The treasure of creative instruction and artful training

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  • 8 MAY/JUNE 2005

    What are creative instruction and artful training? Consider this example.Ms. Pollock, a trainer of physical therapy assistants, wanted her studentsto learn how to assess elderly patients. However, because she couldntfind many aged clients for assessment practice, Pollock appeared in class

    as 84-year-old Aunt Tippi. She put on a gray wig and Halloween makeup to simulatefacial wrinkles. She padded her dress to add curvature to her back. She dressed in asweater because, as Aunt Tippi explained later, she is always cold. She walked with thegait of a person who had recently had hip replacement surgery. She used a cane, as sherevealed, not because she needed it, but because she is afraid of falling. She bandaged herhand because of a laceration to her fragile skin. She wore support hose through whichher students could see the varicose veins she painted on her legs.

    Her students did a double take when she first appeared. After a few giggles, the class gotto the business of assessment. They asked, Aunt Tippi, what is your day like? What doyou do first? She said, I do my exercises. What sort? My stretches. Could youshow us? She stretched and revealed a limited range of motion. Then Aunt Tippi toldabout her breakfast. What pills do you take? She spilled half a dozen pill containersout of her purse. She explained the contents of each bottle and admitted, SometimesI mix them up or forget to take them. She told how she gets help shopping because sheisnt strong enough to carry packages and how difficult it is for her to open jars.Throughout the assessment Pollock maintained her role as Aunt Tippi. After a quickchange, Pollock returned to the classroom to debrief the practice. In this way, her stu-dents completed an acceptable assessment of a geriatric client and did so in a serious,respectful, and professional manner (J. Pollock, personal communication, 1998).

    Is Pollocks instruction creative and artful? Is it original? Commonly, we associate original-ity with creativity (Hallman, 1967; Hayes, 1981; Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). It follows that wemight expect creative instruction to consist of a new style or method of instruction.However, there are few, if any, training methods that are new. Hence, to be considered cre-ative instruction or artful training, an approach must only be relatively original rather thanbeing absolutely original. That is, the instructional method must be new for the designer,or new for the group, department, agency, or field involved.

    TheTreasure of CreativeInstruction and Artful Training

    by Stephen Yelon

  • How original was Pollocks training procedure? Frankly, itwas not new in the general sense. For example, I observedmedical educators using simulated patients to teach assess-ment more than 30 years ago. But using a simulated patientwas new for Pollock. It was new for her course and her pro-gram. Maybe it was new for the field of physical therapisttraining. Thus, Pollocks instruction was creative and art-fulnot because it was absolutely new, but because it wasrelatively original.

    Artful instruction is more than relatively original. It must beseen as valuable for work outside the classroom (Hayes,1981). Artful instruction requires the balance of freshnessand function. For example, although it may be relativelyoriginal for me to ask trainees to stand on their heads whilethey learn how to do a needs analysis, that procedure doesnot serve the instructional purpose. Hence, artful instruc-tion is not an isolated attention-getting gimmick. Instead, itfulfills a suitable instructional purpose. Thus, Pollocksapproach was artful not only for its relative originality, butbecause it served the essential instructional functions ofpractice and feedback. It was an integral part of her trainingprogram directed toward her courses objectives.

    But originality and functionality are not sufficient attributesfor training to be considered artful. To be classified as artful,instructional results have to go well beyond the ordinary.The consequences must be memorable, inspirational,and/or elegant.

    Learners must recall the instruction and its lessons for thelong term. To produce this enduring memory, instructionmust be novel, surprising, incongruous, clever, or meaning-ful (Yelon, 1996; Gage & Berliner, 1992). For example, yearsafter graduation, my daughter Debbie still remembers thedetails and the point of her first course in cell biology. Herprofessor announced, Today we are going to construct acell. First we will need the cell wall. He snapped open alarge black plastic garbage bag. Next we will need thelibrary of the cell, the DNA. He threw a large biology textinto the bag. We must have the reticular structure. Hetossed in coils of laboratory tubing. We must have thenucleus, the power generator of the cell. He dropped in anold fish tank motor. We will need some chlorophyll. Hethrew in two heads of iceberg lettuce. We must have thecytoplasm. He poured two pitchers of water into the bag.He tied off the top of the garbage bag. He shook up the con-tents, held it above his head and said, We have all theingredients. But do we have a cell? No! We dont have theorganization and the structure that the cell must have tofunction. And that is what we will study now (D. Yelon,personal communication, 1996).

