Many people think creativity is just something people are born with. I beg to differ. Like most things, it is developed. It may start small, like drawing stick figures as a child and working your way up through different art classes to oil paintings. It may be improving your chess game by playing tougher and tougher opponents, trying new strategies, and learning through trial and error. It could be becoming a better cake decorator by decorating cakes for your family at first, watching decorating shows or YouTube videos to pick up tips, until you are getting offers to make them for neighbors and friends.
Given this, if you want to be more creative, like anything, you have to practice in order to do so. You can’t just sit around waiting for your muse to inspire you or expect to create a masterpiece from scratch. You need to put in the work. The good news is that if it is something you love to do, it doesn’t really feel like work.
Why I Write Blogs
I believe my creativity comes from my writing. I have written over 20 books on education, and whenever I meet people familiar with my work, they always ask the same thing; how do you find the time to write so much? The answer; I write so much. Not only do I average writing two books a year, I write for three different blogs (such as this one here). Some people might be like “isn’t writing books enough, why blogs too?” my answer is that these provide me the chance to practice.
Blogs are a short form piece of writing where I can experiment with different techniques, try various tenses, and improve my craft. I also have editors for all three of the blogs who give their feedback and perspective. I’ve learned this past year that I write a little too much in the passive tense, so my goal has been to improve upon this.
How to Practice Creativity in the Classroom
1) Offer many chances to exercise their ACC
The ACC is not a college football conference but rather the anterior cingulate cortex. In order to stimulate this, we need to give students the opportunity for insight. This typically comes with an a-ha moment, such as when you get a joke, problem solve or solve an insightful puzzle.
For example, solve this Rebus puzzle:
I’ll give you a minute….The answer is to think outside the box. You know that ahhhhh you just audibly let out without meaning to. That is what we want from students. We want them to experience this in order to ignite their ACC.
There are many opportunities you can provide students. I always had bulletin board enrichment where there might be a question of the week, a recommended reading, or puzzles such as rebus, Sudoku, or logic puzzles. When students finished work early or there was downtime, they could go to one of these boards in order to exercise their ACC.
For some resources you can use for such bulletin board enrichment, you can go to https://www.thegiftedguy.com/resources and scroll down to Enrichment Activities.
2) Give Student’s Choice
One thing that became abundantly clear to me was that my students were far more creative than me. So why should I limit their creativity to my own ideas? This is often what happens when teachers assign something to students and ask for them to produce something very specific in order to demonstrate mastery. What if we allow for alternative assessments or work?
For example, during Thanksgiving break, when I was strolling the halls of one of our elementary schools, I wandered into the kindergarten wing. As expected, on one of the walls were the typical displays of turkeys (although not the ones that were a tracing of the hand). They looked like this:
As colorful and artful as these turkeys seemed to be, they also all looked the same. Obviously, students had been given a template and then followed directions to create their Thanksgiving bird.
I turned around to the adjacent wall to see another holiday display. This one looked much different.
This assignment gave students the choice to disguise their turkey any way they see fit. As a result, there were 30 turkeys, each one different than the others. In addition to the ones you see here, there were pirates, reindeer, clouds, trees, and all sorts of creative choices. Kids came up with things I wouldn’t have even considered, which is the point.
When you give students more choices, they will bring their own creativity to the work. If they are skilled at drawing, they might find some way to incorporate this into their product, or if they are a musician, they make a Schoolhouse Rocks-like song to show what they learned, or if they are a skilled speaker they may wish to present it. The possibilities are literally endless. But not if you are making all of the decisions for them.
I will often times use a choice board like the one you see here in order to cover all the areas of creativity that students might have:
And even with all of these choices, my students know that they can always pitch me a choice. I had one student who looked at these and asked, “can I make my own videogame”? I hadn’t even thought that was possible, but low and behold, two weeks later, he submitted his video game that allowed players to learn the concepts he was responsible for learning which moving through a medieval quest.
3) Give Them Space
In order for students to be creative, they have to be given the space to do so. This might be the physical space such as letting them work on the floor, having tables, or allowing for overflow out in the halls. It could also allow for flexible seating or having non-traditional classroom furniture such as couches, bouncy balls, and wobble stools.
The space might be mental as well. Just letting students know that they have the option to be creative and creating a culture in your classroom where this is encouraged can go a long way. Some of the things you can do to create such an environment are:
- Have supplies available to be creative – This might be construction paper, scissors, googly eyes, chenille sticks, markers, crayons, and whatever else students can use to be creative.
- Promote creativity around the classroom – This means hanging up pictures of famous artwork or having a Lego display, giving students a bulletin board where they can hang their own creative pieces, play classical music when students are working, and being willing to share some of your creativity by hanging up artwork you have done or photos of you being creative in action.
- Introduce creative processes to students – John Spencer lays out four different creative processes that you can use in the classroom:
- Inquiry process: Students ask and own their questions
- Ideation process: Students generate their own ideas.
- Research process: Engaging in critical research.
- Assessment process: Self and peer assessment is completed.
I would also throw in there the engineering design process which definitely fosters creative thinking:
Some students will hide their creativity if not encouraged to use it and as teachers we need to let them know that we value creativity.
- Creativity is not something you are born with. Just like other skills you need to develop them.
- If you are going to develop your creativity you need to be willing to practice it.
- In order for students to practice creativity in the classroom, they need to know your classroom is an environment where they have permission to do so.
Todd Stanley is a National Board Certified teacher and the author of many teacher-education books, including Project-Based Learning for Gifted Students: A Handbook for the 21st Century Classroom (2nd Edition), Promoting Rigor Through Higher Level Questioning, and his most recent How the Hell Do We Motivate These Kids?
He served as a classroom teacher for 18 years teaching everything from 3rd graders to seniors in high school. He is currently the gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local Schools where he lives with his wife and two daughters. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati. You can follow him on Twitter @the_gifted_guy or visit his website at thegiftedguy.com where you can access blogs, resources, and view presentations he has given.