Thinking and Creativity in Students
The CoRT lessons: new data from a second experiment
By Giuseppe Tidona
Some years ago, in a rapidly changing school environment, I wondered whether it was possible to give students not only contents but also abilities, capacities. Could that type of school aim at providing processes as well as products? Products are consumed, worn out, but the person who masterminds processes is able to recreate objects at will, according to circumstances.
A popular saying asserts that culture is what one remembers after forgetting everything: but what precisely remains? We know that in some cases what is left is very little, and what's more, it is fragmentary, in other words unconnected with the rest and not related in the least to the real life of the person. This is the reason why what has been learned is not capable of modifying the student's existence in any way or direction.
A second question seemed to me (as well as to many other teachers) as important as the first: in which way can the knowledge conveyed by schools improve students' thinking and creativity, pupils' ability to manipulate the objects of their learning? In reality, the answer to this other question is quite negative: concepts apprehended at school more often than not are inert; they have been assimilated but beyond the specific context in which they have been transmitted, they do not find the application, the elaboration that they should.
This is the reason why some years ago I began to be interested in those programmes explicitly devised to improve thinking and creativity in students: that is, in those programmes that treat thinking and creativity not as a hoped for by-product of the various disciplines, but deal with the above mentioned abilities in a direct way through specific techniques.
I particularly studied the CoRT programme, developed by E. de Bono, not only because it is without any doubt the most widely known and employed, but also for its negligible interference with the "normal" ongoing of the curricular teachings. In other words, it is one of the most easily applicable.
The research literature (in English) on its impact has already testified to the programme's efficacy, but there were no data on the Italian context.
This is the reason why I decided some time ago to gather data as regards the environment I live in. The (positive) results of the first experiment, organized during the 2000/2001 school year, were published in an Italian periodical, Dialogo.
Here I want to present the data drawn from a second experiment, organized during the recently completed school year (2001/2002). Before, though, it is necessary to illustrate how this test was arranged (not differently, in actual fact, from last year).
The I E of the Istituto tecnico statale commerciale "F. Besta" in Ragusa (Italy) was chosen as the test group (in spite of the same reference letter, it is, obviously, a different class from last year's).
The students (the average age was 14 years) were submitted to a double entrance test to measure their reflective and creative abilities at the beginning of the school year.
The first test was intended to assess, in a simple way, their capacity to produce as many ideas as possible once faced with a stimulus. The stimulus was a title (of course, seeing that it was not a linguistic examination, the warning was given that only content mattered, not form): "You tell your parents that you are able to deal with any possible danger when you are outside; therefore they must not get worried. They listen and smile in an ironical way. What do you think about this situation?". The assigned time was 20 minutes.
At the end their ideas would simply be counted, without evaluating them in any way (for the counting criteria, see the first article3): here I can only say that I conceive ideas as thinking units. An idea coincides with an assertion and with its constituents: it is, in other words, the semantic aggregate born out of the same thinking movement, the expressive whole generated by (and intrinsic to) one significant intentionality.
The second pre-test was Williams CT4 (protocol A), which assesses creativity in a more direct way (the Creativity Assessment Packet, of which the Creativity Test- or CT- is part, born in the American context, was recently translated into Italian). To devise a "local" reactive would have implied long procedures, validation problems, etc, which I could not afford given the short time available. Hence the necessity to turn to a readymade "tool". For the criteria about the assignment of points in the CT see the preceding article.5
Both the above tests were administered on 28/9/2001 (that is, at the beginning of the school year, on the same day).
A control group (I B) was contemporaneously chosen, as had happened last year: they were students of the same age (14 years) and, broadly, of the same social "level". The control group was established given a double need: on one hand, to verify in which way the experimental group could be said to be representative as regards the starting abilities, on the other hand, to monitor the "growth" variable, which, in the age of development, can modify data substantially and invalidate any research. Therefore the control group was submitted to the same double entrance verification on 29/9/2001. There was practically no chance that the two classes would exchange ideas and impressions among themselves because they were located at the farthest ends of the school building.
