Imagine receiving an email from your professor that only contains a poem. The email you received has no introduction, no set-up or context. Nothing! Not only does it not contain any instructions, but the poem is also missing its title and the poet who wrote it, for crying out loud!
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.
The professor who sent you the email is the instructor who will be delivering the graduate class that starts tomorrow. You think to yourself, “What am I supposed to do with this email? Is this an assignment? And if so, is it due on day one?” You call a friend who is in the same class, only to find out that she also received the email with no instructions. “This is driving me nuts!” she says on the phone. After the unproductive call, you set off to search the internet in vain, looking for some clue, any clue, as to how you should reply to the email.
This email is an example activity of the first stage of the Torrance Incubation Model (TIM): Heighten the Anticipation. This model was originally developed by E. Paul Torrance, who was known as the “Father of Creativity in Education,” and it’s a way to creatively learn and teach. TIM has three basic stages: (1) Heightening Anticipation; (2) Deepening Expectations; and (3) Extending the Learning. While this may appear similar to other learning models you have seen, the key differentiator is that it weaves one creativity skill through each stage of the process, both to teach for creativity and to teach more creatively. Torrance presented 18 skills that could potentially be integrated into this model, but I have also tapped into other sets of skills identified by other creativity researchers.
And with that said, let me introduce myself. I am John, and I am the professor that sent out that email to my students a day before the start of the semester. In this blog, I will describe how TIM was applied specifically to my graduate class in Principles of Creative Problem Solving at SUNY Buffalo State.
To give more context, in previous semesters, my first day of class had generally gone well. But I wanted to make the first class much more interesting and memorable for the students. I felt that I had to change the way they thought about creativity. I selected the creativity skill Looking at it in another way to integrate throughout my lesson plan. This skill is typically intended to get students to see things from a different visual perspective. For my class, however, it was more about seeing things from a different psychological perspective.
Let’s review that first day of class. One of the first things they see when they join the online class is my virtual Zoom background, which I’ve shared here. Notice the photo clips behind me. They are from the movie The Dead Poets Society starring the late Robin Williams.
Again, I am deliberately trying to heighten their anticipation as they wonder about the photos in my virtual Zoom background. Once I determine that the large majority of students are present, I play a short video clip (you can see it here). I do not introduce the short movie clip. I do not say a word. I just play the clip. In the video, Mr. Keating, the instructor played by Robin Williams, is seen instructing a student to read a stanza from the poem To the Virgins: To Make Much of Time by Robert Herrick. It is at this moment that I see my students’ nonverbal communication light up on Zoom. Some start to text their friends. Others pull up the email sent to them. Sometimes posts fill my Zoom chat. As one would expect, the students are connecting the email I sent them with the poem that was just read in the video. “I got them,” I say to myself. My email, which created a buzz, and sustained their curiosity leading up to the first day of my class, is now being unpacked with all these connections, and they are doing it in a self-directed way and with energy.
Now that I have their attention and triggered their curiosity, I have to do something with it. I cannot let it wane. After the video concludes, I send them off to Zoom breakout rooms in groups of three, with instructions to introduce themselves and then discuss the short 3-minute video they just saw—specifically, to discuss what does the scene make them think of, wish and wonder. After about 10-12 minutes, I bring them back to the main room and ask them to share their small group discussions with the whole group, either out loud or by posting their thoughts on chat.
This debrief signals the beginning of the second stage of the TIM Model: Deepening Expectations. What I do at this stage is to connect their discussions to an overview of the class and its learning objectives. The other connection I make is that creativity serves as a springboard to self-actualization. My class is a starting point from which they can internalize the course content. I have the end in mind to nudge students to think about their potential. As I go through other activities to bring creativity principles to life, I continue connecting what I say during class to the video. Since I already piqued their curiosity (or heightened their anticipation), I want to sustain it. In effect, the second stage is designed to do just that throughout the class.
As I move to close down my first day of class, I tell the class to continue reflecting on the video by thinking about responses to a question I provide them, namely, “What is next for you from any takeaways you got from the video?” I do this with an expectation that they will reflect after class. The What is next? question can go in many directions. One student may wonder about what content will be covered in the following online classes. Another student might begin to reflect on life’s purpose. And another may dive into the class syllabus and course reading material. This last ask of What is next? comprises the last step of the TIM model:
Extending the Learning.
In summary, TIM gave my class more life, getting students to keep thinking about the class content in a sustained way. The other thing I did was to create an expectation for the next class. “I wonder what the Professor will do next,” many will ask. For me personally, TIM has brought more excitement to my classes. And for the students, I have this sneaking suspicion they would prefer to learn this way.
There is one caveat here. Developing ideas to weave creativity into the classroom is dependent on the confidence that you have in your own creativity to come up with ideas in the first place. Are you willing to take a risk?
John Cabra is a professor with the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State. He holds a PhD in Organizational Psychology from the University of Manchester in the U.K. John is also a Fulbright Scholar. He served his Fulbright assignment at the Universidad Autónoma de Bucaramanga (Colombia). John is also the program director of his university’s service-learning and civic engagement program in Myanmar and a co-founder of a nonprofit organization, the Institute for Myanmar United. In recognition of his work as an instructor, he was awarded the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the State University of New York Chancellor’s Award, also for Excellence in Teaching.
Burnett, C., & Garra, J. (2016). Little Leaps: Weaving Creativity into the Classroom. Torrance Journal for Applied Creativity, 1, 16-21.
Herrick, R. (1963). To the virgins, to make much of time. Sound and sense, 76.
Thomas, T., Haft, S., & Junger Witt, P. (Producers), & Weir, P (Director). (1989). The Dead Poets Society. Buena Vista Pictures. [Motion picture]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xv9JOVkR5PQ
Torrance, E. P. (1979). An instructional model for enhancing incubation. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 13(1), 23-35.