Promote Creativity When You’re Not Creative

How Can I Help My Students Be Creative When I’m Not Creative Myself?

Does that sound like you? Many technology advocates claim that high tech environments are the key to supporting students’ creativity. But it doesn’t always feel that simple. Because we know more about history, English, or long division than our students do, it is easy to understand how we can help them learn that content. But if we don’t feel particularly creative, trying to support students’ creativity can be intimidating.

First I must say, I suspect you (yes, really, you) are more creative than you think. Many of us assume that if we can’t draw realistic pictures or compose original music, we must not be very creative. Not true. Creativity comes in many forms: pulling together dinner from random ingredients in the refrigerator, planning a spur-of-the-moment poetry lesson when the cat walks in the window, or even doodling to keep yourself entertained during a long dreary meeting. Opportunities to exercise creativity are waiting in virtually every corner of our personal and teaching lives.

But if we want to help our students be more creative, the key is not how many gizmos we have in our classrooms (though gizmos don’t hurt!) but how we think about the curriculum. Supporting students in their creativity entails helping them think about content in flexible ways, examining new possibilities and points of view, raising questions and solving problems. Creativity in the curriculum comes first, then the right technology tool.

Promoting creativity in the classroomThree Places to Start


Types of Thinking

Teach students about different kinds of thinking. If you want students to think creatively, it is vital that they understand that sometimes their goal is not to find the right answer. Explicitly teaching them that sometimes we need to find “the answer” and sometimes we are trying to find many different answers can be freeing, particularly for students (or teachers) who are worried about doing things “the right way.”


Curriculum Goals

Examine your curriculum goals with creativity in mind. Ask yourself a few key questions, and consider if technology can help you.

Where could we ask, “What if?” What if the main character took a different path? What if a new species were introduced to this environment? What if there had been no American Revolution? Any of these questions could be a good class discussion, or subject for an online wall through Padlet or similar application.

Where could students to explore another point of view? Points of view need not always be human. Have students describe chemical bonds from the perspective of an electron, the respiratory system from the perspective of an oxygen atom. Of course, they could also explore the conflicts in a novel from the perspectives of different characters, or historical events in the voice of varying players. Imagine using Voki or other avatars to express key ideas from a given perspective—possibly with written support materials to allow elaboration. Or imagine a Prezi in which varying points of view are found by moving through the presentation space.

Where could we explore metaphors or other connections? What animal is most like Romeo? What in your home operates most like a system? Fear is like ________? Again, any of these questions could be explored in a traditional discussion or writing assignment. But imagine how they could be enhanced through the use of photo morphing. Students could not only describe how Romeo is (and isn’t) like a praying mantis, but watch him turn into one!

Where could students raise questions or solve problems? Consider the kinds of questions raised by professionals in your discipline(s) and teach students to raise them. Help them understand the difference between questions you might ask because you want to check their understanding (even though you actually know the answers) and questions we raise in order to seek new answers. For example, students in history can learn the facts and generalizations about historical periods, but they also can learn about how historians ask and answer questions. The wealth of online resources make it possible for students to study primary historical documents in ways professional historians only dreamed of just a short time ago. Online collaborations make it possible for students to gather and share scientific data with classrooms around the country or the world.


Space for Play

Find space for play, in your life and in your classroom. Much creativity is grounded in a spirit of playfulness and adventure. Yes, education is serious business, but so is creativity. Watch any toddler exploring the world with both focus and enthusiasm. Compare that to some of our students—and perhaps some of us—who are so caught up in trying to achieve sophisticated “coolness” that they miss the wonders of the world around them. Reclaiming that sense of joy and questioning is essential for potential creative scientists, writers, or entrepreneurs. Be a model of excitement in learning, raise questions, and find joy in what you are doing. Laugh more. Delight in the quirks of the age you teach. Have some fun and enjoy the ride. You and your students will be better for it!

To read more about reativity in the classroom, make sure you visit Creativiteach!