At the end of the treatment period both the experimental group (on 31/5/2002) and the control group (on 30/5/2002) sat a new double test (the post-test), with a similar structure but a different content compared to the first one. The CT was administered in its B protocol, while the stimulus-title for the ideational post-test, even if quite similar to the first, was different: "Speaking with some of your relatives (you choose whom), you say that should the opportunity arise, you would be able to live alone and organize your life well. They, incredulous, shake their heads. What do you think about this situation?"
The students of the two classes that underwent both the double pre-test and post-test were 17 + 17 (students, therefore, that must be added to the 14+14 of last year's classes).
The treatment between pre-test and post-test, as had happened in the 2000/2001 school year, consisted in the teaching of the CoRT lessons in their basic format (CoRT I and CoRT IV), for one hour per week.
At the post-test the students of the experimental group obviously had not been forewarned about it nor were they invited to make use of the CoRT tools: mainly I wanted to monitor the indirect, diffuse effects of the above lessons.
In the following two tables, the pre-test and post-test data of the control group (see table A) and the pre-test and post test data of the experimental group (see table B) are shown. Names are fictitious (see the succeeding pages).
The CT data are composed of the raw points: beyond the absolute value expressed by these numbers, which here are not explicated, it is, in any case, more important and meaningful to compare them.
Control Group (I B)
P r e - t e s t P o s t - t e s t CT Ideational test CT Ideational test Score Number of ideas Score Number of ideas
Giorgio 68 5 68 (=) 6 (+1) Grazia 45 4 32 (-13) 12 (+8) Giuseppina 80 22 82 (+2) 15 (-7) Annamaria 20 8 23 (+3) 6 (-2) Francesca 34 5 39 (+5) 6 (+1) Andrea 74 12 75 (+1) 3 (-9) Marina 29 7 50 (+21) 11(+4) Rina 51 16 59 (+8) 14 (-2) Valeria 76 7 86 (+10) 9 (+2) Stefano 57 13 80 (+23) 15 (+2) Carmelo 33 10 45 (+12) 6 (-4) Cettina 32 8 60 (+28) 8 (=) Saro 35 12 79 (+44) 7 (-5) Roberto 57 12 95 (+38) 7 (-5) Laura 49 12 50 (+1) 9 (-3) Alice 27 6 63 ( +36) 8 (+2) Beppe 40 5 45 ( +5) 11(+6) Ideational pre-test: Williams pre-test: 164 ideas produced by the class Class' total points 807; as a whole; Mean = 47.470 points per Mean = 9.64 ideas per student; student; Standard deviation = 4.575 Standard deviation = 18.078
153 ideas produced by the class as a whole (- 9 compared to pre-test);
Mean = 9 ideas per student;
Standard deviation = 3.395
Class'total points 1031 (+ 224 compared to pre-test);
Mean = 60.647 points per student;
Standard deviation = 19.825
Experimental Group (I E)
P r e - t e s t P o s t - t e s t CT Ideational test CT Ideational test Score Number of ideas Score Number of ideas
Emanuele 40 17 82 (+42) 31 (+14) Salvatore 49 9 89 (+40) 12 (+3) Salvo 35 15 98 (+63) 30 (+15) Lara 44 11 78 (+34) 17 (+6) Sara 41 11 53 (+12) 15 (+4) Ines 48 18 89 (+41) 27 (+9) Alice 54 12 85 (+31) 20 (+8) Pippo 84 17 89 (+5) 24 (+7) Ciccio 29 8 40 (+11) 14 (+6) Gigi 58 13 85 (+27) 16 (+3) Franca 48 15 81 (+33) 27 (+12) Anna 68 37 105 (+37) 39 (+2) Giovanna 80 14 83 (+3) 26 (+12) Mario 33 6 77 (+44) 7 (+1) Liborio 47 4 81 (+34) 19 (+15) Marcello 31 7 71 (+40) 9 (+2) Eleonora 38 3 55 (+17) 9 (+6) Ideational pre-test: Williams pre-test: 217 ideas produced by the class Class' total points 827; as a whole; Mean = 48.647 points per Mean = 12.764 ideas per student; student; Standard deviation = 7.503 Standard deviation = 15.575
342 ideas produced by the class as a whole (+125 compared to pre-test);
Mean = 20.117 idee per student;
Standard deviation = 8.634
Class'total points 1341 (+ 514 compared to pre-test);
Mean = 78.882 points per student;
Standard deviation = 15.874
The post-test was carried out in both classes, for a not sought after coincidence, in a period in which the greatest part of the final exams had ended. Thus the students were relaxed and in a better "mood" than last year. I had already hypothesized6 that should such an occurrence take place the results of experimental groups would have been even better than those obtained in the 2000/2001 school year (+33,7% at CT, +53,8% at the ideational test � of the class as a whole compared to the initial numerical data of pre-test).
