Why Are Creative Kids So Easily Bored in School?

Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Pueblo pe...
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Dr. Robert Sternberg, is an American psychologist and psychometrician and Provost at Oklahoma State University. He was formerly President of the American Psychological Association. Although Dr. Sternberg developed assessments for creativity and practicality (problem solving) he is not a fan of the current model of educational testing.  He asserts that rather than focus on what has been learned, he is interested in assessing a student’s ability to learn.  In his talk at a recent Creativity Summit at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he answered his own questions, “What do you mean by creativity?” and  “Why isn’t everyone creative?” He restated an idea he promotes in much of his work: “There are people who buy low and sell high in the world of ideas.”  This is shorthand for Sternberg’s Investment Theory of Creativity developed with Dr. Todd Lubart.  My short version of the theory goes something like this: Creative people come up with novel ideas.  The mere novelty of the idea causes it to be rejected by the majority of people.  This rejection is not just a rejection but an acceptance of the status quo.  This is the “buy low” portion of the theory.  The innovator invests effort into convincing others that the idea is not only workable but superior to the status quo. This precedes the “sell high” portion of the argument.  When an idea’s value is finally recognized, the creator ‘sells’ the idea to others to develop while the innovator moves on to other projects. As Sternberg notes, “If you think about it, that’s what creativity is about.”

Sternberg has been quoted as saying, “Creativity is a decision.” He cites 7 Key Decisions in creativity:

1: Decide if you have a problem that seems unsolvable.  Then ask, “Can I redefine the problem?”

2: When you have a creative idea, ask yourself three questions: a) What’s the best that can happen? b) What’s the worst that can happen? and, c) What’s likely to happen?  This helps an innovator analyze potential outcomes.

3. Look for entrenchment.  “Where there’s vested interest, it’s hard to sell creative ideas.”

4. Realize that knowledge is a double-edged sword when it comes to creativity.  Knowledge means less repetition but it can also cause entrenchment.  When knowledge of past outcomes is the lens through which a person creates, “many experts are less creative… [because] they can’t see through other lenses.”

5. Be willing to take sensible risks.

6. Persevere in the face of obstacles.

7. Find what you love to do. “With your kids and with your students, what’s important is not what you want them to do but what they want to do.”

Dr. Sternberg is an authentic and innovative thinker.  Despite expertise that could cause entrenchment in a less playful personality, Dr. Sternberg is the perfect person to explore the educational landscape of assessments and creativity.  Although the entrenchment many of us face in the world of teaching makes innovation challenging, it will help to remember Dr. Sternberg’s 6th Key Decision.  Keeping the creativity conversation alive may cause enough of a shift to allow innovative thinkers a seat at the table when assessments are discussed.

5 thoughts on “Why Are Creative Kids So Easily Bored in School?

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  1. I AM a creative person (I think) but I am rarely bored. I am old enough to realize I don’t have time to be bored. If I think there is nothing to do or I am tired or some meeting is boring I just let my mind wander and I am no longer bored. If there is boring music I am subjected to I just listen to my inner self instead.
    I would like to add that creative people can shut off the parts that don’t feed their creativity and focus on those that do.
    And being bored is not the same as being tired. The creative mind must have some down-time to regroup for the next creative spurt. So when I am just “playing” in my pond my mind is gathering strength to work on the problems is will encounter later in the day.
    But, all that said, I am no longer a middle school student who must concentrate in a learning environment every day at the same time. I can understand why young people say they are bored in school. They really are saying their brain needs down time, not sleeping but just doing nothing but experiencing senses, to save energy for the next spurt that is called for.


    1. You are DEFINITELY someone I would categorize as creative! I am so grateful that you turned me on to Dr. Sternberg. His work is very exciting. I think I would agree with you that as creative adults it is possible to manage our lives in a way that finds people like us rarely bored. I probably should have clarified that for students who face a pushback against their creativity on a daily basis there is a huge potential for boredom. I believe teachers are working very hard to avoid that trap but the national model in which we teach is the status quo I think Sternberg describes in his work. We, quite literally, bore the creativity out of our youth. Thanks so much, Jan, for adding to the conversation!


  2. I particularly like the last statement “With your kids and with your students, what’s important is not what you want them to do but what they want to do.” One of my favorite librarians,
    Buffy Hamilton of The Unquiet Library preaches the need for “Enchantment” in libraries. (See her presentation this past summer at ISTE @ http://youtu.be/B4RrKTjfil4).

    While libraries may seem like the last place to expect creativity, they can be filled with it. It’s the room with all the computers, (and all the things you can make on them), production equipment, books, music, crafts, information, and community. It can be such an exciting place in school.

    But I noticed that even this library guru has lost her support staff this year and probably will be reduced to doing the mundane, routine tasks of keeping the facility going — shelving books, circulating materials and processing them. There won’t be time or energy for what can make a library a vibrant environment.

    I, for one, am stealing her idea of a Student Advisory Committee to find out “what they want to do.” Do they want to make their own music? make their own digital movies to post on youtube? create anime vlogs? start an internet radio station? build social media? or something I don’t even know about that is part of their daily life (and not mine) already?

    Creativity with our students must come from listening to them and creating opportunities for that creativity to grow. But it also takes support and staff so that we can create those environments.


    1. You KNOW I agree with you. After all, I think we both know librarians who are supernaturally creative. I can remember taking my kids to the public library when they were little and just plunking them down in the children’s section and letting them go crazy. Nobody tried to direct their reading or their book choices. We were all too tired from raising toddlers and elementary-age children. Our fatigue actually led to active readers. What a gift the library has been!


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