Friday, 12 January 2018

is there a link between adhd and creative thinking?

We tend to stigmatise 'abnormal behaviour':
Jay Doubleyou: how normal behavoiur becomes a mental disorder

Especially those 'on the spectrum':

Is There a Link between ADHD and Creative Thinking?

ADHD symptoms correspond with improved performance on tasks that involve divergent, or “out-of-the-box” thinking.
Peter Gray
by  Peter Gray
I happened across a research article the other day that reported a surprising, counterintuitive finding that got me thinking about a number of things — ADHD, its possible relationship to creativity, and the evolution of intelligence. Let me explain.
ADHD and Group Work
In an experiment, inclusion of a person with ADHD greatly improved the problem-solving ability of groups, even though it led to more off-task behavior.
The groups containing an ADHD student were far more likely to solve the problems than were the control groups! 

The article was by Sydney Zentall and colleagues (2011), at Purdue University. They were interested in the social behaviors of children with symptoms of ADHD and how those behaviors might affect the actions of those with whom they were interacting. To conduct the experiment, they formed groups consisting of three middle-school students per group. The experimental groups contained one student with ADHD symptoms and two without such symptoms, and the control groups contained only students without the symptoms.
In order to give the groups something to interact about, they presented each with two problems to solve — the same two problems for each group. The problems were such that solving them required both insight and logic. The researchers’ primary interest was in the cooperative and apparently uncooperative ways the individuals in each group interacted with one another as they attempted to solve the problems.
Here’s what they found concerning social interactions. As predicted, the ADHD students often made irrelevant and uncooperative comments, which diverted the group’s attention away from the problem to be solved. This kind of behavior was contagious; the non-ADHD students in the experimental groups also showed less cooperative and more off-task behavior than did the non-ADHD students in the control groups. So far this all points against the value of including someone with ADHD in your group.
But now, here’s the surprising finding. The groups containing an ADHD student were far more likely to solve the problems than were the control groups! In fact, 14 of the 16 groups (88%) containing an ADHD student solved both problems, and none (0%) of the 6 control groups did. This result was significant at the p < .0001 level, meaning that there is less than one chance in 10,000 that such a large difference, with this many groups, would occur by chance.
Degrees of cooperation and disruption
What is going on here? How is it that the groups that were least cooperative and apparently most off-task were able to solve the problems so much more reliably than the highly cooperative groups without an ADHD-disrupter?
The authors of the article give us no clue, at least not in this article. Their main purpose was to score the degree of cooperation and disruption going on, and those results fit their prediction — the ADHD-contaminated groups behaved in ways that appeared less cooperative and less task-oriented than the non-contaminated groups.
The researchers weren’t particularly interested, in this study, in whether or not the groups actually solved the problems. They reported the problem-solving results as unpredicted and surprising, but did not discuss them at all. Their methodology included no observations concerning the actual contributions that each group participant played toward solving the problem. Were the ADHD kids solving the problems themselves? Or were they contributing some unique insight that then helped the others solve the problems? Or were the ADHD kids, perhaps by way of their “disruptive behavior,” loosening the thinking of the whole group, which improved everyone’s problem-solving ability?
I should note that the “ADHD students” in this experiment were not students who had officially been diagnosed with ADHD. Rather, they were students who were scored by their teachers as having the characteristics of ADHD, using the official diagnostic checklist, but had never been labeled so by a physician. An advantage of this over using officially diagnosed ADHD students is that none of them were taking the stimulant drugs typically used as treatment. So these were non-drugged students with ADHD-like characteristics.
The results led me to wonder if there is other research indicating that peoples with ADHD symptoms are better than others at solving certain kinds of problems. So I did a little digging into the research literature, and here is what I found.
ADHD symptoms improve "out-of-the-box" thinking and interfere with "in-the-box" thinking
It turns out that quite a few research studies have been conducted to compare ADHD participants with non-ADHD participants in problem-solving ability. Indeed, Zentall has been involved in some of that work. In one study, he and colleagues found that teenagers who had been identified as “gifted” and who also showed symptoms of ADHD scored higher on the Torrence Tests of Creative Thinking (a standard test of creativity) than did similarly gifted, non-ADHD teenagers (Fugate, Zentall, & Gentry, 2013).
Another study found that 40% of 10–12 year-olds who had been previously identified as highly creative displayed ADHD symptoms at levels sufficiently high as to warrant a diagnosis of the “disorder” (Healy & Rucklidge, 2006). Another study found that ADHD children told more richly imaginative stories than did non-ADHD children (Zentall, 1988). Another found that ADHD teenagers were better at coming up with novel ideas for new toys and were less constrained by examples of old toys than were non-ADHD teenagers (Abraham et al., 2006). Another found that ADHD college students outperformed non-ADHD students in the Unusual Uses Task (where you think of unusual uses for objects (White & Shah, 2006).
ADHD students generally perform poorly in school, because school involves almost entirely in-the-box thinking.

