Mountains of Creativity, a reflection by Christine Delp

Elijah didn’t want to write a Recipe for a Healthy Lifestyle, the LTP assignment for his 6th grade health class. He also didn’t want to draw a picture from his writing.

“I’ve done this before. This is so boring,” He said, sighing profusely, looking down at his blank piece of blue construction paper with defiance.

Like a handful of the DPS kids at schools where LTP is commonly practiced, Elijah had previously done an LTP workshop over the summer. His flippancy towards the project in his health class was at least partially derived from a sort of “been there, done that” attitude toward LTP.

After both Katie and I sat with him for a few minutes, encouraging him to think about what makes him happy that he could maybe include in the writing piece, Elijah begrudgingly picked up his pencil and completed the assignment, drawing a scene of mountains to accompany his written “ingredient”—10 hikes in the mountains.

A week later, when it was time to take pictures based on the previous week’s drawings, I expected Elijah to balk again at the task’s difficulty—there are no mountains in Durham, I thought nervously as we walked outside.

“There are no mountains in Durham,” said a boy in Elijah’s group, looking at the drawing.

“I know,” said Elijah. “But I can still take a picture.”

Positioning himself against a wooded area, Elijah passed the camera to the other boy, placed his hands on his fists, and threw his shoulders back. His expression settled into the same defiant expression I had seen a week earlier. But this time, his challenging look looked majestic and powerful rather than petty.

There he was, a mountain reconstructed from his own imagination.

The ability to abstract an idea into its very essence indicates a very high level of creative thinking. Elijah struggled with writing a few bullet points about how to live a healthy lifestyle, but when asked to take a photo that for many kids would have been challenging, Elijah thrived, envisioning an image that captured not a mountain’s shape or structure but its aura. And with this construction, Elijah embodied his mountain and his own creative power.

While Elijah may have already been comfortable with the picture-making side of LTP through his past experience at an LTP workshop, the contrast between his hesitancy for the writing assignment and his enthusiasm for picture-making reveals an astuteness for a different kind of creative thinking. Writing a few clever lines in a recipe format about what makes him healthy was clearly not his forte, as it was for many other students in the class. But he was clearly very skilled at another assignment that capitalized on a different type of creative thinking—abstraction.

Being creative is not all about writing or drawing something imaginative or original, although it’s often associated with such a limited understanding. For example, I remember in elementary school being called creative simply because I could draw well. Too often the definition of creativity is watered down to be synonymous with artistic, when in reality, as Elijah exhibits, there are a multitude of ways in which creativity may be expressed.

When we recognize the various types of creativity, we may better appreciate and cultivate the strengths of each student’s own creative flavor. Because of its flexibility and variety in possibility, Literacy through Photography allows children to exercise small moments of creative genius that might otherwise go hidden.

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