    To be considered inspirational, learners must report that theinstruction appealed to and elevated their spirit and emo-tion, their insight, or their aesthetic sense. For example,

    nurse trainees were inspired to provide more compassionatecare for elderly patients by the introduction to Dr. Ruskinsinstructional session (Ruskin, 1983). Ruskin began by ask-ing the nurses how it would feel to treat a specific patient.He presented the case of a white female. She does not speak,nor does she understand what is said. She is disoriented.She must be fed pureed food because she has no teeth. Shewakes and screams at night. During waking hours she bab-bles or becomes agitated. She cries and does not stop untilcomforted. The patient is incontinent and has to be changedand cleaned frequently.

    When the nurses were asked how they would feel when car-ing for this patient, they said they would feel frustrated,hopeless, depressed, and annoyed (Ruskin, 1983, p. 2440).Ruskin then told the audience that he enjoyed caring for thispatient and believed they would, too. The nurses wereincredulous until he revealed the patient he described washis 6-month-old daughter. After the surprise, a good laugh,and some discussion, the nurses realized that the elderlyadult had the same symptoms as an infant and their frustra-tion was mostly due to perception and prejudices. Ruskinsummarized their insight and inspiration.

    The infant, the nurses agreed, represents new life,hope, and almost infinite potential. The dementedsenior citizen, on the other hand, represents the end oflife, with little potential for growth. We need tochange our perspective. The aged patient is just as lov-able as the child. Those who are ending their lives inthe helplessness of old age deserve the same care andattention as those who are beginning their lives in thehelplessness of infancy. (Ruskin, 1983, p. 2440)

    To be thought of as elegant, the instruction must be seen ashighly refined and ingeniously simple. For example, Dr.Allison wanted his students to recall the characteristics ofviruses. However, instead of giving the typical assignment,drawing a chart of the types of viruses, he asked his studentsto create a new virus. They were to describe its structure,how it entered the host organism, where it lodged, how itreproduced, and how it spread. Of course, to create a newvirus, the students would have to study every aspect ofknown viruses. For his clever and elegant assignmentAllisons colleagues paid him the ultimate campus compli-ment: I wish I had thought of that (anonymous colleaguesof R. Allison, personal communication, 1998).

    Was Pollocks Aunt Tippi practice memorable, inspira-tional, or elegant? I believe that Pollocks physical therapystudents would likely remember Aunt Tippis surpriseappearance and the lessons they learned about assessmentin years to come. I also believe that Pollocks studentswould be inspired to provide compassionate professionalwork by their interaction with Aunt Tippi. In addition, Ifeel that Pollocks portrayal of Aunt Tippi was highlyrefined; it was planned to the last detail and included all

    Performance Improvement Volume 44 Number 5 9

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    the clues students needed for their assessment. Yet her depic-tion was a simple and a functional approach to practice.

    Seeking the Treasure

    How are creative instruction and artful training generated? Toproduce relatively original, instructionally functional, andextraordinarily productive training, conditions must allow fordivergent thinking and must apply principles of creativity asdisplayed in Figure 1. The specific components of the modelin Figure 1 are based on classic writings such as those ofHallman (1967) and Biondi (1972), as well as modernresearchers such as Csikszentmihalyi (1996) and Korth (2000).

    In Figure 1 there are personal and environmental conditionsthat further the use of divergent thinking. As noted in thefirst column, an artful instructor is confident and willing totake a risk and is able to arrange the environment to makethe opportunities to think.

    To be confident and willing to take a risk, you must be pre-pared. You must be highly motivated to help others learn;possess extensive knowledge of ordinary yet effective train-ing principles and procedures; and be willing to strive forexcellence (Hallman, 1967; Hayes, 1980; Csikszentmihalyi1996). With these characteristics you will be more likely totake chances using new ideas and to overcome the anxietygenerated by moments of indecision.