Another study found that ADHD college students preferred problems that involve generating new ideas, while non-ADHD students preferred problems that involve elaborating upon or extending old ideas (White & Shag, 2011). Another study found that children who had been diagnosed with ADHD performed better on a test of creative elaboration when they were off of Ritalin (the drug used to treat the “disorder”) than when they were on Ritalin (Swartwood et al., 2003).
Taking all of the research together, the studies indicate that ADHD symptoms correspond with improved performance on tasks that involve divergent, or “out-of-the-box” thinking, but interfere with tasks that involve convergent, or “in-the-box” thinking. ADHD students generally perform poorly in school, because school involves almost entirely in-the-box thinking. In fact, thinking out of the box can get you in trouble in school.
So, here’s my hypothesis about what was going on in those groups of middle-school children that contained someone with ADHD symptoms: The ADHD kid was generating new ideas about how to solve the problem, and the non-ADHD kids were following through on those ideas in a more focused way to see which ones would actually work. So, even though a lot of tomfoolery was going on in those groups, efficient problem-solving still occurred. In contrast, the groups with no ADHD kid may have been stuck in the mud because nobody was coming up with new ways of trying to solve the problem. They kept persisting — in a highly cooperative, focused, and teacher-pleasing way — on a route that seemed most obvious but wasn’t working. I wonder if this hypothesis could be tested in a new analysis of the videotapes from that study.
Studies indicate that ADHD symptoms correspond with improved performance on tasks that involve divergent, or “out-of-the-box” thinking.

The concept of group intelligence, and a theory about the evolution of intelligence

Now I move on to a much larger point, about the nature of intelligence and its evolution. We think of intelligence as belonging to an individual person. We measure it in individuals and give it a number. Intelligence tests were first developed as a means of predicting school performance, and in schools, as we generally know them, problem-solving is almost always done by individuals, not by groups.
I suggest here that, from an evolutionary perspective, it makes more sense to think of intelligence as a product of the group rather than a product of the individual. During all but a tiny recent portion of our evolutionary history, we were all hunter-gatherers; and research on hunter-gatherers indicates that essentially all of their problem-solving was done by groups (see, for example, Gray, 2009). Men tracked and hunted in groups, and to do so they had to solve many very difficult intellectual problems. Indeed, a whole book has been written on the theme that the mental skills involved in tracking mark the origin of science (Liebenberg, 1990). As pointed out by Wannenburgh (1979), the men involved in tracking would discuss and test various hypotheses about the meaning of the scant signs in the sand, or the way a particular branch was bent, in order to determine such issues as the species, size, speed of movement of the animal and the time of day that it had passed that spot. Similarly, women generally worked in groups to decide where and what to gather on a given day, based on cues as to what might be available in the area where they were foraging. In the evening, around the campfire, all of them would be involved in making decisions that affected the whole band, such as whether or not it was time to move on to a new campsite and where that campsite might be.
It’s easy to understand why problem-solving in these situations would be facilitated by including people with diverse cognitive styles. In particular, in relation to the ADHD research, it would seem valuable to have one or more persons in your group whose attention is easily distracted and who, therefore, shifts quickly from one observation or idea to another. In the hunting group, that’s the person who would notice a bit of fur stuck to a thorn, which the others had missed because they were so busy focusing on and debating about the mark in the sand. That’s also the person who might hear a tiger in the distance, and warn the others, who had missed that because it was irrelevant to the immediate problem they were trying to solve. Sometimes the ADHD guy can save the lives of the more studious, stuck-in-the-mud non-ADHD individuals.
I am suggesting that, historically, intelligence was the product of a network of minds working together, sometimes at odds with one another. And, in many, if not most cases outside of school, that is still true today.
I have a long-time friend who is famous for his ability to put together great scientific teams. He currently heads a science department at one of the world's most prestigious universities. I once asked him for his opinion about what makes a good scientist. I don’t remember his exact words, but the gist was something like this: 
Science is really a group enterprise. One person might get the Nobel Prize for something, but that person always benefitted from the work and ideas of others. You need some people who are basically good stamp collectors. They just like to collect and organize things. You need others who like to monkey around with equipment. They are the ones who work out practical ways to do the research you want to do. You need others who are kind of impractical and wild in their thinking. They come up with all sorts of ideas, many of them crazy, but some of them not so crazy, some even brilliant. Then you need people who are good at sorting through ideas to see which ones fit the facts and to follow them up logically with well-designed studies. 
I suspect that the research teams my friend has built are not devoid of people with symptoms of ADHD.

