Read any article about the future of the workplace. Not even that, any article about the future in general. It seems that everyone agrees that innovation is the most important asset that we have to deal with present and future challenges.
Researchers, policymakers and educators are touting the importance of creativity for our future in general and how we have to nurture this ability of our current students. There are many benefits of creativity in the classroom and beyond the classroom:
- Promoting a problem-solving mindset
- Giving us a sense of purpose
- Improving focus
- Allowing for risk-taking in a good way
- Helping us learn better
- Can be applied in a variety of contexts and subjects
At the same time, we ask of students to be more creative but don’t do so in our lessons or assessment methods. There is a gap between theory and practice that we just don’t seem to close in the current education system.
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So what can teachers do in this context? How are you to be supportive of students’ creative endeavors while making sure that they’re learning what they’re supposed to? Well, here are some ideas about creativity in the classroom that can help you not only support your students but also change the way you teach:
Challenging the belief that being creative is not for them
Our beliefs directly influence our actions. It’s not always evident what our beliefs are, mostly because they are not immune to biases and misconceptions. A belief that being creative is reserved for a few select people is glaringly wrong.
Every student is creative, whether it’s playing an instrument, writing, or coming up with a great idea of decorating the classroom walls. However, they might not even know it. Children are naturally curious and original in their own way, but might not think of themselves as “creative”. Instead, teachers should reinforce the idea that everyone has the potential to improve their creative abilities.
Distinguishing between creative teaching and teaching for creativity
Most teachers love to be creative and design great activities for students. They actually do that all the time during class, whether they realize it or not. Teachers are great at improv, thinking quickly, and changing things up when lessons seem stale.
However, teaching for creativity is encouraging students to be creative themselves, not just “consume” activities created by the teacher. It means involving them even more in lessons and letting them lead from time to time.
For example, instead of creating a great presentation of a book, teachers could tell students to put on a mini-theater show explaining the plot of the book. They can ask students to come up with alternative ways in which the novel might have ended or illustrate the main flaws of a character. Or, let them choose their own way to illustrate their understanding of the book.
Nurture intrinsic motivation first
The research is clear: creativity is linked to intrinsic motivation. In other words, you can’t have one without the other, although it’s not so clear cut whether rewards for creativity are good or bad.
It does make sense though that in order to solve a difficult math problem or paint a great picture it takes more than the desire to get a good grade. For this, Professor of Educational Psychology Dr. John Baer advises teachers not to grade all classroom activities or assignments, particularly the ones that require a high level of creativity from students.
Educators can also limit competition among students and make sure that they focus on self-improvement, receive feedback and are encouraged to persist despite obstacles.
Have a supportive attitude
Sure, the obstacles could seem minor for teachers, but for students not succeeding at a more creative task can be very frustrating. It’s all about making them understand that failure is a part of the process.
Supportive teachers are willing to listen to their students and trust that each of them can achieve their potential. For example, they know how to engage students that are highly creative but often display disruptive behavior out of boredom.
There are many ways to involve all students. I once had a teacher who allowed us 5 minutes during each class to be creative. Some read poems, some danced, some were good at martial arts, others could do a quick science experiment. It was all about being creative, no matter how “badly” we did it. Sometimes we had to be creative in finding new activities: does doing a card trick show count? My teacher surely thought so!
Openness towards unexpected answers
When teachers view unexpected ideas as disruptive and habitually dismiss them, they are seriously undermining opportunities for students to share and develop potentially creative ideas. (source)
This is indeed an eye-opening insight into teaching. Sure, we can’t expect students to give the correct answers all the time, but coaxing out of them what we expect of them to say can be detrimental to their creativity.
Instead of dismissing unexpected ideas as disruptive, try to build on their answers by asking more questions such as “why do you think that?” and “what we can learn from this?” It also shows that their opinions are valued and they should ask more questions more often.
Know that perfection’s not the answer
Perfection is the enemy of creativity since we can’t grow and get our hands dirty (sometimes quite literally) if we strive for perfection. Sometimes teachers might confuse perfection with having high standards for students, which in reality is a whole different thing.
That’s why focusing on competition instead of challenging them to do their individual best is detrimental to improving creativity. Students that fear judgment will never be comfortable sharing their creative work.
Plus, practices such as displaying only the best of students’ work are not the best for encouraging them to think out of the box next time they complete an assignment.
Changing our beliefs, especially in an educational setting, can be really hard. After all, there are many myths about creativity that everyone believes! At the same time, it would be such a missed opportunity for teachers to not do what they can to support their students and help them achieve their creative potential. This can be done through teaching for creativity, nurturing their intrinsic motivation, and questioning the fact that creativity isn’t for your students, among others.