Shefali Manilal operates at the intersection of psychology, education and multicultural management. She grew up in India, studied in California and has lived in Paris for over 15 years. She is trilingual and is passionate about enabling children to learn in a fun and nurturing environment. Her seven-year old son Matteo is completely bilingual, fluent in English and French. Shefali speaks to Creative Sparq about the plasticity of the brain, the ability of students to develop smartness through hard work and challenge, the trend towards differentiated instruction in schools and the books that all parents should read to help foster a creative mindset in their children.
Tell me about your self and your work
I am of Indian origin and have now lived in Paris for 15 years. I recently acquired French nationality. I have a background in Psychology and Education and have been working on teaching and coaching the French, the English language, for over 10 years.
What is your core area of expertise? How long have you been doing this?
I have been in education for over 10 years and after spending a great deal of time working with adults, (practically all of who had traumatic English learning experiences when young), I decided to create a space for children starting as young as three to learn English in a fun, creative and hands-on environment that is geared specifically to children. It took a year to get the project off the ground and Happy Kids Circle was born in October 2013.
Why are you passionate about your current role ?
There is nothing more satisfying than making a dream come true and to see that your vision and approach work in meaningful ways. It has been exciting to watch the children learn and grow from total beginners to being able to have conversations in a short span of time, proving that the more fun you're having, the better and faster you're learning.
What does creativity mean to you?
Creativity is the liberty to express one's self through any medium, to bring about a shift in perspective, and to question the status quo.
How do children develop their creative skills? Not just artistic skills, but also a creative problem-solving mindset?
Children need to be in a nurturing environment that allows for personal expression. It is vital to inculcate what Carol Dweck has coined as a "growth mindset." Children with a growth mindset believe that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort, persistence, trying different strategies and learning from mistakes. (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, 2006)
Creative Problem Solving, Design Thinking, and Divergent-Convergent Thinking are different frameworks for problem solving, developing or improving processes and products. Are their any specific kinds of education systems that help children develop these abilities?
There is a movement in the US and Australia towards differentiated instruction, and teachers are being trained to successfully implement it in their classrooms.
Differentiated instruction, is the process of "ensuring that what a student learns, how he or she learns it, and how the student demonstrates what he or she has learned is a match for that student's readiness level, interests, and preferred mode of learning."(Ellis, Gable, Greg, & Rock, 2008)
Teachers can differentiate through: 1) content, 2) process, 3) product, and 4) learning environment based on the individual learner.
Differentiation, as the term implies is rooted in the belief that there are differences among learners, how they learn, learning preferences, and individual interests (Anderson, 2007). Differentiation is an organised and yet flexible approach so as to proactively adjust both teaching and learning methods to each child's learning needs and preferences to maximise growth as a learner. Pre-assessment and ongoing assessment are an essential part of differentiation, as this provides feedback for both teachers and students to improve the learning process.
All children are creative and then as they grow older, they seem to drop their creative hobbies, become more fearful of expressing themselves creatively. Do you agree? If yes, why do you think this happens and what should parents and educators be doing to stem this?
Research demonstrates the plasticity of the brain and the ability of students to develop smartness through hard work and challenge. Some schools tend to bombard students with the messages that ability is fixed and that students have an innate talent and intelligence while others do not.
This huge divide between research evidence and practice is most clearly reflected in the "ability grouping" as opposed to differentiated classrooms approach. Whereby it is erroneously communicated to students that their ability is fixed, and will not change, thereby instilling harmful fixed mindset beliefs that in fact research shows detracts from students’ learning opportunities throughout their lives (Boaler, 2005; Dweck, 2006a).
Here's what I recommend for helping children learn in a creative and nurturing environment:
Your favourite quotes related to creativity and education?
How has technology changed the way you work and what are the opportunities and challenges it presents educators such as yourself?
Technology is fantastic overall. Specifically in education, it a medium that enables whole populations that were denied access to education either just in terms of sheer accessibility (remote villages, for example) but also those who are marginalised because they don't fit in (autism, dyslexia, etc.) to learn.
Creative and cultural investments are often de-prioritised during tough economic times as they are deemed nice to have but not necessary. Why do you think this happens or what do you think can be done to avoid this?
This is primarily true for cultures that deem the arts a "hobby" and were never taken seriously in the first place. Countries like France and Italy see it as an integral part of their culture and heritage so this tendency luckily is held well at bay. The key lies in opening children's minds and horizons to the arts from very early on so that it is seen as an internal and necessary part of life and not a luxury commodity.
If you had to suggest a government policy intervention involving the creative industries or a new approach that could make a positive impact on society, what might that be in your view?
It is being done already but on a very small scale, so it's not like I'm inventing the wheel - Government policy that makes combining day care and retirement/ nursing homes mandatory is not just mutually beneficial to children and seniors but society as a whole.
If you were to compare levels of creativity among children today versus your childhood, what differences and similarities do you see?
The levels of boredom are different given the access kids have today to a myriad of entertainment options The key is to find a healthy balance. The definition of "creativity" itself has evolved over the years.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics are making rapid strides into automating tasks and jobs in many different fields. How do you think this will impact your life in the next twenty years and those of the younger generation in the next forty years?
The impact is hard to gauge, but is defiantly going to be both positive and useful.