Is There a Link between ADHD and Creative Thinking? - Foundation for Economic Education - Working for a free and prosperous world

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

how teaching interferes with learning

Children can be their own best teachers:
Jay Doubleyou: we are now entering the 'imagination age' >>> schooling was for the industrial era, unschooling is for the future
Jay Doubleyou: education happens beyond the classroom
Jay Doubleyou: why schools don't produce well-educated minds
Jay Doubleyou: the most schooled generation in history is miserable
Jay Doubleyou: homeschooling more popular in usa
Jay Doubleyou: can children teach themselves - using technology?

John Holt wrote extensively on the subject:
Jay Doubleyou: john holt

Here's an excellent piece on his approach, still very relevant today:

How Teaching Interferes with Learning

John Holt's "How Children Learn" is still as relevant as ever.
Peter Gray
by  Peter Gray
In a survey we conducted a few years ago, Gina Riley and I asked unschooling families to name the writers whose works had influenced them most in their decision to take that route. John Holt was by far the most often cited, named by more than half of the 232 families in the survey (see here or here). Holt died in 1985, of cancer at the too-young age of 62. Yet he continues to exert great influence.
My colleague Pat Farenga, who has managed Holt’s legacy ever since his death, recently oversaw the publication of the 50th-anniversary edition of what to me is Holt’s most significant book, How Children Learn (Da Capo Press, 2017). I read the first edition decades ago, without full appreciation, before I had begun my own research into children’s learning.
Standard schooling will be replaced by centers designed to optimize children’s natural ways of learning.

