Imagine a classroom in which creativity is welcomed. Maybe you picture an art room or a music studio. If you are like many teachers, you may picture a wildly colorful room, busy students, and an enthusiastic—and perhaps eccentric—teacher. Our stereotypes of teaching for creativity sometimes lean toward Robin Williams’ costumed character leaping across desks in the movie Dead Poets Society (or perhaps something out of Hogwarts). To be truthful, I probably would love to be a student in a either place. Still, neither my talents nor my agility make it likely that I will be levitating feathers, dressing up, or clambering across the furniture in most of my classes. Does that mean my ability to create a classroom full of creativity is limited? I hope not.
As I’ve thought about this dilemma, it has become clear that I want to do two different things. I want to teach creatively—creative teaching–and I also want to teach in a manner that supports student creativity—teaching for creativity. Creative teaching and teaching for creativity both are important—but they are different. In creative teaching, the teacher is creative. Creative teachers use their creativity to design innovative lessons, create stimulating classroom environments, and engage their students in interesting projects. But creative teaching does not necessarily guarantee that the students will have a chance to be creative. If the teacher presents a highly engaging lecture while dressed as Henry VIII, but the students are required only to understand and repeat the facts, it may be creative teaching, but it was not teaching for creativity. And teaching FOR creativity is what this website is about.
As I’ve considered the things teachers can do to help create a classroom in which creativity can flourish, I’ve found they cluster in my mind into three categories: three keys to developing creativity in the classroom. They are: teach the skills and attitudes of creativity, teach the creative methods of the disciplines, and develop a problem-friendly classroom. So what does all that mean?
Key #1: Teaching the skills and attitudes of creativity entails explicitly teaching students about creativity. It includes teaching about the lives of creative individuals, the nature of the creative process, and strategies that can be used to generate creative ideas. Teaching the basic creative thinking skills under the “Teaching Creative Thinking” tab would come under this category. So would teaching about inventors and inventions or analyzing biographies of creative individuals to find out how they generated ideas or dealt with discouragement. Explicit teaching of the importance of curiosity, strategies of problem finding, or discussions on the importance of dealing with failure also would fit into this category.
Key #2: Teaching creativity-supportive curriculum requires that we teach the regular curriculum in ways that are supportive of creativity, and also that we teach students how individuals are creative in the disciplines they study. In science, for example, this type of teaching entails learning the processes of scientific investigation, in addition to the concepts and generalizations resulting from such investigations in the past. This is more complex than teaching the five steps of the scientific method, although that is a place to start. Real science rarely progresses in such neat and predictable steps. Learning how creative scientists operate entails learning the kinds of questions scientists ask and the methods they use to investigate them. It examines the obstacles that can impede progress, the circuitous paths that can lead to success, and the skills necessary to conduct investigations. Parallel kinds of knowledge can be examined for any field in which creativity emerges. Learning to help students find and solve problems in the disciplines is a key way to integrate creativity into core content.
Key #3: Developing a creativity-friendly classroom entails creating a classroom atmosphere in which seeking and solving problems is welcomed. It is a classroom in which the routines, procedures, and classroom culture are supportive of intrinsic motivation and flexible thinking, In brief, a creativity-friendly classroom provides experiences with choice, provides informational feedback in assessment, encourages self-assessment, uses rewards thoughtfully, teaches both cooperation and independence, and encourages questioning and experimentation. It is a place in which it is not only safe to ask questions, find problems and seek to solve them—it is a place these behaviors are enthusiastically welcomed.