Three Ways for Teachers to Reclaim Creativity in the Classroom

Reclaiming Classroom Creativity

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same.

Malvina Reynolds’ song “Little Boxes” is a scathing look at the standardization of suburbia, and some educators feel a similar unease with education paradigms and school design.

Should time spent in school decrease students’ creative abilities?

While education reform focuses on teaching students important qualities like following directions, taking tests, and self-regulation, research shows that children increasingly score lower on tests of creativity. In fact, it seems there is a direct correlation between time spent in school and decreased creativity.

Researchers and educators stress the importance of protecting the creativity and divergent thinking of children’s younger years as they progress in school. Chris Lehman, principal and founder of the Science Leadership Academy, suggests that to protect creativity in our students, educators and parents should team up and invest time into not only teaching students, but also explaining why they’re learning what they are learning.

Education author Sir Ken Robinson suggests considering changing old ideas about education. For example, classifying students by age and drawing increasingly illusory lines between subjects that easily combine may no longer be beneficial.

3 ways for teachers to keep creativity in the classroom

While educators and parents work to rebuild the education system from the ground up in a way that protects and enhances student creativity, there are some tactics teachers can implement in the classroom now.

1. Personalization

Standard understandings of education treated classes like immutable wholes; recently, instructors have focused on differentiation and individualized learning. One very important protector of creativity in school is the personalization of learning. Personalization is different from individuation or differentiation in that the onus for education is on the learner rather than the teacher.

Learning personalization requires the student to identify their goals, routinely practice self-assessment, and to see their educators as a part of a learning team that includes their peers and other experts found in research or in their communities. This also actively engages learners in the process of their curriculum design.

While content and benchmarks are realistic requirements of modern education, engaging students in goal-setting and self-assessment increases the personalization of education and can encourage rather than discourage their creativity.

2. Breaking down walls

Robinson’s lecture on changing educational paradigms identifies walls put up between course subjects and ages in modern schools that could be broken down. Some schools create peer mentoring partnerships between their higher grades and lower grades that allow students of various ages to engage with each other.

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Teaching teams can also work to create project-based learning that combines various subjects, erasing the unreasonable subject barriers that limit or destroy creative thinking. Science and math are easy combinations, but consider combining social studies and art or physical education and math and see what happens.

3. There is no wrong answer

Giving students time to experiment and think or talk through a variety of answers to critical thinking problems can be an excellent task to encourage their creativity in the classroom. Unfettered by a focus on getting it right, students brainstorm a variety of ideas together and often work themselves toward the best solution.

Creating positive thinking environments and encouraging students to think out loud with neutral responses allows them to work through their own ideas. Sometimes just asking an open-ended question and giving a student a certain amount of time to speak out loud, without judgment, can lead an entire group on an incredible creative journey. This can be very difficult, though, because many students are accustomed to old paradigms where teachers ask questions and wait for specific answers.

While the paradigms we’re addressing might be figurative rather than literal, any movement toward privileging students’ creativity over old expectations of behavior is a step in the right direction. Students’ long-term ability to solve problems in new and interesting ways is exactly the kind of thinking educators should protect and encourage.

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

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