Rereading the book now led me repeatedly to think, How true, How brilliant, How sad. Sad because these true facts and brilliant insights are still understood by only a small percentage of the population, and our schools are now even worse than they were when Holt was alive. They are even more anxiety provoking, more wasteful of young people’s time, more insulting of young people's intelligence, and more disruptive of deep learning and understanding.
But yet I’m optimistic, as I think Holt might be if he were alive today, because even though the percentage who understand that children learn best when allowed to control their own learning remains small, that percentage is growing. It is reflected in the ever-increasing number of families who are choosing to take their children out of standard schools for Self-Directed Education or something close to it.
A growing number of parents are seeing the light of children’s brilliance and are choosing to allow it to shine. Eventually, I think, we will reach a tipping point, where the rate of school-leaving accelerates sharply. Then what we now call standard schooling will die of irrelevance, replaced by centers designed to optimize children’s natural ways of learning (see here or here).
Some of Holts’s Insights into Children’s Learning
Holt was an astute and brilliant observer of children. If he had studied some species of animal, instead of human children, we would call him a naturalist. He observed children in their natural, free, might I even say wild condition, where they were not being controlled by a teacher in a classroom or an experimenter in a laboratory. This is something that far too few developmental psychologists or educational researchers have done. He became close to and observed the children of his relatives and friends when they were playing and exploring, and he observed children in schools during breaks in their formal lessons. Through such observations, he came to certain profound conclusions about children's learning. Here is a summary of them, which I extracted from the pages of How Children Learn.
• Children don’t choose to learn in order to do things in the future. They choose to do right now what others in their world do, and through doing they learn.
Schools try to teach children skills and knowledge that may benefit them at some unknown time in the future. But children are interested in now, not the future. They want to do real things now. By doing what they want to do they also prepare themselves wonderfully for the future, but that is a side effect. This, I think, is the main insight of the book; most of the other ideas are more or less corollaries. 
Children are brilliant learners because they don’t think of themselves as learning; they think of themselves as doing. They want to engage in whole, meaningful activities, like the activities they see around them, and they aren’t afraid to try. They want to walk, like other people do, but at first, they aren’t good at it. So they keep trying, day after day, and their walking keeps getting better. They want to talk, like other people do, but at first, they don’t know about the relationships of sounds to meanings. Their sentences come across to us as babbled nonsense, but in the child’s mind, he or she is talking (as Holt suggests, on p 75). Improvement comes because the child attends to others’ talking, gradually picks up some of the repeated sounds and their meanings, and works them into his or her own utterances in increasingly appropriate ways.
The child isn’t learning to do these; he or she is doing them, right from the beginning, and in the process is getting better at them.
As children grow older they continue to attend to others' activities around them and, in unpredictable ways at unpredictable times, choose those that they want to do and start doing them. Children start reading, because they see that others read, and if they are read to they discover that reading is a route to the enjoyment of stories. Children don’t become readers by first learning to read; they start right off by reading. They may read signs, which they recognize. They may recite, verbatim, the words in a memorized little book, as they turn the pages; or they may turn the pages of an unfamiliar book and say whatever comes to mind. We may not call that reading, but to the child, it is reading. Over time, the child begins to recognize certain words, even in new contexts, and begins to infer the relationships between letters and sounds. In this way, the child’s reading improves.
Walking, talking, and reading are skills that pretty much everyone picks up in our culture because they are so prevalent. Other skills are picked up more selectively, by those who somehow become fascinated by them. Holt gives an example of a six-year-old girl who became interested in typing, with an electric typewriter (this was the 1960s). She would type fast, like the adults in her family, but without attention to the fact that the letters on the page were random. She would produce whole documents this way. Over time she began to realize that her documents differed from those of adults in that they were not readable, and then she began to pay attention to which keys she would strike and to the effect this had on the sheet of paper. She began to type very carefully rather than fast. Before long she was typing out readable statements.
You and I might say that the child is learning to walk, talk, read, or type; but from the child’s view that would be wrong. The child is walking with the very first step, talking with the first cooed or babbled utterance, reading with the first recognition of “stop” on a sign, and typing with the first striking of keys. The child isn’t learning to do these; he or she is doing them, right from the beginning, and in the process is getting better at them.
My colleague Kerry McDonald made this point very well recently in an essay about her young unschooled daughter who loves to bake (here). In Kerry’s words, “When people ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, she responds breezily, 'A baker, but I already am one.'”
• Children go from whole to parts in their learning, not from parts to whole.
This clearly is a corollary of the point that children learn because they are motivated to do the things they see others do. They are, of course, motivated to do whole things, not pieces abstracted out of the whole. They are motivated to speak meaningful sentences, not phonemes. Nobody speaks phonemes. They are motivated to read interesting stories, not memorize grapheme-phoneme relationships or be drilled on sight words.
As Holt points out repeatedly, one of our biggest mistakes in schools is to break tasks down into components and try to get children to practice the components isolated from the whole. In doing so we turn what would be meaningful and exciting into something meaningless and boring. Children pick up the components (e.g. grapheme-phoneme relationships) naturally, incidentally, as they go along in their exciting work of doing things that are real, meaningful, and whole.
• Children learn by making mistakes and then noticing and correcting their own mistakes.
Children are motivated not just to do what they see others do, but to do those things well. They are not afraid to do what they cannot yet do well, but they are not blind to the mismatches between their own performance and that of the experts they see around them. So, they start right off doing, but then, as they repeat what they did, they work at improving.
We don’t need to correct children because they are very good at correcting themselves.
In Holt’s words (p 34), “Very young children seem to have what could be called an instinct of Workmanship. We tend not to see it, because they are unskillful and their materials are crude. But watch the loving care with which a little child smooths off a sand cake or pats and shapes a mud pie.” And later (p 198), “When they are not bribed or bullied, they want to do whatever they are doing better than they did it before.”
