Article Synopsis and Core Research Questions
This article centers on a study of bilingual learners and the use of creative multimodal activities. Creativity in education helps to build skills in learners such as problem solving, adaptability, critical thinking, motivation, and engagement. This can be especially helpful for teachers working with diverse students, and in a post No Child Left Behind education environment where test scores have been an increased focus, serving economically disadvantaged students requires increased strategy. Students from lower socioeconomic brackets have been shown to be affected by the shift in focus on “factual learning for immediate higher test performance” (p. 274). Creativity and language are closely linked, and this article points out that research suggests bilingual students have “enhanced creativity when compared to monolinguals” (Ricciardelli, 1992). The authors also cite that the learners’ home environment is also important in the creative and divergent thinking process (Kharkhurin, 2010).
The research questions the authors of the study created were:
1) Will an instructional sequence involving expansive literacy activities grounded in learners’ sociocultural realities and mediated by technology result in first grade bilingual students’ enhanced creative performance in writing samples?
2) What are the distinguishing characteristics of creative written products bilingual students generate when invited to share their home and community experiences orally and visually?
The study took place at two public elementary schools, with a total of 93 first graders. There was a study group and a control group. Throughout the course, students were asked to document their family meals, daily activities, and community experiences. They were given low-cost digital cameras to do so. From these photos, they chose the stories they wanted to tell using a variety of formats and themes. The students could use multi-modalities such as creating comics using Comic Life software, drawing paper-based comics, or using talk and thought bubbles to express their stories. The children were told they could use any or all of their languages. The message students received was that their stories were appropriate and worth communicating in school. Before and after the biliteracy curriculum, children were asked to write a story about their families and were given unlimited pieces of blank white paper to do so, without any further instructions.
Quantitative data analysis focused on these before and after stories. An interesting part of the study was that the researchers came up with a way to measure creativity to determine the change in a student’s creativity. Based on other research, they created a rubric that included five elements: Complexity, Richness of Imagery, Richness of Text, Amount of Text, and Expressions of Feelings and Emotions. Two raters assessed the assignments and assigned points in these areas. For example, a story with only images or text with no “add-ons” (e.g., glued pieces of paper) was given 1 point in the area of Complexity, while a story with three references to feelings was given 3 points (the highest rating) in the area of Expressing Feelings and Emotions.
Findings and Conclusions
Analysis of the conducted research demonstrated statistically significant differences in scores across four of the five creativity characteristics– Complexity, Richness of Imagery, Richness of Text, and Amount of Text; both those in the control group and those in the instructional group repeatedly saw increases in frequency of occurrence. The fifth characteristic, Feelings and Emotions, was shown to increase between pre and post testing among those in the instructional group while actually minimally decreasing across that of the control group; while not drastic enough to be significant statistically, this demonstrates that the instructional group intoned more sense of feelings into their writing pieces due to their exposure as opposed to those in the control group who saw a decrease of included emotions.
Overall, findings of the study led researchers to identify several ways in which students increased their creative writing products after participation in biliteracy instruction. The authors noted that “the lack of creativity in the final products generated from students in the control group suggests that creativity, unless it is stimulated and valued, does not spontaneously increase as a result of students’ schooling experiences” (p. 285). Another major find of the study “found that complex writings were enriched by progressively more complex drawings and that written and visual elements were highly integrated and complemented each other” (p. 287).
The authors of this study have made their case for reintroducing literacy pedagogy that “valued students’ cultural and linguistic funds of knowledge” through a blending of home and school and community heritage. There is no question that the intention of the authors and the benefits of the study to the student’s were positive. The concern is in the appearance of bias by the authors who seem to overreach by twice using the quote “Research shows that bilinguals have enhanced creativity when compared to monolinguals” (Ricciardelli, 1992). According to the participants paragraph under the heading methodology, the authors did not include monolingual students in their study. None of the results of the instant study can be claimed to prove a higher instances of creativity in study participants over monolingual students. The study results indicate that the students definitely learned about using technology, increased their ability to express themselves, learned how to appreciate their culture, and increased their observation skills. They also had a terrific learning experience as the authors proudly relate. The authors of this study are making the point that creativity is a missing component in bilingual education research and have used this study to point to the need for more comprehensive studies. The question still remains–why the need to denigrate monolingual students. The authors admit “We focus here in one of our findings: that such pedagogical invitations foster bilingual students’ creativity.” Wouldn’t a similar study of monolingual students show statistically similar results from creative multimodal teaching practices? Nothing that is in the conceptual frameworks, data, findings or results speaks to a lack of creativity by monolinguals as they simply were not included in the study.
Martinez-Alvarez, P., Ghiso, M.P., & Martinez, I. (2013). Creative literacies and learning with Latino emergent bilinguals. LEARNing Landscapes Journal, 11, 273-298. Retrieved from: http://www.learninglandscapes.ca/images/documents/ll-no11/pmalvarez.pdf