching.  The first four chapters are based on the genres; poetry, fiction, fantasy and folklore, and nonfiction to highlight a wide range of children and young adult titles. 

The first chapter includes a fabulous range of poetry books that encourages students to look at their world in new ways. There is an emphasis on the importance of metaphor and the connection between metaphor and understanding of dissimilar concepts and things. Poetry, as described here, becomes a wonderfully divergent way to explore and exploit metaphor when teaching. A few of the books highlighted are Outside Your Window, AFoot In the Mouth, Poetrees and Hip Hop Speaks to Children.

I love the title of chapter two – Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary World of Fiction. This is the one I spent a lot of time working with while I prepared for my workshop.  Once again the books listed are ones that will resonant with the readers with and encourage them to see their worlds in new ways, promote creative and critical thinking, and maybe even help them solve problems. She also looks to the books themselves to see if they are divergent in their approach too.  (To be honest, the books that I love most to blog about are these ones – books that go to a new level in their storytelling or relaying their content.)

The chapter focusing on folklore starts with a quote from Albert Einstein –

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.  If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

Metaphor is again emphasized here. She states,
 “But perhaps nowhere is metaphor more powerfully met than in the literature of folklore and fantasy.  Metaphor IS the language of folklore. Folk and fairytales and the high fantasy and science fiction novels of today’s literature for children abound in archetypes for good and evil, wisdom and foolishness, kindness and selfishness, and so on.” (p.87) 
Often there are little lessons to be learned from traditional tales like the one the lazy grasshopper learned the hard way once winter arrived and the compassion shown by the industrious ant who takes him in.  Or the important lesson learned by the main character in the book, Nasreddine, that one must decide what to “hear from others [as] wise or silly or hurtful.”

The last genre is nonfiction. In this chapter, the power of nonfiction will come from teaching to texts that demonstrate passion and curiosity by their authors. The subject matter will be presented in highly engaging ways (Steve Jenkins – see last week’s blog), often highlighting people who emulate divergent thinking themselves, seeing beyond the status quo, tackling seemingly insurmountable issues, or pushing boundaries. Think Nelson Mandela or Temple Grandin as examples.  There are many activities included for these types of books that will enrich classroom experiences for students.

I strongly encourage you to spend some time with this book.  It will present lists of books for all grades and perhaps offer some suggestions that will reframe your use of literature in the classroom. When presenting my workshop I did include many of the titles here but also added many more. The lists are only a starting point and once you get into the flow of divergent thinking you will begin to see connections with titles you're already familiar with and likely be opened to new books when they come along.


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