We adults have a strong tendency to correct children, to point out their mistakes, in the belief that we are helping them learn. But when we do this, according to Holt, we are in effect belittling the child, telling the child that he or she isn't doing it right and we can do it better. We are causing the child to feel judged, and therefore anxious, thereby taking away some of his or her fearlessness about trying this or any other new activity. We may be causing the child to turn away from the very activity that we wanted to support. When a child first starts an activity, the child can’t worry about mistakes, because to do so would make it impossible to start. Only the child knows when he or she is ready to attend to mistakes and make corrections.
Holt points out that we don’t need to correct children because they are very good at correcting themselves. They are continually trying to improve what they do, on their own schedules, in their own ways. As illustration, Holt described his observation of a little girl misreading certain words as she read a story aloud, but then she corrected her own mistakes in subsequent re-readings, as she figured out what made sense and what didn’t. In Holt’s words (p 140), “Left alone, not hurried, not made anxious, she was able to find and correct most of the mistakes herself.”
• Children may learn better by watching older children than by watching adults.
Holt points out that young children are well aware of the ways that they are not as competent as the adults around them, and this can be a source of shame and anxiety, even if the adults don't rub it in. He writes (p 123), “Parents who do everything well may not always be good examples for their children; sometimes such children feel, since they can never hope to be as good as their parents, there is no use in even trying.” 
This, he says, is why children may learn better by watching somewhat older children than by watching adults. As one example, he describes (p 182) how young boys naturally and efficiently improved their softball skills by observing somewhat older and more experienced boys, who were better than they but not so much better as to be out of reach. This observation fits very well with findings from my research on the value of age-mixed play (see here and here). 
• Fantasy provides children the means to do and learn from activities that they can’t yet do in reality.
In fantasy, the child can, right now, do things that nature or authority won’t permit him or her to do in reality.
A number of psychologists, I included, have written about the cognitive value of fantasy, how it underlies the highest form of human thinking, hypothetical reasoning (e.g. here). But Holt brings us another insight about fantasy; it provides a means of “doing” what the child cannot do in reality. In his discussion of fantasy, Holt criticizes the view, held by Maria Montessori and some of her followers, that fantasy should be discouraged in children because it is escape from reality. Holt, in contrast, writes (p 228), “Children use fantasy not to get out of, but to get into, the real world.”
A little child can’t really drive a truck, but in fantasy, he can be a truck driver. Through such fantasy, he can learn a lot about trucks and even something about driving one as he makes his toy truck imitate what real trucks do. Holt points out that children playing fantasy games usually choose roles that exist in the adult world around them. They pretend to be mommies or daddies, truck drivers, train conductors, pilots, doctors, teachers, police officers, or the like. In their play, they model, as close as they can, their understanding of what adults in those roles do. I have learned from anthropologists that such fantasy is normal for children everywhere. For example, young hunter-gatherer boys imagine themselves to be courageous big game hunters as they stalk butterflies or small rodents and try to hit them with their small arrows. They are practicing what it feels like to be a hunter, and they are also developing real hunting skills. That is so much more exciting than, say, engaging in target practice.
This point about fantasy is another elaboration of Holt’s main point that children learn by doing what they want to do right now, not by practicing for the future. In fantasy, the child can, right now, do things that nature or authority won’t permit him or her to do in reality.
• Children make sense of the world by creating mental models and assimilating new information to those models
But the model had to come from the boy himself.
As children interact with the world their minds are continually active. They are trying to make sense of things. Holt points out, as have others (including, most famously, Piaget), that children are truly scientists, developing hunches (hypotheses) and then testing those hunches and accepting, modifying, or rejecting them based on experience. But the motivation must come from within the child; it can’t be imposed. As an illustration, Holt describes cases where children who were allowed to just “mess around” with balance beams and pendulums, when they wanted to, learned much more, in a lasting way, about the natural laws of balance and pendulum action than did those who were taught explicitly.
Children often use mental models that they developed from previous activities to help them make sense of new activities. Holt gives a wonderful example of a boy who loved trains and knew a lot about them. When this boy began to get interested in reading he noticed that a printed sentence is like a train, with a front end and a back end, going in a certain direction. He called the capital letter at the beginning the “engine” and the period at the end the “caboose.” This model, of course, was one uniquely useful to this boy. Among other things, it helped him transfer his love of trains into a love of reading. But the model had to come from the boy himself. If a teacher had imposed it on him, it would probably have come across to him as artificial and would have subverted his own attempt to make sense of sentences. And if a teacher tried to use this analogy between a sentence and a train in teaching children who had no particular interest in trains, that would be just silly.
How Teaching Interferes with Children’s Learning
When Holt wrote the first edition of How Children Learn (published in 1967), he was still trying to figure out how to become a better teacher. When he revised the book for the second edition (published in 1983) he inserted many corrections, which revealed his growing belief that teaching of any sort is usually a mistake, except in response to a student’s explicit request for help. Here, for example, is one of his 1983 insertions (p 112): When we teach without being asked we are saying in effect, ‘You’re not smart enough to know that you should know this, and not smart enough to learn it.” And a few pages later (p 126), he inserted, The spirit of independence in learning is one of the most valuable assets a learner can have, and we who want to help children’s learning at home or in school, must learn to respect and encourage it.”
Children naturally resist being taught because it undermines their independence and their confidence in their own abilities to figure things out and to ask for help, themselves, when they need it. Moreover, no teacher — certainly not one in a classroom of more than a few children — can get into each child’s head and understand that child’s motives, mental models, and passions at the time. Only the child has access to all of this, which is why children learn best when they are allowed complete control of their own learning. Or, as the child would say, when they are allowed complete control of their own doing.
Reprinted from Psychology Today

How Teaching Interferes with Learning - Foundation for Economic Education - Working for a free and prosperous world