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Creative and Critical Thinking

Updated on June 3, 2012

In A Morally Defensible Mission for Schools in the 21st Century (Noddings, 1997), Noddings is asking some very important questions: “What do we want for our children? What do they need from education? And what does our society need?” Her overall theme was that our schools’ should be producing caring adults. She lost me.

This bothered me, because, of course, we want our children to be caring, especially in today’s world where the 1999 shooting at Columbine instantly came to mind. So why did she lose me?

After giving it some reflection, I decided it was because her suggestions were wishy-washy, and even gender based as she herself wrote (43,1). It seems to me that we have spent a generation trying to teach the female gender something besides being “nice.” For those of us who grew up with this argument, we know what this type of teaching results in. We only need to look at how our current female presidential candidate (Clinton - at the time) is being labeled the “b” word.

I believe the answer Noddings is seeking lies in the arts. The arts, when taught correctly, teaches respect, cooperation, creative thinking, problem solving; and the important skill of giving and receiving criticism. These skills are what our nation’s children need as adults in order to be able to make intelligent and respectful life decisions. In addition, by learning how to give and receive criticism and how to be cooperative with others, we are teaching our children, what Noddings is seeking, the art of caring.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking skills in art include teaching how to give and receive criticism. This is an important leadership skill that builds self-esteem, teaches our children how to analyze critical remarks and how to self reflect and improve on what they have created.

By teaching students how to comment on each other’s work, they learn to respect the person they are commenting on and the person receiving the comments learns to reflect back to their work and whether or not they accept the comments. This is important: just because someone gives criticism does not mean you have to accept that criticism. Our children need to learn that the choice is theirs to accept the comments as a way to improve their work or reject the comments as not fitting in their work.

The process for giving a critical critique consists of the student showing their work to the class and the class giving feedback based on the criteria of the project. This teaches the students that to give effective comments it is important to stick to the facts, and not to personal issues.

Guiding students to share perceptions and judgments prepares students to make assessments in written form. Through discussion of art products students learn from one another, communicating ideas and contributing to the synergy of the group. Students first comment with a praise, then comment with a question and then offer suggestions for ways to improve the project. They first focus on what the student did correctly (praise) to meet the criteria of the assignment and then they find an aspect that is not successful posing the negative assessment in the form of a question. The students commented on are allowed to respond, explaining why they agree or why they disagree with the comments. Then they are given suggestions on ways to improve or polish the work, once again allowing the students to respond. Younger children and beginners will make comments as partners and more experienced students will make comments as a class. Students are encouraged to self access strengths and weaknesses of their own works. This process teaches life skills and the ability to effectively give criticism and determine when they receive criticism, if the comments are personal or objective.

Creative Thinking

What I have discovered in our schools’ art curriculum is the lack of creative thinking. Creative thinking teaches our children how to think out of the box. In our K-12 art programs, everything has to come out beautiful and in the younger grades exactly alike.

We need to move our curriculum to an open-ended approach, teaching our children the process and letting them come up with the final product, which is not always beautiful. The purpose of teaching art is to build skills and to foster meaningful self-expression. Children may produce nothing more than experimentation in mark making, or they may produce powerful pieces that one might label as art.

It is not important whether their work ends up being tossed in a wastebasket or hung on the wall, it is the process, the quality of the experience, and resultant growth of learning that creates the value. We need to focus on building the skills versus making the product.

Art teaches the important skill of sequencing, that a project is not created by a single act. It grows from ideas, knowledge, and skills that develop over time. Art teaches our children to think on their own, that in art, as in life, there are no mistakes, only different ways of seeing. If something goes wrong, they need to look at it from a different angle, from a different perspective. Creative thinking takes courage, teaching creativity teaches our children to generate ideas that ordinary people do not consider.

Theses skills include:

  • Fluency – the ability to generate many ideas
  • Flexibility - the ability to generate ideas in many directions (students who are able to generate many ideas in a wide variety of categories have more options to choose from)
  • Originality – the ability to produce clever or novel responses
  • Elaboration – the ability to expand, develop and embellish products

Creativity is a characteristic developed through problem-solving experiences versus mindless close ended activities. The creative problem solving involves three steps. Through age appropriate activities, students are given ideas to interpret and develop. First, they are presented with a problem as the motivation. Second, they experiment with materials and techniques; and third, they generate multiple ideas to solve the problem. These problem-solving skills are life skills that the students carries over to their] adult lives, wherever their careers take them.


The arts teach perspectives from our past and other cultures, giving students multicultural ways of thinking, not just the western perspective. This is especially important for the United States, since our immigration rate has more than tripled in the last few decades.

The arts consist of a symbol system that is as important as letters and numbers; a language that reaches across cultural barriers. The arts give our children the experience of creating a process from start to finish. The arts develop independent and collaborative thinking. The arts provide reflections and the opportunity to learn how to give and receive criticism. The arts teach our children persistence, discipline, courage, and risk-taking. Which leaves us with the question, “Why are the arts not a core subject”?


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    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Wow, if only we could actually teach these things! I hate living in a Nerf world where everything has to be "normal" and politically correct. Nice job!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 5 years ago from North Texas

      This is a great hub. Fantastic! So helpful to home schoolers, parents in general, and teachers who haven't already learned this. Lots of good information and ideas here, for teaching one's children, and for learning oneself.

      Voted you up, interesting, useful, and awesome!