Building Creativity in Ourselves and our Students: Tips to Teach By

CFT Faculty Cohort's Collage for a Stained Glass Window
CFT Faculty Cohort’s Collage for a Stained Glass Window

This is a really good article by Robert Sternberg and Wendy Williams on the Center for Development and Learning website, Teaching for Creativity: Two Dozen Tips.  “In this article, we first describe this idea of creativity as a decision, which is formalized as an investment theory of creativity.  Then we describe 24 tips you can use in your teaching in order to foster creativity in your students and in yourself.”  I found the article, especially the 24 tips, outlined a working model for how to think about creativity as a teacher.  As I reflected on the tips, I tried to relate them to my experience as a teacher, working with students, as well as my experience working with teachers on their own professional development.  Here are the 24 tips with some comments, references and ideas of mine woven in.

1. model creativity [We need to explore and nurture our own creativity if we expect to model it for our students.  As teachers, we need to explore new roles.  Take some risks with trying on new hats, experimenting with new ideas.  Check out this Center for Teaching blog post on Can We Innovate Our Teaching by Experimenting with New Roles.]

2. build self-efficacy [The positive attitude that I have the ability to make a difference doing something meaningful is important for students to develop.  (click here for a reference from Psychology Today)
3. question assumptions [If students learn to question assumptions, they develop their voice and the confidence that is necessary to take risks.]
4. explore how to define and redefine problems [When students learn to identify, research, and critically think about problems they become more adept at thinking outside the box.  See project-based learning as an instructional strategy that promotes problem finding and problem solving.]
5. encourage idea generation [As teachers, we need to engage in more brainstorming (click here for an article in Business Week) with our students.  In design thinking, ideation is phase in the cycle of learning. (click here for the IDEO toolkit for educators on design thinking.]
6. cross fertilize ideas (In the classroom, students need to be taught how to use one discipline to answer a question in another discipline.  Associative thinking (connecting ideas) is an important skill that people who are effective innovators possess.  In their book, Innovators DNA, Gregersen, Christensen, and Foster write about the importance of being able to connect ideas across disciplines.  They refer to this as associative thinking.  (click here for a short piece by the Foundation Coalition on connecting ideas.)
7. allow time for creative thinking and creative doing [Don’t over schedule students such that there is no time to become creative, think creatively, or reflect on their learning.  Allow students to create and ask questions.  Think about developing a method for encouraging questioning.  How could technology assist in making this an engaging experience.  (click here to see a blog post by Bo Adams on how he engages in asking questions as he tries to build his skills as an innovator.]
8. instruct and assess creativity [Use some of the seven principles that Gelb writes about in his book, How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci.  Read the book by Susan Brookhart, Assessing High Order Thinking Skills, or her article in Educational Leadership, Assessing Creativity. ]
9. reward creative ideas and products [When we reward students for being creative, using rubrics in our assessment of their work, they come to understand that thinking creatively or being creative is valued.]
10. encourage risk-taking in your classroom [This is related to #13, allowing students to make mistakes.  The more making mistakes is seen by students as an integral part of learning, something for which a student is not penalized for doing, then students are likely to take more risks in the classroom.  In carrying out formative assessment, a non-graded practice, students should experience a learning environment where making mistakes is merely a part of the process.]
11. tolerate ambiguity [Teachers should not always been seen and heard as the only source of knowledge, filling in all the gaps that exist.  We should develop techniques that encourage students to fill in the gaps so that ambiguity is in the culture and we each must be a partner in clarifying the ambiguity.  Don’t always try to fill in with the “right” answer.]
12. allow mistakes on the part of your students (and yourself).  [Also, try not to decrement a student’s grade for mistakes during the learning process-formative assessments should not be graded.  During the summative grading, an end of unit test, making a mistake and being graded on it is part of the end-of-unit assessment.  (click here to see an article in Scientific American about the value of making mistakes in learning.  The authors write, “research by Nate Kornell, Matthew Hays and Robert Bjork at U.C.L.A. that recently appeared in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition reveals that this worry is misplaced. In fact, they found, learning becomes better if conditions are arranged so that students make errors.”)]
13. allow students to identify and surmount obstacles [We need to make time for students to take in information about their learning, using it to understand how to shape the their path.]
14. teach self-responsibility [Don’t assume it is already present.  Are we merely teachers of content?  How do we teach these “soft skills” through the course expectations we set up?]
15. promote self-regulation [Give students responsibility for their own work and grades, let them keep track of their performance.  This idea is promoted in Rick and Becky DuFour’s professional learning approach to orchestrating an effective assessment process (click here for an article on Transforming Assessment by Monty Neill).  Check out this article on the American Psychological Association’s website titled, Developing Responsible and Autonomous Learners: A Key to Motivating Students.]
16. delay gratification [Teacher Thought has some good blog posts.  This one, 16 Learning Strategies Promote Grit and Delaying Gratification in Students, is particularly relevant.]

17. encourage collaborative creativity [A 21st Century skill is collaboration.  Do we engage students in enough collaboration?  Encouraging group work allows students to be creative within a group setting, sharing ideas and learning from one another not just the teacher.  Interesting article from R. Keith Sawyer and Stacy DeZutter, Distributed Creativity: How Collective Creations Emerge From Collaboration, makes the case for designing learning environments in which students can creatively collaborate.]
18. imagine other viewpoints [Do we provide students sufficient opportunities to understand and appreciate other points-of-view?  What strategies could we use to embed more opportunities, i.e. in class debates?  Click here for the abstract of a paper published on the value of debate in health science classrooms.  Here is a quote from the abstract: “Moreover, it provides an experience by which students can develop competencies in researching current issues, preparing logical arguments, actively listening to various perspectives, differentiating between subjective and evidence-based information, asking cogent questions, integrating relevant information, and formulating their own opinions based on evidence.”]
19. recognize person-environment fit [As teachers, we need to recognize how the classroom environment works or does not work for each student.  The environment, and all the goes into shaping an effective learning space, should not be taken for granted.  Click here for the Third Teacher, an important piece of work that illustrates how space can impact learning.]

20. find excitement [Learning is more fun if there is meaning embedded in the experience.  Students who are excited about what they’re learning are more likely to take the initiative to eagerly pursue it.]
21. seek a stimulating learning environment [When thinking about our learning spaces, we should consider how space is used, the smells and sounds students experience, and other variables that shape the space.  The humming of the HVAC may distract students.  Quiet music is used by many teachers to augment the learning space. (click here for a resource).  Why not be creative with your learning space?  Remember learning doesn’t just have to happen within the four walls of the classroom.  Take students to novel places to learn.]
22. play to strengths [We all do better when working in areas that are our strengths.  If a student is a visual or tactile learner, but struggles with math, why not conceive of activities within a lesson that plays to his or her strength?]
23. grow creatively [Watch for complacency on the part of the learner and look for ways to counteract it.]
24. become a disciple for creatively [Talk about it, construct lessons with creativity in mind, and showcase creative work of all students, try not to have students produce the same “cookie-cutter” work.  Projects that make use of the RAFT protocol can be one way to embed student voice and choice into a lesson.]

I think these 24 tips are powerful. As teachers we owe it to ourselves to review them, reflect on them, integrate them, and practice them all the time.

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