Models of Divergent Behavior: Characters in Children's Picture Books

Article excerpt

Fictional characters in children's picture books model a variety of creative behaviors. This article discusses how adults can use the creative behaviors of book characters to help children understand and develop divergent thinking. It suggests specific books and appropriate strategies to use in the elementary classroom.

This article discusses the impact of modeling on children and specifically addresses how characters in children's picture books model creative behaviors. The model approach is based on the premise that fictional characters who model creative behaviors affirm ways of thinking that students may already use and help students develop and appreciate these and others. This article was prepared to help educators look at picture books in a different way; the author presents details about selected books and hopes that educators will commit to choosing their own based upon the needs of students and the behaviors they wish students to use. An explanation of some of the components of creative thinking is also included.

Educational Modeling

Research by Zimmerman and Pike (1972) demonstrated modeling as a productive technique with students. In their studies, they determined that a videotape in which children modeled how to ask questions was helpful when encouraging second graders to learn questioning strategies.

Arts educators know the value of suitable modeling for students. This technique is evident as dancers replicate the movements of their instructor, singers echo the techniques heard in the voices of the masters, and musicians listen to tape recordings of outstanding performers to understand how to interpret a piece. In classrooms, young students write alphabet letters modeled by their teachers or speak to peers using the same words originally spoken by an adult. For instance, first grade teachers in one elementary school often stated "You're a good person, but you made a bad choice," when trying to curb inappropriate behavior. Students later repeated these words when they felt a peer made a bad choice.

Academic educators model concepts and procedures for students in elementary grades through graduate school. Teachers often demonstrate "how to" for students, and readers can probably remember when a mathematics teacher solved problems on the board to introduce a new algorithm. Principles described in Madeline Hunter's Mastery Teaching Program (Hunter, 1982) also include teacher modeling of procedures.

Children also are affected by models of negative behaviors. Studies by Bandura (1963) revealed that children were more aggressive after viewing an aggressive cartoon model than they were following a film with a character who did not display aggressive behavior. Students learn vicariously when they observe a model being rewarded or punished as a result of the behavior and may imitate the modeled behavior regardless of punishment or reward.

Teachers project many types of models in the classroom through their actions and as they talk to students. They can serve as role models (Goree, 1996; Oxman-Michelli, 1991; Sternberg, 1995-96), and talk to students about what it means to be creative. Some children get the idea that creativity is found solely in the arts and think people are not creative if they can't sing or dance. When teachers and parents talk to children about manifestations of creative thinking in all areas of life, students learn to recognize creativity in themselves and others.

Modeling in Reading and Writing

The classroom is not the only place that students benefit from appropriate models. Saunders (1986) discussed the explicit effect parents have on their children when they model reading behavior. She encourages parents to read often and to show that reading is pleasurable. Amabile (1989) described a mother who was a model and resource for her son's play writing. The mother, who was a writer, demonstrated how hard work led to a goal and also shared technical writing advice with her son. …