This second experimental group, as a matter of fact, has achieved an increase, in the percentage terms of the raw score, of about 62% at CT, and of 58% at the ideational test, compared to the pre-test situation.
The effect size at CT is, according to the Glass formula7, 0.91 (0.71 last year). This statistic (or d) is even higher at the ideational test. They are considerable values.
In order to understand the magnitude of these results fully, maybe it is necessary to offer more familiar reference marks, that is those provided by medicine: without any doubt what happens in the medical field receives a more complete coverage. Suffice to say, cyclosporine was declared as effective against organ rejection when its effect size was estimated at 0.39; the effects of dipyridamole on angina were calculated at 0.24 and thus it was affirmed efficacious; drug treatment against arthritis was deemed as successful when its d was between 0.45 and 0.77. One can report dozens of other examples8.
I must add that the control group too increased its score at the Williams post-test this year, but noticeably to a lower extent (see table A), something that had not happened last year (as a matter of fact, the performance of the control group at Williams post-test had even worsened).
I must hypothesize that the more relaxed atmosphere in which the post-test took place favoured better performances in both groups at Williams CT, even though none of them during the school year had practised graphic activities (the CT consists mainly in sketching some drawings, apart from a small section called titles).
It is clear that the (lower) increase in the control group must be interpreted as a consequence of the growth factor and of the relaxed atmosphere, while the (more substantial) gain in the experimental group must be attributed (except a small amount due to the growth factor) to the diffuse effects of the CoRT lessons (which, as it was stated before, are mainly composed of exercises of a verbal nature).
Examining table A one is struck by the fact that, even in the presence of a calm and serene climate (contrary to last year), the control group loses score for the second year running at the ideational post-test.
One must assume that the control group, in spite of the favourable environment (which converted itself into an adequate performance at CT, given that it can be seen as some enjoyable game!), cannot demonstrate the same potential at the end of the school year as at the beginning, when composing an essay, because of some sort of school saturation effect.
One must also infer that the experimental group, instead, thanks to the CoRT lessons, acquires a special taste for the production of ideas and for thinking, which persists in every condition!
I referred to the diffuse effects of the CoRT lessons. In my opinion, intelligence should be seen as the function of functions, in which various components interact among themselves and influence one another. But the functions at same level are not the only ones to condition themselves reciprocally: I think that the inferior functions have an influence on the superior ones and drive them (and vice versa, of course).
This is the reason why some training in a specific cognitive area affects other areas beneficially too (leaving aside the question whether to talk of multiple intelligences, as some do, is appropriate or not). And this is the same reason why, in my opinion, the use of the CoRT tools has had such an impact on an area (as that monitored by Williams CT) that someone could say to pertain exclusively to spatial intelligence9.
I think that a very sensitive and important hinge among the various functions is self-esteem (which, then, has to do with intelligence). If the psychological perception of oneself is improved, the rest, as several studies show, to a great extent, is developed too.
Marzano10, for instance, on the basis of one piece of his very famous meta-research, concerning the real effects on learning of the various new methodologies introduced experimentally in the American school system, concludes that all the techniques that in some way benefit the self-system (which is defined as the mind control centre) have very positive effects. Even better than those that at a first glance might be thought of as more direct and efficacious: this is because self-beliefs condition all the rest.
According to Marzano the meta-cognitive system for its importance must be placed beside the self-system: it directs and rules learning.
On the basis of my experience and of the anecdotal evidence gathered, I hold that the CoRT lessons give the essential tools for controlling one's cognition, that is they pertain to the meta-cognitive domain, while at the same time offering a substantial contribution to self-esteem, that is they concern the self-system.
The person using the tools from the above mentioned lessons acquires a method and a taste for thinking, for treating ideas and sooner or later will say to himself or herself: "I can do it, thinking is not boring or a thing for super intelligent people, I can make an effort myself". This taste for thinking is then transferred to many other areas.
