Creativity lives as much in the heart as in the mind. When it comes to teaching creatively, it’s even more so. We know from Creativity Fluency that creativity itself is something that can be taught and learned. In today’s multimedia world, it’s as important a skill as problem solving, critical thinking, and group collaboration.
Mia O’Brien, a lecturer at Queensland University, knows about the importance of teaching creatively. She also knows it can be a foreign concept to many teachers in the beginning. This excerpt is from her 2012 study Fostering a Creativity Mindset for Teaching (and Learning):
“In order for creativity to be a priority within schooling we need teachers who understand the nature of creativity and appreciate its pedagogical value. However, creativity is not usually high on the list of reasons for choosing teaching.”
Teachers have an interesting challenge with creativity. They must inspire it in their students while being creative themselves. All the while they juggle regular tasks that are part of their profession. Academic duties like lesson planning, testing, classroom management, and more will always be there. Teaching creatively means considering how creativity can apply to every responsibility a teacher has.
What’s Important About Teaching Creatively?
It’s important to teach creatively for a number of reasons. Creativity is the heart of the motivational classroom. It empowers students and teachers to express ideas and opinions in unique ways. Creative teaching leads to active learning. This kind of learning is something students derive deep meaning from.
Teaching creatively is about working towards the genesis of something unique, both within and outside of the student.
What does this mean? Let’s look first at what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean creating a masterpiece, or building intellectual Einsteins. If this happens, fantastic—but it’s not the kind of expectation we focus on. That’s just too much for anyone to bear. We need a more delicate approach allowing differentiated learners more breathing room.
Something unique means something personal and relevant to the student. It could be something small or something bigger. It could be an idea, a learning moment, an emotional experience, or any kind of creative revelation. The point is it’s unique for the learner.
Constructing useful solutions and original products is only part of the outcome of teaching creatively. In order to be creative teachers, we focus more on inspiring students to be what they were meant to be. They will all be different, but they were all meant to be great.
Guidelines for Teaching Creatively
Many of us were raised with an awareness of what we couldn’t do. As we became more socialized and aware of limitations, we became less creative. As children we have a confidence and fearlessness in creativity that we lose over time.
Creativity is eternal. It has limitless potential. If creativity is within all of us—and it most certainly is—then we are also limitless. This applies to students of all ages. We must find a way to give that mindset back to our students. The intellectual risks students take creatively must also be sensible. Encourage them to step outside their zone of comfort.
Creative people question assumptions about many things. While many others argue for limitations, creative minds ask “how” or “why not?” Teachers are in a great position to show students how to do this. Granted, it doesn’t mean turning every assumption on its head. Students must learn to pick their battles here.
Define the Problem
Albert Einstein was once asked what he’d do if given an hour to solve a problem. He claimed that he would spend most of that time thinking about the problem. This is what we teach with Solution Fluency. Students will benefit from defining any problem thoroughly.
Creatively defining a problem broadens both understanding and creative potential. In defining the problem, we exercise certain skills. Here are some of the creative thinking benefits we gain from it:
Restating or rephrasing the problem
- gets you thinking from different perspectives, leading to more versatile solutions
- reveals things about the problem that may not be obvious
- can help in creating solutions for multiple problems
- leads to hearing unique perspectives from others
- helps learners understand how the problem may have originated
- challenges learners to consider an issue in different ways
- helps learners question assumptions that limit independent thought
- teaches learners to decide for themselves what is right and true
Researching and gathering facts
- provides opportunities for developing useful research and data analysis
- allows learners to discover surprising things about a problem they didn’t know before
- helps learners avoid making assumptions and forming opinions without ample information
- gives learners time to think about why finding a solution to the problem is important
You can explore these skills and others in the free Solution Fluency QuickStart Guide.
Give Students Time
Creativity takes time to appear. It’s a growth process that is different for all of us. In short, it requires time. Any writer, artist, designer, inventor, or entrepreneur will tell you this. They will also tell you they failed many times before finding the right idea. Students will need plenty of time to let their imaginations soar. They’ll revise, revisit, and throw out ideas. They’ll start over, get stuck, and get unstuck. Be there to support them every step of the way.
It’s okay to make mistakes in front of your students. If it’s fine for them, it’s fine for you. There’s no need to maintain an illusion of perfection as a teacher. Showing that things get messy sometimes lets students know it’s okay to explore and experiment. That’s what creativity is all about.
This is where ongoing formative assessment comes into play. Encourage critical and analytical thinking in assessment activities. Allow students areas in testing to get creative. Students need to know that these kinds of skills are truly valuable.
A solid PLN does wonders for teachers reaching for new ideas. You can connect to educators doing creative and innovative things in their own classrooms. Share and borrow ideas and become inspired by each other. It’s what personal learning networks are for. Even if you don’t use ideas right away, you can still collect them for later use. Employ some content curation tools like Evernote, Diigo, and Delicious for this.
Focus on Ownership
Students must understand that creativity means taking responsibility for both success and failure. In lifelong learning, we own everything. We generate our ideas and make our own choices about what to do with them. Our learning paths are our own. We must be self-directed. Students will step into the dual role of facilitator/learner in these cases. This is why we guide them early on to take ownership of their learning.
We must also teach them that intellectual property is a crucial responsibility. As Global Digital Citizens they protect their own creative work and that of others. In this way, creativity takes on a sense of community.
Teaching Creatively Using Technology
Technology plays an important role in student creativity. A vast scope of the projects they are involved in at school employ technology of some description. It’s possible to teach very creatively using technology. This infographic by J. Dragotta, a teacher from South Carolina, does a great job of explaining how it can be done.
Additional Reading and Resources