Creation, Synthesis, and Replication in Schools

Creativity in Schools - The Mafost Monthly Blog for Principals and School Leaders - Feature

Is it possible that the creative process is rarely found in schools?

Would you agree that the creation process is one of the most valuable thinking processes a student can go through?

But is it really present in today’s schools?

Let’s dig into the creative process, the role of synthesis, and the danger of replication in schools.

Creation in Schools

Thinking, rigor, and discussing - how do we increase creativity in schools?

There’s a lot of work and discussion currently on the use of questioning strategies in classrooms. And that work focuses on the rigor and thinking involved. It focuses on cognition and analytical processes.

This often results (or seeks to result) in rich academic discourse and sometimes even analytical writing from students.

But is that the same as creation?

Are talking and writing the same thinking processes as those use in creativity?

When we move beyond thinking and discussing, into actually producing new work, there’s a different type of emotional engagement that’s involved. Both can be accompanied by endorphins, which can confuse the nature of the work.

Both types of work feel the same because the same hormones are present, but the processes are different.

Flow in Classrooms

What is flow? It's the creation process where a student is absorbed in her work.

Think about the last time you observed a student in a state of flow. That state where they’re engrossed in their work and time seems to fly by them. Nothing can distract their attention.

Engagement almost doesn’t even describe it.

Marriage is more accurate of a description – glued to the process, inseparable from the process.

Now contrast that to an engaging and rigorous discussion in class. Students are engaged yes, but it’s usually momentary. Normally not something that lasts for 40-90 minutes straight.

Mafost Mashup Episode 83: Fear and Creativity

The emotional engagement that accompanies the creation process builds different neural networks than the types of engagement that accompany rigorous and complex discussion.

Academic engagement is not the same as creative engagement.

Both are good for classrooms, but I think there’s an immense value inherent in the creative process.

Synthesis and Creative Thinking

How do students engage in creativity and synthesis in schools?

When schools first started using Bloom’s taxonomy, educators were excited to read through and share the different levels…

  • knowledge
  • comprehension
  • application
  • analysis
  • evaluation

Yep…we kind of skipped over that one.

What was it?


Even the updated version of Bloom’s, (preview it here, A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing) doesn’t even mention the word synthesis. It’s too foreign of a word for education.

Yet synthesis is the basis of almost all creative thought.

Synthesis is the process of taking what’s already there and combining it and manipulating it in ways so that something new is formed.

Synthesis is often the exact process that creators go through. Very rarely does someone create something straight from a “blank canvas”.

Synthesis in a classroom is wonderful. Very few tests ask students to engage in synthesis, yet the most powerful economic and innovative forces begin with synthesis.

Synthesis is also a wonderful process for teams to go through because it helps them to experience the creation process.

Synthesis: Reflection Questions

  • What opportunities do you create in your school for teams of teachers to work in the synthesis process?
  • What opportunities do you create for your leadership team to synthesize and to create?
  • How do you set expectations for creation and synthesis in your classrooms?

Very few tests ask students to engage in synthesis, yet the most powerful economic and innovative forces begin with synthesis.

Replication in Schools

It’s likely that if you did a walk-through of 100 classrooms, you would find 70 to 90 of them working in the replication process.

Replication is similar to synthesis just without the creation process.

This would include teachers modeling how to do something and students replicating that model (this is not the same as effective modeling during direct instruction). It also includes students listening to each other and replicating the same ideas, which is very common during academic discussions!

Replication does not involve the same emotional engagement as creation.

Replication doesn’t involve the same gathering of ideas, making connections, and forming something new.

I suppose a synonym for replication is regurgitation. We’ve long dismissed the idea of regurgitating as meaningful learning.

Yet we see replication all throughout education today both in practice, in school missions, in assessment, and in the curriculum.

Replication: Reflection Questions

  • How do we move from an educational system of replication to an educational system of creation?
  • How do you model the creation process as a leader in your campus?
  • How do you empower your teams and teachers to engage in synthesis and creation at your school?
  • How can we set expectations for classroom instruction to be geared towards the creation process?

Lead the Creation Process

If you’re a school leader and you believe in leading by doing, I encourage you to consider this creation-oriented opportunity at Principal Tribe.

What Are Your Thoughts?

How do you promote creativity in classrooms? What hurdles are in the way of promoting creativity in schools? Leave a comment below.