It may happen that the greatest immediate effects are reached in those types of assessment such as the ideational test and in those parameters such as Williams titles, which are more directly linked to the CoRT exercises carried out in class, but this is not very important if the good results unfold then in any area.
I want to express some final considerations on the possible relations among the various parameters singled out, as far as creativity is concerned, by many scholars and present as score bands in Williams CT, which was used in the present experiment (mine are only hypotheses, seeing that data are not sufficient to state irrefutable conclusions). The parameters to which I refer are fluidity, flexibility, originality and elaboration. To them Williams has added titles.
If we analyse the score of both experimental groups in the Williams CT various segments, we shall see that, for the second year running, the most substantial increases have been achieved in flexibility, titles, fluidity (the ideational test too was conceived by me as a fluidity test) and elaboration. Originality has always been the last. It is true that last year originality was among the parameters with the highest numbers in the experimental group, but only in absolute terms and not in relative percentage terms. In percentage terms it has always contributed with the lowest portion to the overall increase.
On the contrary, both last year and this year the increase in the control groups in the points regarding originality has given an appreciable contribution to their final score: last year even in the presence of an overall diminution, this year in the presence of a certain gain, to which originality has contributed in an important way.
This phenomenon can be given the interpretation (which is also in accordance with my experience) that fluidity, flexibility and elaboration are more conceptually linked among themselves than it has been discovered until now. Titles (present in Williams CT) are excluded from present considerations because they do not constitute a real, independent parameter, seeing that they are a bit of everything.
Fluidity requires flexibility, that is the ability to change one's point of view, in the same way as flexibility needs the capacity to go on, numerousness; both then are linked to elaboration, for it is not possible to possess the above mentioned abilities without the right terms to express them, but one cannot have the words to communicate anything if there are no ideas to convey. Therefore I think that they are the key to creativity.
The person who cultivates these segments owns the secret of creativity; originality can be improved, but as an effect of the above sketched out parameters. A technique to teach originality per se does not exist (and could not exist). If fluidity, flexibility, elaboration are advanced, self-esteem and a better knowledge of one's mental processes (that is meta-cognition) are developed too, and as a consequence one can have originality.
Originality has two peculiar aspects: first of all it is very difficult to define (should it be spell out in statistical terms? Should it be spotted on the basis of appreciation from experts? Or on the distance among areas and elements that have been associated? etc, etc). Therefore, any theoretical construct aimed at measuring it presents serious validation problems. Secondly it shows a more eccentric evolution: given certain conditions, chance, growth, various emotional situations can contribute to its increase on natural (but accidental) bases. It is what has happened in the two control groups. But, in this way, one cannot have regular originality: it might be generated by intuition, by the odd moments of special grace, etc., etc.
Therefore I maintain that of the four parameters of Williams construct (derived in good measure from other scholars), that is fluidity, flexibility, originality and elaboration, the first, the second and the fourth are more linked from a theoretical point of view to process than product, the third instead being associated to a greater extent with product.
For the theoretical and practical problems mentioned above, it is not possible to teach the original things to invent, and the innovative theories to refine directly to another person (should anyone claim to be able to do this, they would resemble those people that spread the voice of having found foolproof systems to win prizes in the lottery: if it were true, obviously, they would keep the secret to themselves!).
We can instead teach people how to mobilize resources with which every one of us is endowed, what tools to use along the way, etc.
After all, it is perfectly possible to teach a process and this is more important than the product.
The will to make an effort, the wish to experiment is more valuable, as far as personal growth is concerned, than to generate something truly original, unique (which will come, if it comes).
For the second year running the CoRT lessons, taught for only one hour per week to students of 14 years of age attending a secondary school, have had very significant effects on the development of thinking and creative abilities, as they have been assessed by the two tests administered at the end of the experience.
If these two studies are considered together with the rich research developed mainly in the Anglo-Saxon environment, I think that it is possible to conclude convincingly that the tools, to develop those abilities such as thinking and creativity that will be more and more appreciated by the society of the forthcoming future, exist.
What remains to be done is to convince others of the importance of these capacities and to let everyone know that the methods to develop them are there.